Henri Decaë (1915 – 1987) gained fame as a cinematographer entering the film industry as a sound engineer and sound editor. He was a photojournalist in the French army during World War II. After the war he began making documentary shorts, directing and photographing industrial and commercial films. In 1947 he made his first feature film.
Decaë is strongly associated with directors who strongly influenced, or were part of, the French New Wave. These include Jean-Pierre Melville, Louis Malle and Claude Chabrol. Decaë first worked as a cinematographer with Melville on Le Silence de la Mer (1949). Decaë also edited and mixed the sound. Although Decaë worked with Melville on Les enfants terribles, which as Williams commented (1992, p333) “…the work is more accurately to be viewed as a stunning demonstration of the cinematic possibilities of faithful literary adaptation in the hands of a gifted director”, according to Marie (p 88) it was his distinctive camera work on Bob le flambeur which caught the attention of the Cahiers critics. Malle hired him for his first two features and Chabrol for his first three features. They had been lucky as Decaë was finding it hard to get work at that time as he was being informally shunned by many after participating in a critical film about the Korean War. By the time Decaë worked for François Truffaut on The 400 Blows he came with a reputation, which meant that he was the highest-paid person on the film.
Decaë’s liking for natural light, his ability to work at speed as well as his excellent photographic sensibility led to him working with René Clément on several features beginning with Plein soleil (1960). It was Decaë “…who liberated the camera, from its fixed tripod. He made the New Wave possible, backing up Melville, Malle, Chabrol and Truffaut.” (Marie, 2003 p 89)
For bibliographical references see bibliography under Cinema of France.
 Selected filmography
1949 to 1967. Mainly sourced from Internet Movie Database.
This filmography shows the close involvement of Decaë with New Wave directors prior to and after the 1958-1963 breaking of the wave. Also included are the films which he worked upon with René Clément, who had previously been chastised by Truffaut as being part of the ‘Tradition of Quality’.
- Silence de la mer, Le (1949) Jean-Pierre Melville
- Enfants terribles, Les (1950) Jean-Pierre Melville
- Bob le flambeur (1955) Jean-Pierre Melville
- Amants, Les (1958) Louis Malle
- Le Beau Serge (1958) Claude Chabrol
- Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (1958) Louis Malle
- Quatre cents coups, Les (1959). François Truffaut
- Les Cousins (1959). Claude Chabrol
- À double tour (1959) Claude Chabrol (his third Feature, released in December)
- Che gioia vivere (1960) René Clément (a comedy)
- Plein Soleil (1960) René Clément (Suspense thriller)
- Les Bonnes Femmes (1960) Claude Chabrol (his fourth feature, released in April; critical and box office reception unfavourable – a flop)
- Léon Morin, prêtre (1961) Jean-Pierre Melville
- Vie privée (1962) Louis Malle
- Eva (1962) (uncredited) Joseph Losey
- Les Sept péchés capitaux (1962) Philippe de Broca / Claude Chabrol. This is a blend of the commercial work of ‘Cinéma de papa’ directors and representatives of the New Wave including Jean-Luc Godard, Chabrol, Jacques Demy and Roger Vadim. Anger is the first sin to be treated by Sylvain Dhomme. Molinaro makes a version of Envy. Philippe de Broca makes Gluttony. Jacques Demy is next with Lust. Godard tackles Sloth with Eddie Constantine playing a loafer for a change, not his Lemmy Caution-like nerveless violence. Pride comes from Roger Vadim; Chabrol is last with Greed.
- Le Jour et l’heure (1963) René Clément. (Action / Drama / War)
- L’Aîné des Ferchaux (1963) Jean-Pierre Melville : Stars Jean-Paul Belmondo.
- Dragées au poivre (1963) by Jacques Baratier, but stars Belmondo, Monica Vitti, Anna Karina and Roger Vadim–these last in small parts.
- Les Félins (1964) René Clément. Stars Alain Delon and Jane Fonda. B & W. Thriller
- La Ronde (1964) Roger Vadim (not to be confused with the Max Ophüls version of 1950). Starred famous New Wave actress Anna Karina as well as Jane Fonda.
- Viva Maria! 1965) Louis Malle. Stars Brigitte Bardot, Jeanne Moreau. Genre: Adventure / Comedy / Western.
- The Thief of Paris (Le voleur) (1967) Louis Malle. Stars Belmondo.
- Le Samouraï (1967). Jean-Pierre Melville. Stars Delon.
- Army of Shadows (1969). Jean-Pierre Melville. Stars Lino Ventura, Simone Signoret.
- Two People (1973) Directed by Robert Wise, stars Peter Fonda and Lindsay Wagner