Art Designer, Supervising Studio Art Director.
Chicago, Illinois, 1905 or 1910 (sources vary).
University of Illinois.
1933–40—worked as theatrical designer in Chicago;
1942—joined Paramount as unit art director; 1947—promoted to
executive position on the staff for domestic and international companies;
1950—became supervising art director for the studio;
1968—retired from filmmaking to work as a design consultant at the
architectural firm of his brother, William L. Pereira.
Academy Award, for
The Rose Tatoo
In Los Angeles, California, 17 December 1983.
Double Indemnity ; The Ministry of Fear
Son of a Paleface
The War of the Worlds
The Tin Star
Ace in the Hole ; The Lemon Drop Kid ; Peking Express ; Here Comes the Groom ; When Worlds Collide ; Red Mountain
My Son John ; The Greatest Show on Earth ; Carrie ; Caribbean ; The Turning Point
Come Back ; Little Sheba ; Shane ; Stalag 17 ; Houdini ; Sangaree ; Roman Holiday ; Botany Bay
Knock on Wood ; The Naked Jungle ; Elephant Walk ; Jivaro ; Rear Window ; Sabrina ; White Christmas
Conquest of Space ; Run for Cover ; Strategic Air Command ; The Far Horizons ; The 7 Little Foys ; To Catch a Thief ; The Desperate Hours ; The Trouble with Harry ; The Rose Tatoo ; Artists and Models
The Court Jester ; The Man Who Knew Too Much ; The Proud and the Profane ; That Certain Feeling ; The Vagabond King ; The Mountain ; The Ten Commandments
Three Violent People ; Fear Strikes Out ; Funny Face ; Lonely Man ; The Gunfight at the OK Corral
Teacher's Pet ; Vertigo ; Hot Spell ; The Space Children ; Houseboat ; The Buccaneer
The Five Pennies ; That Kind of Woman ; L'il Abner
One-Eyed Jacks ; The Ladies' Man ; Breakfast at Tiffany's ; Pocketful of Miracles ; The Errand Boy
Hell is for Heroes ; Hatari!
Hud ; The Nutty Professor ; Come Blow Your Horn ; Donovan's Reef ; McLintock! ; Who's Minding the Store ; Love with the Proper Stranger
Robinson Crusoe on Mars ; The Patsy ; The Disorderly Orderly
Sylvia ; The Family Jewels ; Harlow ; The Sons of Katie Elder
Red Line 7000 ; The Night of the Grizzly ; Nevada Smith ; This Property is Condemned ; Waco ; The Swinger
Warning Shot ; Chuka ; The Caper of the Golden Bulls ; El Dorado ; The Spirit is Willing ; The President's Analyst
No Way to Treat a Lady
Obituary in Variety (New York), 28 December 1983.
* * *
Trained by a number of steady and profitable years of theatrical work, Hal Pereira began work in 1942 as a unit art designer for Paramount, the studio most noted for its sumptuous use of mise-enscène to create entertaining films. Pereira rose rapidly through the ranks, becoming supervising art director in 1950 and thus responsible for art design in the studio's production as a whole, though he continued to work, usually with others, on individual projects.
Like all studio technicians of this era, Pereira was required to be flexible and work on many different kinds of films. He created interesting design effects from the Wellsian scientific apocalypse War of the Worlds , one of the most terrifying of the many early fifties entries in this genre, perfecting ideas he had used in an earlier coproduction, When Worlds Collide. Called upon to summon up appropriate images of the biblical past, Pereira helped design convincing sets for the epic story of The Ten Commandments; he was at least competent in other period pictures as well, notably Botany Bay , The Proud and the Profane , and The Buccaneer. At least two of the westerns he worked on, Nevada Smith and Shane , required well-designed interiors—uncharacteristic of the genre—and Pereira was up to the task, creating sets that allowed dramatic interior scenes equivalent to the exteriors, which benefitted much from natural scenery in each case. Pereira also did excellent work for a number of comedies, especially Jerry Lewis films such as The Disorderly Orderly and The Bellboy , which required appropriate sets for complicated interior sequences. He also worked on nearly all the Alfred Hitchcock color films of the fifties, imparting a richness and, sometimes, glamour that perfectly suited the director's interests at the time in offering exciting, adult drama with a fair amount of visual stylization.
Interestingly, though he worked for a studio that for much of its corporate life specialized in more or less elaborate forms of escapism, Pereira was obviously most at home in designing urban interiors and exteriors. It is significant that his first major project for Paramount, Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity , was very much a departure for the studio. One of the earliest films noirs , Double Indemnity notably transforms the ambiance of James M. Cain's gritty story of adultery and murder for profit; Raymond Chandler's screenplay firmly locates the drama in a somewhat pretentious upper middle class California milieu, perfectly expressed by Pereira's design for the Dietrichson house—with an interior that is not as rich or well-appointed as expected, the ideal setting for a debunking of bourgeois claims to respectability. His work for Wilder on this project is firmly rooted in the naturalism of both Cain's and Chandler's vision of the American character; there is no trace in the film of the more abstract kind of design, of German Expressionist origin, that is also a notable aspect of film noir . In his next project, however, for Fritz Lang's version of Graham Greene's The Ministry of Fear , Pereira designed a patently unreal wartime England, defined by threatening wastescapes and impossibly entrapping interiors, that is the precise correlative of the protagonist's paranoia and helplessness. Here Pereira cooperates successfully with Lang's stylistic interests, creating one of the most stylized and expressionistic of film noirs .
What most distinguishes Pereira's interior design for gritty urban dramas, however, is not stylistic versatility, the art director's competence with both realistic and more abstract conceptions. It is, instead, his ability to indicate the moral and economic values of an interior environment with a series of well-chosen effects. His design of the police station in Detective Story deliberately deglamorizes this agency of the law through a certain tattiness and careless disorder that suit precisely this story of moral failure and self-destructive redemption. For Ace in the Hole Pereira captures perfectly the dusty desperation of small-town rural American life, once again the setting for a drama of moral failure and entrapment (the set for the mine cave-in usefully epitomizes how the characters relate to but can never touch one another). Claustrophobic interior effects are also important thematically for Rear Window , which shares with Ace in the Hole a noir concern with dead-ends and confinement. For The Desperate Hours Pereira helped design not just an effective playspace for complex interior action sequences (the film was based on a stage play), but an upper middle class environment in which everything finds its tastefully designed place and from which the very possibility of evil or disorder is banished until it comes knocking on the front door. Hud offers a perfect re-creation of small-town southwestern ranch and town life, a setting that, with its simplicity and barrenness, nicely defines this drama of elemental character conflict and maturation. Pereira's last film, No Way to Treat a Lady , the story of a psychopath who, with a variety of disguises, murders a number of older women living alone, offered him a final opportunity to create a series of interior sets with just the right class and social value, here lower middle class. His designs form the perfect backdrop for Rod Steiger's scenery chewing performance as the madman, adding the right touch of realism to a story that, had it not been so grounded, could easily have deteriorated from the dramatic to the ridiculous.
Because most of his films were collaborations, and because the Hollywood film in general is an intensely collaborative effort, it is difficult to determine precisely what contributions Pereira made to a substantial body of commercially successful and, often, artistically noteworthy films. However there is no doubt that he was not only one of the top designers in the business during his twenty-five year career, but an important influence on the way Hollywood films in general developed a more substantial, more detailed, more expressive approach to art design, especially as this was influenced during the postwar period by greater demands for realism. The triumph of Pereira's contribution is probably The Rose Tatoo , a difficult production, based on the earthy but intellectually schematic Tennessee Williams play, in which Pereira and others at Paramount were able to design a series of interiors and exteriors that both evoked small-town life on the Gulf coast and expressed the natural law that all human beings must embrace the earthy, the physical, the sexual. Here the abstract and the actual merge, providing the perfect correlative for the art director's job, which is to surmount the paradox of designing the real.
R. Barton Palmer
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