Cinematographer and film director Karl Freund was born in Bohemia in 1890. His film career began when he was just 15 years old as an assistant projectionist for a film company in Berlin. He worked as a cinematographer on over 100 movies, including iconic German Expressionist movies The Golem, The Last Laugh, and Metropolis. Freund co-wrote and served as the cinematographer on Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis, which was directed by Walter Ruttman. From 1921 to 1935 he directed ten movies and he acted in the 1924 Carl Theodor Dreyer-directed Michael.
Freund emigrated to the U.S. in 1929. The first movie he worked on in the United States was All Quiet on the Western Front in 1930, though he was not credited on the film. His first credited film was The Boudoir Diplomat as a cinematographer.
Some of his most noted work is the 1931 Universal Monster hit Dracula. Director Tod Browning’s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula wasn’t the first adaptation for the king of vampires, but it is the archetypal version. He cast Bela Lugosi, the original Broadway stage actor to play the count, as the mysterious vampire onscreen. Using Broadway theatricality and his intimidating, hypnotic stare, Lugosi terrified audiences. As the cameraman, Freund accentuated the vampire’s powers with expressionistic effects through the lighting, camera angles, and focus on how things moved in the shot. The film combines stage and silent film style performances with the ominous tension created by Dracula and the wide-eyed, desperate lunacy portrayed by Dwight Frye as Renfield. Many Dracula films that have followed mimic elements and styles of the film collaboration between producer Carl Laemmle, Jr., Browning, Lugosi, and Freund, though few have caught lightning in a bottle the way they did.
In 1932, he directed The Mummy, following quickly after Dracula and then Frankenstein. Boris Karloff traded his flattop in Frankenstein for bandages and a fez to portray Imhotep, the Mummy. Freund gave the film a dream-like quality and Karloff embodied a sympathetic Imhotep who was lonely like Frankenstein’s Monster.
That year he also served as the cinematographer on Murders in the Rue Morgue. It was filled with acts of more realistic horror by Dr. Mirakle, including murdering a prostitute, and overt allusions to bestiality and sexual assault. Robert Florey directed this film and as cinematographer, Freund infused the movie with horrifying tones played out through expressionistic style.
In the early 1950s he negotiated with Desi Arnaz to work as the cinematographer on the TV series I Love Lucy. He has been lauded by critics for his work on the series, particularly designing the “flat lighting” system for shooting sitcoms. The technique involves covering the entire set in light, which eliminates shadows thereby making the set clear for using three moving cameras without changing the lighting in between shots. Though he did not invent the three-camera system he did perfect the technique in front of live audiences. The process is still used today.