John Alton

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
John Alton, A.S.C.
Born Johann Jacob Altmann
(1901-10-05)October 5, 1901
Sopron, Austria-Hungary
Died June 2, 1996(1996-06-02) (aged 94)
Santa Monica, California
Occupation Cinematographer
Spouse(s) Rozalia Kiss

John Alton A.S.C. (October 5, 1901 – June 2, 1996), born Johann Jacob Altmann, in Sopron/Ödenburg, Kingdom of Hungary, Austria-Hungary, was an American cinematographer.[1] Alton won an Academy Award for the cinematography of An American in Paris (1951), becoming the first Hungarian-born person to do so.


He photographed some of the most famous films noir of the classic period. He started out in Los Angeles as a lab technician in the 1920s, later becoming a cameraman within four years.[2] He moved to France with Ernst Lubitsch to film backgrounds for The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927) and ended up staying for one year heading the camera department of Paramount Pictures's Joinville Studios. In 1932 he moved to Argentina where he shot many Spanish-language films and designed the country's first sound film studio for Lumiton and Argentina Sono Film.

He returned to Hollywood in the late 1930s, with two dozen film credits, and became one of the most sought after cinematographers in American cinema.[3]

Alton was known for unconventional camera angles—especially low camera shots. His style is most notable in the films noir: He Walked by Night, The Big Combo, The Amazing Mr. X, T-Men, and Raw Deal.

Alton also photographed many color movies including Slightly Scarlet (a color film noir).


Main article: Painting with Light

Alton wrote Painting with Light (1949), one of the first books written by a working studio cinematographer. The book put forth several controversial theories for the day, such as depth is created by placing the brightest object in the scene furthest from the camera, and that studio lighting must always simulate natural light in texture and direction. It addresses both conventional and unconventional methods of studio motion-picture lighting. While technical advances have made much of the content obsolete, it contains valuable information and ideas for lighting several difficult interior and exterior setups and situations. The table of contents includes chapters such as "Mystery Lighting", "Special Illumination", and "Visual Symphony".




In 1966, Alton shot the pilot for Mission: Impossible, which became a popular television series in the late 1960s and early 1970s.




  • Laurel Awards: Golden Laurel, Top Cinematography, Color, The Brothers Karamazov, 4th place; 1959.

Other honors


  1. ^ John Alton at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. ^ John Alton at AllMovie.
  3. ^ Steeman, Albert. Internet Encyclopedia of Cinematographers, "John Alton page", Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 2007. Last accessed: December 13, 2007.
  4. ^ Goble, Alan. The Complete Index to World Film, since 1885. 2008. Index home page.
  5. ^ Steeman, Albert. Ibid.


  • Harry Tomicek: Das grosse Schwarz. Border Incident, von Anthony Mann, Kamera: John Alton (1949). In: Christian Cargnelli, Michael Omasta (eds.): Schatten. Exil. Europäische Emigranten im Film noir. PVS, Vienna 1997. ISBN 3-901196-26-9.

External links[edit]