wiki:Ellis R. Duncan

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Ellis R. Duncan

Tamil director and American cinematographer aka Dungan. Born in Ohio; graduate of UCLA and the American Institute of Cinematography and worked in Hollywood as a cameraman (1927). Came to India (1935) to sell camera equipment and stayed for 17 years making several major Tamil films, starting with Sati Leelavathi, based on S.S. Vasan’s novel and introducing MGR. M.L. Tandon, who had earlier met Duncan at UCLA, got him to direct films. Iru Sahodarargal, also with MGR, made him the top director of a nascent Tamil film industry, also editing his own work and integrating music and comedy routines into the plot, which was perhaps his most influential contribution. A series of hits followed: Ambikapathy with M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar at Salem Shankar Films; Shakuntalai and the memorable Meera with the singer M.S. Subbulakshmi at Chandraprabha Cinetone. Best-known work at Modern Theatres: Ponmudi and the seminal MGR hit Manthiri Kumari (which was completed by T.R. Sundaram). Although Duncan did not know Tamil (his interpreters were known as ‘ rush directors’), his work is remembered for its emphasis on Tamil dialogue: the famed scenarist Elangovan débuted in his Ambikapathy while Ponmudi remains one of the poet Bharatidasan’s bestknown scripts; Manthiri Kumari was Karunanidhi’s first major literary contribution to cinema. Duncan worked with well-known actor-singers such as G.N. Balasubramanyam, M.S. Subbulakshmi (the two acting together in Shakuntalai), and T.N. Rajarathnam Pillai (who featured in Kalamegham). Credited with codirection of an Indo-US co-prod. The Jungle (William Berke, 1952), starring Rod Cameron, Marie Windsor and Caesar Romero, later dubbed into Tamil as Kaadu. During WW2 made propaganda shorts (e.g. Returning Soldier with T.S. Balaiah), and after Independence was commissioned by the government to film the transfer of power ritual. In the 50s returned to live in Wheeler city, West Virginia, occasionally working in India, e.g. as a 2nd unit photographer for Hugo Fregonese’s Harry Black (1958) and John Guillermin’s Tarzan Mera Saathi (1962).

FILMOGRAPHY: 1936: Sati Leelavathi; Simantini; Iru Sahodarargal; 1937: Ambikapathy; 1940: Shakuntalai; Suryaputri; Kalamegham; 1943: Daasi Penn; 1945: Valmiki; Meera; Returning Soldier; 1949: Ponmudi; 1950: Manthiri Kumari; 1952: Kaadu.