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Krasker, Robert (Bob) (1913–1981)

by Joel Greenberg

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Robert (Bob) Krasker (1913-1981), cinematographer, was born on 21 August 1913 at Alexandria, Egypt, youngest of five children of Leon Krasker, a merchant from Romania, and his Austrian-born wife Matilde, née Rubel. Robert arrived in Perth with his family on 15 November and his birth was registered in Western Australia. In 1930 he sailed for Europe to study art in Paris and optics and photography at Dresden, Germany. He worked with the cinematographer Philip Tannura at Paramount’s Joinville studios in France before moving permanently to London in 1932. Joining (Sir) Alexander Korda’s London Film Productions as a camera operator, he assisted the studio’s chief cameraman Georges Périnal, whose influence on Krasker’s subsequent development was crucial. He absorbed lessons in lighting, composition and camera placement, putting them to use in his best work in the 1940s and beyond.

Sometimes credited as Bob Krasker, he worked on such major productions as Rembrandt and Things to Come (both 1936) and The Thief of Bagdad (1940). He contracted malaria in the Sudan while a camera operator on The Four Feathers (1939) and subsequently became diabetic. Promoted to associate-photographer, he worked on One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942). He was the cinematographer for the wartime propaganda piece The Gentle Sex (1943), co-directed by Leslie Howard and Maurice Elvey. That work prompted (Sir) Laurence (Lord) Olivier to hire him, with Jack Hildyard, to film, in colour, Henry V (1944). By this time considered to be among the front rank of cinematographers, he shot the celebrated Brief Encounter (1945), scripted by (Sir) Noël Coward and directed by (Sir) David Lean. This film was as sensitive and small scale in black-and-white as Henry V had been epic and celebratory in colour: Krasker was equally accomplished in both genres. The association with Lean ended mortifyingly when the director fired him from Great Expectations (1946), claiming that his work was `too polite’ and that he wanted something `harder’. Krasker’s memorable rendering of the film’s opening graveyard scenes remains, however, an indication of what might have been.

With Odd Man Out (1947), the first of four films made with (Sir) Carol Reed, Krasker began probably the most artistically rewarding partnership of his career. It reached its apogee with The Third Man (1949), scripted by Graham Greene, in which Krasker’s atmospheric use of unusual perspectives, wide-angle lenses and a tilted camera helped to win him in 1950 the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ award for black-and­white cinematography. His style, eschewing glamour in favour of realism and employing high-contrast images and unconventional compositions, remains undated. It is particularly evident in the series of epic spectacle-films with which the final phase of his career is mostly identified. Robert Rossen’s magisterial Alexander the Great (1956), and a succession of large-scale films for the director Anthony Mann such as El Cid (1961) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), demonstrated Krasker’s art at its most confident and mature.

Unhappy with cinematic trends of the late 1960s and struggling with health problems, Krasker virtually retired after shooting The Trap (1966). He had worked with some of the great directors of his time, including John Ford, Joseph Losey, William Wyler, Anthony Asquith, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, Luchino Visconti and (Sir) Peter Ustinov. Colleagues remember an unassuming, modest man, about 5 ft 8 ins (173 cm) tall, gregarious despite superficial shyness, and easy to work with. If unsure of a technicality, he was never too proud to consult his junior assistants. He attached so little importance to worldly fame that his Oscar statuette served as a doorstop in his Ealing house. A gifted linguist, he was fluent in French and had a good working knowledge of Spanish and Italian. There appears to be no record of his marrying. He died of aortic stenosis on 16 August 1981 in London.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Petrie, The British Cinematographer (1996)
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol 32 (2004)
  • Bulletin, 1 Dec 1981, p 128
  • Cinema Papers, Apr 1997, p 18
  • private information.

Citation details

Joel Greenberg, 'Krasker, Robert (Bob) (1913–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/krasker-robert-bob-12756/text23007, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 2 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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