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John J. Mescall, A.S.C. (January 10, 1899 – February 10, 1962) was an American cinematographer. He photographed such silent films as Ernst Lubitsch's The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927), but he is best known for his work in the 1930s at Universal Pictures, where he often worked on the films of James Whale. Mescall was famous for his elaborate (some might say grandiose), effective camera movements, in which the camera would often track completely across or around a set, or even one performer (as it does around Paul Robeson while he sings Ol' Man River in the 1936 film version of Show Boat). He would not always use these kinds of camera movements (The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg has none), but his most famous films all have them.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Show Boat (1936), both directed by James Whale, are generally named among Mescall's greatest achievements in cinematography. In the former, his distinctive angles added greatly to the scene depicting the creation of the bride. Mescall also did uncredited work for Whale's The Invisible Man (1933).
Mescall also filmed The Road Back (1937) for Whale, an ill-fated sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). Both are based on novels by Erich Maria Remarque. Though visually compelling, The Road Back bombed at the box-office, in part due to a well-publicized editing dispute between Whale and Universal executives. The film's cast included Noah Beery Jr. and Richard Cromwell.
Unfortunately, after the 1939 "weepie" When Tomorrow Comes, starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer in their second film together, Mescall was limited to working in a series of forgettable films, except for the 1944 film-noir Dark Waters, starring Merle Oberon, Franchot Tone, and Thomas Mitchell. He photographed two Sonja Henie films at Twentieth Century-Fox, and also did uncredited work on the 1944 film The Bridge of San Luis Rey. He received his only Academy Award nomination, oddly enough, not for his work on the Universal classics (which also included such films as Edgar G. Ulmer's The Black Cat), but for his lensing of the semi-forgotten 1942 romantic comedy Take a Letter, Darling starring Fred MacMurray and Rosalind Russell.
- Hold Your Horses (1921)
- From the Ground Up (1921)
- Watch Your Step (1922)
- The Wall Flower (1922)
- Gimme (1923)
- Six Days (1923)
- Three Weeks (1924)
- Satan in Sables (1925)
- Oh! What a Nurse! (1926)
- The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927)
- Walking Back (1928)
- Captain Swagger (1928)
- The Leopard Lady (1928)
- The Shady Lady (1928)
- Love Over Night (1928)
- His First Command (1929)
- Sin Takes a Holiday (1930)
- Big Money (1930)
- The Invisible Man (1933)
- The Black Cat (1934)
- Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
- Show Boat (1936)
- Josette (1938)
- When Tomorrow Comes (1939)
- South of Pago Pago (1940)
- Take a Letter, Darling (1942)
- Dark Waters (1944)
- Hanson, Patricia King (June 1993). The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1931-1940. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-07908-3.
- Babington, Bruce; Barr, Charles (2018-11-07). The Call of the Heart: John M. Stahl and Hollywood Melodrama. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-86196-954-8.
- Thomson, David (2008-09-25). 'Have You Seen...?': a Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films including masterpieces, oddities and guilty pleasures (with just a few disasters). Penguin Books Limited. ISBN 978-0-14-192658-2.
- Eagan, Daniel (2010-01-01). America's Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry. A&C Black. ISBN 978-0-8264-2977-3.
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