Jack Cardiff, an Oscar-winning British cinematographer and director who drew inspiration from Rembrandt's use of light and shadow to convey his visions and those of directors like Hitchcock, as well as the allure of actresses like Monroe, died on Wednesday at his home in Ely, England. He was 94.
The British Film Institute announced his death.
Mr. Cardiff nurtured a love for vivid color that began with boyhood awe at the paintings of the masters and flowered when he was chosen by the Technicolor Motion Picture Corporation as the first technician to shoot a British film in the new medium. That movie was "Wings of the Morning" (1937), starring Henry Fonda.
He then used color to devastating effect in films directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Their 1947 picture "Black Narcissus," which told the sexually tense story of a group of nuns in the Himalayas, displayed an extreme contrast between red and green that Mr. Cardiff said was inspired by van Gogh. He won an Academy Award for cinematography for that movie.
"The Red Shoes," which came out the next year, was even more daring in its visual presentation. It contained a 15-minute ballet sequence in which he changed the speed of a camera to make it appear that a dancer was hovering in the air before landing. Another magical moment came when a newspaper morphed into a dancing man.
Other films for which Mr. Cardiff was credited as cinematographer, photographer or director of photography included "Under Capricorn" (1949), "The Black Rose" (1950), "The African Queen" (1951), "The Magic Box" (1952), "The Barefoot Contessa" (1954), "War and Peace" (1956), "The Prince and the Showgirl" (1957), "Legend of the Lost" (1957) and "The Vikings" (1958).
He worked with a dazzling array of stars that included Marlene Dietrich, Laurence Olivier, Errol Flynn and Ava Gardner, and was particularly known for his ability to bring out the special facets of beauty in fabulous-looking women. According to an article in The London Evening Standard in 2000, Marilyn Monroe once wrote him: "Dear Jack, If only I could be the way you have created me! I love you, Marilyn."
Mr. Cardiff directed 15 pictures, mainly in the 1960s and '70s, including his adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's "Sons and Lovers," for which he was won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for an Academy Award.
One movie Mr. Cardiff directed has maintained a persistent cult following, despite initial pans by many critics. It is "The Girl on a Motorcycle" (1968), which tells the story of a woman (played by the singer Marianne Faithfull, who was Mick Jagger's girlfriend at the time) who leaves her meek husband, wearing only a fur-lined leather jumpsuit, to ride across Europe and meet up with the lover who gave her the motorcycle as a wedding present. Even critics who hated the film praised Mr. Cardiff's photography.
Mr. Cardiff's parents were vaudeville performers who were on tour when he was born in Yarmouth, England, on Sept. 18, 1914. He soon appeared onstage himself. He made his first movie appearance at age 4 in "My Son, My Son" (1918) and acted regularly in silent films as a child. His education was spotty, as his family moved every week or so and he had to keep switching schools. He began visiting art museums when he was around 9 and was first captivated by Rembrandt, then Caravaggio, then the Impressionists, whose love affair with light entranced him.
He gravitated from acting to working as a member of the crew for directors including Alexander Korda and Alfred Hitchcock. He had risen to second-unit cameraman when Mr. Powell noticed him and hired him to photograph his next film.
In the 1970s and '80s Mr. Cardiff returned to cinematography, including action pictures with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. During the filming of "Rambo: First Blood Part II" (1985), Mr. Stallone told Mr. Cardiff where to position a light. Later, privately, Mr. Cardiff firmly told the actor never to advise him on lighting again, The Guardian reported in 2001.
"I'm sorry," Mr. Stallone said. "I'm out of line. I'm out of line."