Talented cinematographer of lustrous black-and-white imagery who, after 20 years behind the lens in the 1930s and 40s, moved into the director's chair and showed a flair for suspense. Tetzlaff began as a lab and camera assistant before sharing cinematography credits on half a dozen minor films in 1926-27. He joined Columbia in 1928, working regularly with good contract directors Erle C. Kenton ("The Last Parade" 1931), Roy William Neill ("Behind Closed Doors" 1929), and the up-and-coming Frank Capra. Tetzlaff shot three films for Capra, starting with the enjoyable "The Power of the Press" (1928). He was prolific, too, lensing a dozen films in 1929 and eleven each in 1930 and 1931.
It was at Columbia that Tetzlaff first worked with rising star Carole Lombard, on loan from Paramount, on "Brief Moment" (1933) and "Lady by Choice" (1934). Late in 1934, he moved to Paramount, where he was soon reunited with Lombard, now a top name, for "Rumba" and the especially delightful romantic comedy "Hands Across the Table" (both 1935). Tetzlaff was now an 'A' budget cinematographer, and would shoot the glamorous comedienne in ten films including "The Princess Comes Across" (1936) and "True Confession" (1937). Lombard even took him with her when she was loaned out to other studios, and so Tetzlaff's glossy images enhanced Universal's landmark screwball "My Man Godfrey" (1936).
Tetzlaff continued at Paramount through 1941 before serving in WWII. Just before war service, he took a first shot at directing, but the Hollywood-set comedy, "World Premiere" (1941), despite some good ingredients, was more frantic than funny. He signed with RKO near the war's end and soon racked up one of his finest credits, one which would set a pattern for his best future work. Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious" (1946) was a model collaboration, with sensuous low-key lighting mixing with fluid tracking, crane and POV shots to build a gripping web of intrigue.
Tetzlaff obviously learned from Hitchcock when he became a director for good: after treading water on several minor credits, he struck pay dirt with the spine-tingling film noir "The Window" (1949), about a boy fond of crying wolf who isn't believed when he actually witnesses a murder. Tetzlaff stayed with RKO into the early 50s and later free-lanced until 1959, working only as a director; his credits were all B-films or modestly budgeted A's, but the best (the mountain adventure "The White Tower" 1950 and "Terror on a Train" 1953, about defusing bombs) show the same admirably craftsmanlike qualities which marked his best work as a cinematographer.