Rock Hudson on the left and James Wong Howe on the right on set.

Through the Lens of James Wong Howe

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The UCLA Film & Television Archive presents classic film and contemporary cinema in the Hammer's Billy Wilder Theater.

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Now considered one of the most innovative directors of photography of all time, Chinese-born American James Wong Howe was one of the most widely sought-after cinematographers during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Arguably the first to make use of deep focus photography, Howe was consistently at the vanguard of technological ideation. For the filmmakers whose visions he rendered possible, Howe’s eye created a distinct richness. The Archive presents two 35mm prints from its collection that highlight Howe’s masterful work.

Sweet Smell of Success

To execute the film’s distinct nocturnal look, Howe modeled Sweet Smell of Success after photojournalist Weegee’s uncompromising images of street-level life in New York City. On location for just a few short weeks in Manhattan, the crew shot between midnight and 6 a.m. to make use of the harsh lights of Times Square and Broadway. Howe’s prowess in etching with shadow adds a “crisp, threatening, noir-like” hardness that director Alexander Mackendrick was seeking for this biting satire. (1957, dir. Alexander MacKendrick, 35mm from the UCLA Film & Television Archive, black and white, 96 min.)


Character actor John Randolph plays Arthur Hamilton, a frustrated banker who undergoes a procedure that transforms him into the younger, fitter painter Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson) in this John Frankenheimer film. Every production detail gives Seconds its lingering, eerie sensibility. Often using multiple hand-held Arriflex cameras and various fisheye lenses to drastically distort the image, Howe realized the film’s unique aesthetic in collaboration with art director Ted Haworth, whose labyrinthic, warped sets aid in attaining the film’s unsettling, abstract mise-en-scène. (1966, dir. John Frankenheimer, 35mm from the UCLA Film & Television Archive, black and white, 106 min.)