Painter and ballet set designer in Paris after 1921; assistant on films
in the late 1920s and early 1930s; 1934—first film designs, for
La Porteuse de pain
; 1943—first film in Hollywood,
Three Russian Girls
; 1953—directed first film,
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
; designed the TV series
, 1973–75, and others.
From heart failure, in California, 26 May 1991.
Un Coup de téléphone (Lacombe)
Madame Bovary (Renoir)
La Porteuse de pain (Sti); Le Bossu (Sti); Jeanne (Tourjansky)
Les Yeux Noirs (Tourjansky); Quand la vie était belle (Sti); La Petite Sauvage (de Limur); Le Bébé de l'escadron (Sti); Crime et châtiment (Chenal)
Sous les yeux d'occident ( Razumov ) (M. Allégret); Baccara (Mirande); Les Hommes nouveaux (L'Herbier); Le Grand Refrain (Siodmak); Aventure à Paris (M. Allégret); Les Bas-fonds ( The Lower Depths ) (Renoir)
La Grande Illusion ( Grand Illusion ) (Renoir); L'Alibi (Chenal) (co); Le Messager (Rouleau); Nuits de feu (L'Herbier) (co)
La Bête humaine ( The Human Beast ) (Renoir); Ramuntcho (Barberis); L'Affaire Lafarge (Chenal) (co); Werther (Ophüls) (co); La Tragédie impériale ( Rasputin ) (L'Herbier); Le Paradis de Satan (de Gandera); Les Nouveaux Riches (Berthomieu); La Règle du jeu ( The Rules of the Game ) (Renoir) (co)
Sans lendemain (Ophüls); L'Or du Cristobal (Becker)
Une Fause Alerte (de Baroncelli); Air pur (Clair—unfinished)
Three Russian Girls (Ozep); This Land Is Mine (Renoir); Sahara (Z. Korda)
The Imposter (Duvivier); In Society (Yarbrough); The House of Fear (Neill)
Uncle Harry ( The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry ; The Zero Murder Case ) (Siodmak); The Southerner (Renoir)
The Diary of a Chambermaid (Renoir)
The Long Night (Litvak); The Song of Scheherazade (Reisch)
A Woman's Vengeance (Z. Korda)
The River (Renoir); The Adventures of Captain Fabian (Marshall)
The Diamond Queen (Brahm)
So This Is Paris (Quine)
Confessions of an Opium Eater (Zugsmith)
Shock Corridor (Fuller); The Strangler (Topper); Flight from Ashiya (Anderson)
The Naked Kiss (Fuller)
Bikini Paradise (Tallas)
A Crack in the World (Marton) (+ special effects); Battle of the Bulge (Annakin) (+ special effects)
Custer of the West (Siodmak) (+ special effects)
Krakatoa, East of Java (Kowalski) (+ special effects); Royal Hunt of the Sun (Lerner) (+ special effects)
Eliza's Horoscope (Sheppard); Death Takes a Holiday (Butler)
The Delphi Bureau (Wendkos); What's the Matter with Helen? (Harrington); Kung Fu (Thorp); Haunts of the Very Rich (Wendkos)
What Are Best Friends For? (Sandrich)
Carola (Lloyd); Burnt Offerings (Curtiss)
Philemon (Lloyd); Time Travelers (Singer)
Lacy and the Mississippi Queen (Butler); An Enemy of the People (Schaeffer)
Supertrain (Curtiss) (+ special effects)
Bronco Billy (Eastwood); Freebie and the Bean (Auerback)
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (d)
Napoleon (Guitry) (2nd unit d)
Si Paris nous était conté (Guitry) (2nd unit d)
The Colossus of New York (d)
The Giant Behemoth (d)
Gorgo (d); Back Street (Miller) (2nd unit d)
That Touch of Mink (Delbert Mann) (2nd unit d)
A Whale for the Killing (consultant)
Breathless (McBride) (ro)
My Work in Films , New York, 1985.
Film Comment (New York), May-June 1978.
American Film (Washington, D.C.), January-February 1985.
Films and Filming (London), February 1960.
Films and Filming (London), December 1961.
Monthly Film Bulletin (London), January 1972.
Film Dope (Nottingham), February 1987.
Positif (Paris), July-August 1988.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 3 June 1991.
Della Casa, S., in Cineforum , no. 306, July/August 1991.
Schactman, K., "Gorgo," in Scarlet Street , Spring 1992.
* * *
While best known as one of Jean Renoir's main collaborators—he was production designer on eight of the director's films—Eugène Lourié's credits include production design for TV and stage, second unit direction for film, and special effects direction for both TV and film, as well as the direction of four feature films and three TV projects. While his undisputed masterpieces are his designs for Renoir's Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game , many of his other achievements are of note.
An avid cinema fan since his childhood days in czarist Russia, Lourié began his career in the cinema as a red guard drunk with power in an anti-communist film entitled Black Crows . Later, after escaping to Turkey with his family, Lourié worked as an illustrator of movie posters before arriving in his ultimate destination—Paris—where he began as a scenery painter on Ivan Mozhukin's Le Brasier ardent . Then, after working briefly as a costume designer, Lourié abandoned his plans to study painting and became a full-time production designer for film.
Lourié's association with Renoir began early in his career, when Alexander Kamenka, the head of Albatross Pictures—originally a Russian company—began planning a film of Maxim Gorky's famous stage play The Lower Depths . From a list of prospective directors, Lourié recommended Renoir. Their shared notion of elevating the Russian play to reflect a universality began a collaboration which flourished while Renoir moved from France to Hollywood and then to India.
In his autobiography, My Work in Films , Lourié discussed his work on six of the eight Renoir films. Early in his discussion of Grand Illusion , he states that "Renoir preferred shooting under the controlled conditions of a stage. He was convinced, as was I, that studio sets could be more dramatically expressive and fit the story better than some actual locations." Throughout the book, he confirmed the positive benefits of working with Renoir, particularly the collaborative spirit which Renoir developed with all members of his cast and crew: "Renoir knew how important his collaborators were to his work, and being a truly great director, he did not deny their influence but tried to assimilate it to reinforce his own point of view."
That collaborative spirit influenced Lourié's work aesthetic: the plans for the Grand Illusion set occupied by Erich von Stroheim's character were worked out in collaboration with the actor. When von Stroheim was planning The Iron Crown —his unrealized film of the fall of the Austrian empire—he asked Lourié to design it.
Renoir's allowance for collaborative freedom found its greatest result in The Rules of the Game . On that film, Lourié created the perfect atmosphere to reflect Renoir's vision of a society dancing on the edge of a volcano. In typical style, Renoir's final vision of character action was developed after seeing Lourié's finished sets. In designing the set, Lourié adhered to an aesthetic sensibility he shared with Renoir: uncluttered, light-colored sets which provide perfect backgrounds for the silhouetted movement of actors. Like Renoir, Lourié preferred not to obscure the movement of performers, but to heighten them.
Among Lourié's other outstanding production designs are the sets for Max Ophüls's Werther and Charlie Chaplin's Limelight . On the former, Lourié claimed he developed an appreciation for the close affinity between production design and musical expression. On Limelight , Lourié's approach was that of his work with Renoir: he designed sets which allowed for the foregrounding of the players' actions.
In the 1950s Lourié began designing and directing films with more expansive settings, notably science fiction and war films which involved a foregrounding of set design and the use of miniatures. Among his most impressive contributions to 1960s cinema was his set for Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor , a stark set which perfectly reflects the growing psychological tension and deterioration of the hospital inmates.
Lourié was still active into the 1980s. In 1980 he served as production designer on Clint Eastwood's Bronco Billy , while in 1983 he returned to the other side of the cameras as Dr. Boudreaux in Jim McBride's remake of Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless .