Robert L. Surtees began his working life as a portrait photographer and retoucher, before becoming camera assistant at Universal in 1927. He spent a lengthy apprenticeship (15 years) working under such experienced cinematographers as Hal Mohr, Joseph Ruttenberg and Gregg Toland. Between 1929 and 1930, he was seconded to the Universal studios in Berlin, subsequently spending the remainder of the decade at First National, Warner Brothers and Pathe. He settled at MGM in 1943 (remaining under contract until 1962), and soon developed a reputation as one of Hollywood’s foremost lighting cameramen.
In keeping with the glamorous, lavish look of MGM product of the time, Surtees typically employed high-key lighting. This particularly suited big budget colour epics, like Quo Vadis (1951) and Ben-Hur (1959) (filmed in the large screen Camera 65 process with anamorphic lenses, which greatly enhanced colour definition and sharpness); expansive outdoor musicals like Oklahoma! (1955) (the first… read more