Robert Boyle - Writer

Art Director. Nationality: American. Born: Los Angeles, California, 1910. Education: Attended the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, B. Arch. 1933. Family: Married. Career: Worked for several architectural firms, and acting extra; 1933—sketch artist and draftsman, Paramount, then worked for Universal, RKO, and Universal again. Agent: The Gersh Agency Inc., 232 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, U.S.A.

Films as Art Director or Production Designer:


Saboteur (Hitchcock)


Flesh and Fantasy (Duvivier); Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock); Good Morning, Judge (Yarbrough); South of Tahiti ( White Savage ) (Lubin)


Nocturne (Marin)


They Won't Believe Me (Pichel); Ride the Pink Horse (Montgomery)


Another Part of the Forest (Gordon); An Act of Murder ( Live Today for Tomorrow ) (Gordon); For the Love of Mary (de Cordova)


The Gal Who Took the West ( The Western Story ) (de Cordova); Abandoned (Newman)


Buccaneer's Girl (de Cordova); Louisa (Hall); The Milkman (Barton); Sierra (Grenen); Mystery Submarine (Sirk)


Iron Man (Pevney); Mark of the Renegade (Fregonese); The Lady Pays Off (Sirk); Weekend with Father (Sirk)


Bronco Buster (Boetticher); Lost in Alaska (Yarbrough); Yankee Buccaneer (de Cordova); Back at the Front (G. Sherman)


Girls in the Night (Arnold); The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (Lourié); Gunsmoke (Juran); Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (Lamont); Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation (Lamont); It Came from Outer Space (Arnold); East of Sumatra (Boetticher)


Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (Lamont); Johnny Dark (G. Sherman); Ride Clear of Diablo (Hibbs)


Chief Crazy Horse (G. Sherman); Kiss of Fire (Newman); The Private War of Major Benson (Hopper); Lady Godiva (Lubin); Running Wild (La Cava)


Never Say Goodbye (Hopper); A Day of Fury (Jones); Congo Crossing (Pevney)


The Night Runner (Biberman); The Brothers Rico (Karlson); Operation Mad Ball (Quine)


Buchanan Rides Alone (Boetticher); Wild Heritage (Haas)


The Crimson Kimono (Fuller); North by Northwest (Hitchcock)


Cape Fear (Lee Thompson) (co)


The Birds (Hitchcock); The Thrill of It All (Jewison) (co)


Marnie (Hitchcock)


Do Not Disturb (Levy) (co); The Reward (Bourguignon) (co)


The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (Jewison)


Fitzwilly (Delbert Mann); In Cold Blood (R. Brooks); How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (Swift)


The Thomas Crown Affair (Jewison)


Gaily, Gaily ( Chicago, Chicago ) (Jewison)


The Landlord (Ashby)


Fiddler on the Roof (Jewison)


Portnoy's Complaint (Lehman)


Mame (Saks)


Bite the Bullet (R. Brooks)


Leadbelly (Parks)


Winter Kills (Richert)


Private Benjamin (Zieff)


Staying Alive (Stallone)


Jumpin' Jack Flash (P. Marshall)


Dragnet (T. Mankiewicz)


Troop Beverly Hills (Kanew)


To Meteoro vima tou pelargou ( The Suspended Step of the Stork ) (Angelopoulos)


By BOYLE: articles—

Film Comment (New York), May/June 1978.

Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1982.

On BOYLE: article—

Films and Filming (London), March/April 1970.

* * *

During his 46 years as an independent Hollywood art director, Robert Boyle worked on a variety of films, applying his technique and the tricks of the art director's trade to make realistic looking sets and locations. He created images that would not only enhance the story but also cement it to time and place. From Hitchcock's Saboteur to Troop Beverly Hills , Boyle worked on such films as The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming ; The Thomas Crown Affair ; and the original Cape Fear . But along with these impressive films, Boyle also served as art director on such films as Abbott and Costello Go to Mars and It Came from Outer Space , as well as a few Ma and Pa Kettle films. Westerns such as Bronco Buster and such costume films as Buccaneer's Girl were also part of Boyle's oeuvre.

Boyle began his career in the thirties when film sets started to move away from the style that was more suitable to the theater, from which they had been borrowed. Film studios began to maintain large art departments and art department heads were appointed to be responsible for the ultimate style of the studio. At Paramount, where Boyle was associated with Wiard Ihnen, the art department head was Hans Drier, a German architect. Drier brought a flair for the modern to Paramount, having been influenced by Bauhaus artists and the Swiss architect, Le Corbusier. It was said that Drier's Paramount was able to make sets look more like the real thing.

Although trained as an architect, Boyle started out as a sketch artist and assistant designer. He was, however, able to use his architectural skills to design the realistic sets that were in demand by the studios during the thirties. Developing his skills at this time made Boyle a believer in film sets and the total control the art director could exercise over them. He also found that it was easier to design a location than to find one. After reading a script, Boyle would put into reality the images he conceived from the story. On the film set, Boyle would be able to use all the tricks of his trade to design and build a believable set.

As films changed and location filming became more popular, Boyle adapted as well. He used his tricks to make the location shots more controllable. Using mattes to improve the mood and floodlights to correct existing conditions—or adding bits and pieces to the location—Boyle used anything to try to create the preconceived image he got from the script. Although he worked on memorable films by other great directors, it is his work with Hitchcock for which Boyle is best known. He first worked as an art director on Hitchcock's Saboteur in 1942, then worked on four more Hitchcock films— Shadow of a Doubt , North by Northwest , Marnie , and The Birds , receiving an Oscar nomination for his work on North by Northwest .

Hitchcock wanted to use actual locations for North by Northwest , including Grand Central Station and Mount Rushmore. Since filming at Mount Rushmore was limited, the sequence was filmed on a stage using rear projections to create the illusion that it was filmed on location. For Grand Central Station, Boyle used a maximum of light to create a proper set. Boyle said he flooded the station with so much light he wondered if Paramount could pay the bill. He also showed his adaptability with location shooting by using an ideal site for the crop-duster assault on Cary Grant. The image is one of a lone figure in the dusty field with no cover in sight desperately trying to flee the airplane. The contrast between the impeccably dressed Grant, the dust from the fields, and the emptiness of the landscape combine to create a memorable scene.

The most startling and perhaps the most technically complex film Boyle has worked on is The Birds . Boyle drew his inspiration from Edvard Munch's painting "The Cry" for his overall look. For the technical challenge, he turned to the Disney studios for their special effects technology. Using mattes, and a borrowed special effect prism from Disney, he was able to exercise total control of the imagery and to make convincing illusions. One of the more famous scenes is the bird's-eye view of the fire in the town of Bodega Bay. Boyle had to create the entire scene using mattes; even the apparently moving smoke was part of the mattes. The only actual "real" objects were the gas, the phone booth, the car and, of course, the fire. The filming of the fire was done in the studio parking lot, and the town was added in matte by matte to create the final image. Boyle said they could not film the fire on location because the town in the movie was actually a composite of several towns. Boyle created Bodega Bay by using bits and pieces from one town or another, another example of his ability to take control and create his vision of the story while on location.

Marnie was to be his last film with Hitchcock, and Boyle went on to work with Norman Jewison for several films. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on Gaily, Gaily —a lavish production set in Chicago in 1910 in which he successfully incorporated historic landmarks and period scenes in and around Chicago. Fiddler on the Roof , Jewison's film version of the theater production, was shot on location in Yugoslavia. The film called for real houses, real animals and real landscapes. Boyle again was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on this film, the look of which was described as gritty and realistic.

Boyle continued to show his adaptability and versatility well into the 1980s working on such films as Private Benjamin , Staying Alive (Stallone's sequel to Saturday Night Fever ), Jumpin' Jack Flash , and finishing his career with the film version of Dragnet in 1987 and Troop Beverly Hills in 1988.

—Renee Ward

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

Other articles you might like: