A 50-year veteran cinematographer whose work in Hollywood ultimately spanned many genres and was particularly notable for its use of outdoor locations. McCord began in film in 1917 at age 19 as an assistant to cinematographer James Van Trees. By the early 1920s he was on his own, photographing a number of comedies for First National starring pert flapper Colleen Moore, including "Flirting with Love" (1924) and "Irene" (1926), and occasional Moore dramas like "So Big" (1924). McCord also began working with the showman-like cowboy star Ken Maynard on such Westerns as "Canyon of Adventures" (1928). His picturesque rendering of the scenery of 1849 California won critical praise, and Maynard put McCord under contract. When Maynard moved to Universal in 1929, he took his cinematographer with him, setting a pattern for much of McCord's work over the next decade.
McCord shot over 20 of Maynard's vehicles until 1934, bringing clean compositions and brisk camerawork to a highly enjoyable series of low-budget Westerns. As the 30s wore on, McCord began to work with other stars and studios as well, as on the modest but fun adventure "Carnival Boat" (1932) with William Boyd and Ginger Rogers. By 1936, though, he had settled at Warner Brothers, where, apart from a few years, he would spend the next two decades. McCord continued lensing inexpensive "B" films until the WWII years. While he continued shooting Westerns like "Prairie Thunder" (1937), he had proven himself in other genres by this point. Thus his reliable flair for hard-hitting visuals enhanced such punchy actioners as "Secret Service of the Air" (1938), the especially fine "Bullets for O'Hara" (1941), and even the atypical "Father Is a Prince" (1940).
McCord finally moved up to "A" budget films with the bracing "Action in the North Atlantic" (1943), starring Humphrey Bogart, but his career was interrupted for WWII service. Working for the military's photographic division, McCord rose to the rank of captain, and was one of the first Americans to enter Berlin, photographing scenes in Hitler's chancellery.
McCord's best known and most prestigious films awaited him after his war service, and he stayed with Warner Bros. to bring flair to a wide variety of films. Touching, powerful melodramas like "Deep Valley" (1947), "Johnny Belinda" (1948, which won him the first of three Oscar nominations), and "East of Eden" (1955) used his skill with the outdoors well, and his economical visual narration enhanced more claustrophobic or set-bound films like "The Breaking Point" (1950) and "The Spirit of St. Louis" (1957). Westerns, from "Cattle Town" (1952) to "The Hanging Tree" (1959), never left McCord's repertory, though, and he continued breaking in new directors and making old ones look good into the 60s. His penultimate credit helped end his distinguished career on a high note, when his breathtaking mountain vistas were one of the greatest assets of the sugary family favorite, "The Sound of Music" (1965).