During the 1930s and early '40s, Osmond Borradaile was one of the most celebrated location cinematographers in the world -- almost a Frank Buck-type figure as a photographer, in terms of going to the ends of the earth to get usable footage for feature films.
Born in Winnipeg in 1898, he was raised and educated in Canada until the age of 16, when his family moved to San Diego, CA. Having decided that formal schooling wasn't the way for him to prepare for adult life, Borradaile took a job selling tickets and souvenirs at the La Jolla caverns, and later giving tours of the cave itself -- it was while doing this job that he chanced to see a movie, entitled Caprice, starring Mary Pickford, being shot. He befriended a member of the camera crew, and so impressed the man with his knowledge of photography and his eagerness to learn more, that he was urged to try and work in motion pictures. He picked up more experience on the other end of the business by working at a local theater, where he soon learned the intricacies of projecting film as well as operating a theater. But it was a casting director friend of Borradaile's mother that got him into the industry, as a laboratory technician at what was then Jesse L. Lasky Feature Plays -- this early start in the film business was interrupted by World War I, in which Borradaile served for three years, getting little for his patriotism except a case of trench fever. Luckily, after being mustered out in 1918, he found a professional berth back in Hollywood almost immediately, with the Lasky company, which had since become Famous Players-Lasky, which would soon become Paramount Pictures. He was soon learning about film processing and eventually got out of the labs and became an assistant to cameraman Al Gilks in a new production unit assigned to director Sam Wood, which scored a hit with its first release, Excuse My Dust, an auto-racing movie starring Wallace Reid. It was working on Wood's films, most of which involved extensive outdoor shooting, that Borradaile got his first experience of the special needs of location shooting, and of the special technical problems involved in matching material shot under natural light with that photographed under studio lighting. He also got to work with and know such legends as Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson. Borradaile was the camera assistant on such renowned silent era films as Peck's Bad Boy (1921) and It (1927), and was the camera operator on such early talkies as Ernst Lubitsch's The Love Parade (1929) and Howard Hawks' Hell's Angels (1930).
He moved to England in the early '30s and, in 1933, was hired by Alexander Korda at London Films. It was there that Borradaile finally started getting screen credit, as well as shooting the kind of material that would make him famous within the industry. He photographed the Oxford exteriors on Men of Tomorrow, and was a camera operator on The Private Life of Henry VIII and The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934); but it was on such movies as Sanders of the River (1935), Elephant Boy (1937), Drums (1938), and The Four Feathers (1939), all of which involved extensive shooting in Africa, India, and the Middle East, that Borradaile made his name, getting extraordinary footage from these locales and, in the case of Drums and The Four Feathers, achieving astoundingly good results with Technicolor film. Borradaile was involved with such early wartime propaganda movies as The Lion Has Wings (1939) and The 49th Parallel (1941), but was also one of those responsible for the dazzling look of the fantasy film The Thief of Bagdad (1940). He also shot location material used by Hitchcock in Foreign Correspondent (1940), and in 1946 journeyed to Australia to play a key role in the shooting of the wartime drama The Overlanders (1946). He journeyed from the sub-zero (Scott of the Antarctic) to the desert (Storm Over the Nile) during the late '40s and mid-'50s -- ironically, the latter movie was, itself, a remake of The Four Feathers that re-used some of the same footage that he'd shot in 1938.
Borradaile remained active intermittently during the 1960s, when he received his final screen credit, as the second-unit camera operator on Sidney Hayers' period Canadian adventure The Trap, and the 1970s, when he served as the cinematographer on Travelin' Light (1971). He died in 1999 at the age of 100.