Though soft lighting wasn’t used much by cinematographers until the late 1960’s, that doesn’t mean it didn’t occasionally appear in major films prior to then.
Director John Farrow’s The Big Clock (1948; photographed by John Seitz, ASC) is a terrific example of forward-thinking in this department. It shows frequent and interesting experiments with bounced sources, especially in the early scenes and during those set in the eponymous office building of the opening sequence. Viewed against the traditional hard lighting that’s used in the rest of the film, Seitz’s approach creates an appropriately contrasting atmosphere. This was totally uncharacteristic for its day and once again indicates why Seitz (1892-1979) is one of my favorite cinematographers of the studio era.
As a past-president of the ASC, he enjoyed an outstanding career, with seven Academy Award nominations and two wins. Among many other directors, he was also Billy Wilder’s go-to guy, having shot four of his best films, including Double Indemnity (1943) and Sunset Boulevard (1949).
As if you don’t already have enough to do, take my word and check out The Big Clock for something fascinating from one of our most frequent innovators!