Sunday, October 12, 2014

Spotlight on Freddie Francis!

Born in London - Freddie Francis was originally working towards a a career in engineering. At school, a film essay won him a scholarship to the North West London Polytechnic in Kentish Town. He left school at age 16, which eventually led to him successively becoming a clapper boy, camera loader and focus puller for several British production companies.

In 1939, Francis joined the Army assigned as a cameraman and director to the Army Kinematograph Unit at Wembley, where he worked on Army training films through the end of World War II and into 1946.

After leaving the army, Francis spent the next ten years working as a camera operator on films such as Beat the Devil (1953), and Moby Dick (1956).

Learning the art of cinematography in that decade, he then became a top rated director of photography, with movies like Room at the Top (1959), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Sons and Lovers (1960), and The Innocents (1961) - which he regarded as one of the best films he shot - on his resume.

Following an Academy Award win for Sons and Lovers, Francis began a new career - feature film director. In 1963 he directed Paranoiac for Hammer Studios, which is part of the reason he scores a place in this Halloween Blogfest -  because for the next twenty of so years, Francis continued to direct films for Hammer. He directed their suspense films like Nightmare (1964) and Hysteria (1965), as well as monster movies such as The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968).

Directing Peter Cushing in The Creeping Flesh (1973).

At the same time he was directing for Hammer, Francis also began an association with Amicus Productions, another studio which geared most of its output to horror movies. Interestingly, Amicus specialized in the anthology film - movies made up of four or five shorter stories with a wraparound framing story - and most of the films Francis made for Amicus were anthologies like Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965), Torture Garden (1968) and Tales from the Crypt (1972). As a director, Francis brought the cinematographer's eye to the table, and as would be expected - most all of his horror movies have great visual style.

Christopher Lee towers over Freddie Francis and Milton Subotsky on the set of Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965).

Despite this, Freddie Francis was frustrated that the horror genre was looked on as lowbrow, but he was "typecast" and was not offered movies in other genres to direct. Consequently he made a somewhat surprising move back into cinematography - taking jobs as director of photography again, and finding work on major motion pictures outside the horror genre - movies like The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984), and Glory (1989), the latter of which also earned him his second Academy Award.

Discussion with Maurice Denham on the set of Paranoiac (1963) as Oliver Reed looks on.

He did continue to direct - notably The Doctor and the Devils (1985) and Francis's last film as director - Dark Tower (1987) - not an adaptation of the Stephen King novel.

In the 1990's, even as he moved into his mid 70's, Francis continued working, still shooting films like The Man in the Moon as well as Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear remake. His final film as cinematographer was David Lynch's The Straight Story.

Two titans in the art of cinematography - Freddie Francis chats with Jack Cardiff.

I definitely recommend checking out some Freddie Francis movies - ones he shot, and ones he directed - a terribly talented man, and worthy of some LGOOH love.

Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Viewfinder, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Great post Craig. One of my favorites of his as always been The Skull from 1965 and as you mentioned his work on The Innocents is mind bogglingly beautiful.

    1. Thanks Dick! I know I've seen The Skull sometime in the past - and it's been in my hands in the last few days - it's looking like it will be viewed during this month's all horror fest at some point...