Erwin Hillier

Erwin Hillier (2 September 1911 – 10 January 2005) was a German-born cinematographer known for his work in British cinema from the 1940s to 1960s.[1]

Erwin Hillier
Cinematographer Erwin Hillier.jpg
Born(1911-09-02)2 September 1911
Died10 January 2005(2005-01-10) (aged 93)
Years active1931–1970
Spouse(s)Helen Yates-Southgate

Early careerEdit

Born in Germany to English-German Jewish parents (original surname Hiller)[citation needed], he studied art in Berlin in the late 1920s. Impressed by Hillier's paintings, the director F.W. Murnau offered him a job as camera assistant on Tabu (1931), but Hillier's father intervened because of Murnau's homosexuality. Fortunately, Murnau recommended him to director Fritz Lang at UFA studios, who employed him on his classic M (1931).[2] Soon after he moved to Britain to pursue a career in film.[3]

In Britain, he worked as a camera assistant for Gaumont Pictures, where he worked with Hitchcock. He later moved to Elstree Studios, working on The Man Behind the Mask (1936) with Michael Powell,[4] who noted his "insane enthusiasm". His debut as cinematographer came with Lady from Lisbon (1942).[5]

Work with The ArchersEdit

Impressed by his work on The Silver Fleet (1943) for their Archers Film Productions, Powell & Pressburger ('The Archers') hired Hillier as cinematographer on A Canterbury Tale (1944), a film about which Powell later said Hillier "did a marvelous job".[6] Despite Powell's recent work with the three-strip Technicolour film process, war shortages meant a return to the black-and-white stock that Hillier was familiar. The film is a mixture of British realism and the German expressionist[7] use of extreme light and shade which Hillier has been trained in,[8] and is remembered for its depiction of the English landscape.[9] In his autobiography, Powell recalled his obsession with clouds; he often begged for filming to be delayed until a cloud had appeared to break up a clear sky.[10]

His next film I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), again with The Archers, continued the style of its predecessor. It is features Hillier's technical accomplishments, including mixing studio shots with exteriors, concealing the fact that Roger Livesey, the film's male lead, was working in London while the film was being shot in Scotland.

With the war at an end, Powell & Pressburger at last had access to colour film. They asked Hillier to share cinematographic duties with the experienced Technicolor cameraman Jack Cardiff on A Matter of Life and Death. Unwilling to be sidelined, he declined, bringing his intensely creative partnership with Powell & Pressburger to an end.[11]

Post-war careerEdit

Hillier made his first colour film London Town (1946), starring Sid Field, although he often returned to work in black and white, typical of many British films of the 1940s and 1950s. His films retained a distinctive expressionist influence in both mediums.

He worked for director Michael Anderson on Private Angelo (1949), the first of many collaborations. The last was to be opulent The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968). Their best remembered film is The Dam Busters (1955), featuring some aerial photography by Hillier.[12]

He continued to work until 1970.[13] He died in London in 2005, aged 93 leaving a widow, daughter and sister Gerda Ehrenzweig.[14]

Selected filmographyEdit


  1. ^ Vallance, Tom (10 June 2010). "Erwin Hillier – Obituaries, News". The Independent. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  2. ^ Salwolke, Scott (1997). The films of Michael Powell and the Archers. Scarecrow Press. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-8108-3183-4. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  3. ^ Silver, Alain; Ursini, James (1999). Film noir reader 2. Limelight Editions. p. 244. ISBN 978-0-87910-280-7. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  4. ^ Petrie, Duncan J. (1996). The British cinematographer. British Film Institute Publishing. p. 171. ISBN 978-0-85170-581-1. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  5. ^ "Lady from Lisbon (1942)". BFI.
  6. ^ Lazar, David (April 2003). Michael Powell: interviews. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 51. ISBN 978-1-57806-498-4. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  7. ^ Souto, H. Mario Raimondo (2007). Motion picture photography: a history, 1891–1960. McFarland. p. 197. ISBN 978-0-7864-2784-0. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  8. ^ Hauser, Kitty (2007). Shadow sites: photography, archaeology, and the British landscape, 1927–1955. Oxford University Press. p. 260. ISBN 978-0-19-920632-2. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  9. ^ Harper, Graeme; Rayner, Jonathan (2010). Cinema and Landscape: Film, Nation and Cultural Geography. Intellect Books. p. 155. ISBN 978-1-84150-309-7. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  10. ^ Powell, Michael (2000). A life in movies: an autobiography. Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-20431-1. Retrieved 5 October 2010. The only thing he was a bit loony about was clouds in the sky. He detested a clear sky, and it sometimes seemed to me that he forgot about the story and the actors in order to gratify this passion. 'Meekee, Meekee, please wait another few minutes,' he would plead. 'There is a little cloud over there and it is coming our way, I'm sure it is.' 'Oh, for God's sake, Erwin! It won't make the slightest bit of difference to the actor's performance.' 'Meekee, Meekee, please just five more minutes please!' This would go on all day. I admired his dedication.
  11. ^ Connelly, Mark (2005). The red shoes. I.B.Tauris. pp. 19–20. ISBN 978-1-84511-071-0. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  12. ^ Gritten, David (10 June 2010). "The Dam Busters bounce back – Telegraph". Telegraph. Retrieved 5 October 2010. You might imagine, given its subsequent fame, that the film would have won several awards. Not so; director of photography Erwin Hillier's special effects were Oscar-nominated, and the film received three Bafta nominations, but without success.
  13. ^ Goldman, Lawrence (2013). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2005-2008. OUP Oxford. p. 549. ISBN 978-0-19-967154-0.
  14. ^ Bergan, Ronald (8 February 2005). "Obituary: Erwin Hillier". The Guardian.

External linksEdit