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Bruce Surtees, 74; shot films for Eastwood, Fosse, others

Glenn W. Beier/new york times

Mr. Surtees was a camera operator on “Coogan’s Bluff’’ in 1968.

NEW YORK - Bruce Surtees - a cinematographer known as the Prince of Darkness for his skill at summoning sharply etched figures from the inky depths of prisons, nightclubs, and other inhospitably lighted places - died Feb. 23 in Carmel, Calif. He was 74.

The cause was complications of diabetes, said his wife, Carol.

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Known in particular for his long association with Clint Eastwood, Mr. Surtees shot more than a dozen films in which Eastwood starred. Many of these were also directed by Eastwood, including “Play Misty for Me’’ (1971), his first feature as a director; “High Plains Drifter’’ (1973); “The Outlaw Josey Wales’’ (1976); and “Sudden Impact’’ (1983), the fourth Dirty Harry movie.

Mr. Surtees dealt in shadows. Through his nuanced, often minimal use of lighting on the set, he meticulously conjured the stark contrast of lights and darks on the screen that he and his directors often sought.

“He was fearless,’’ Eastwood said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “He wasn’t afraid to give you sketchy lighting if you asked for it. He didn’t believe in flat light or just bright, ‘Rexall drugstore’ lighting, which a lot of times you can get if you get somebody that isn’t very imaginative.’’

Mr. Surtees’s earliest work as a cinematographer was for director Don Siegel, for whom he shot “Dirty Harry’’ (1971) and “Escape From Alcatraz’’ (1979), both starring Eastwood, and “The Shootist’’ (1976), starring John Wayne.

He had previously been a camera operator whose work included Siegel’s pictures “Coogan’s Bluff’’ (1968) and “Two Mules for Sister Sara’’ (1970) before he was named the cinematographer on “The Beguiled’’ (1971).

Mr. Surtees earned an Academy Award nomination for his work on “Lenny’’ (1974), a biopic about Lenny Bruce starring Dustin Hoffman that was shot in black and white at the request of its director, Bob Fosse. (The Oscar went to Fred Koenekamp and Joseph Biroc for “The Towering Inferno.’’)

Cinematography was part of Mr. Surtees’s genetic endowment. His father, Robert Surtees, was a cinematographer who won Oscars for “King Solomon’s Mines’’ (1950), “The Bad and the Beautiful’’ (1952), and “Ben-Hur’’ (1959

Bruce Surtees studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and began working as a cameraman under his father.

His first marriage, to Judy Rucker, ended in divorce. Besides his wife, the former Carol Buby, whom he married in 1979 in Seoul while on location for “Inchon’’ (1981), he leaves a daughter, Suzanne; a brother, Tom; and a sister, Nancy.

His other films include “Blume in Love’’ (1973), directed by Paul Mazursky; “Night Moves’’ (1975), directed by Arthur Penn; “Leadbelly’’ (1976), directed by Gordon Parks; and “Beverly Hills Cop’’ (1984), directed by Martin Brest.

“He was perfect for me, because we didn’t have very big budgets in those days,’’ Eastwood said Tuesday, recalling his early directorial outings. “He’d make dollies by towing a blanket across the floor with the cameraman sitting on it.’’

Mr. Surtees’ jury-rigged dollies worked spectacularly well, Eastwood said, provided the floor was smooth enough.

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