Art Director. Nationality: British. Born: Plymouth, England, 1890. Education: Studied architecture. Military Service: British Army during World War I: colonel. Career: Emigrated to Canada, then to the United States, c. 1924; designer in late 1920s, and special effects director, mid-1930s, MGM; then art director, 1939–43, and supervising art director, 1943–44, 20th Century-Fox; 1945—head of art department, Vanguard Films; then freelance designer. Awards: Academy Award, for The Song of Bernadette, 1943. Died: 27 March 1962, in Bellflower, California.
Films as Art Director:
Soul Mates (Conway); The Circle (Borzage); The Big Parade (K. Vidor); Confessions of a Queen (Sjöström); The Tower of Lies (Sjöström)
Bardelys the Magnificent (Whatham) (co); Dance Madness (Leonard); Love's Blindness (Dillon); The Temptress (Niblo)
The Cowboy and the Lady (Potter)
Raffles (Wood); Wuthering Heights (Wyler); The Real Glory (Hathaway)
The Long Voyage Home (Ford); The Westerner (Wyler)
Tobacco Road (Ford); A Yank in the R.A.F. (H. King)
The Black Swan (H. King); Moontide (Mayo); Thunder Birds (Wellman); China Girl (Hathaway); Son of Fury (Cromwell)
Bomber's Moon (Fuhr); Claudia (Goulding); The Dancing Masters (St. Clair); Guadalcanal Diary (Seiler); The Gang's All Here (The Girls He Left Behind) (Berkeley); Happy Land (Pichel); Heaven Can Wait (Lubitsch); Hello, Frisco, Hello (Humberstone); Holy Matrimony (Stahl); Jitterbugs (St. Clair); The Moon Is Down (Pichel); The Ox-Bow Incident (Strange Incident) (Wellman); Paris after Dark (The Night Is Ending) (Moguy); The Song of Bernadette (H. King); Stormy Weather (Stone); Sweet Rosie O'Grady (Cummings); They Came to Blow Up America (Ludwig); Wintertime (Brahm)
Lifeboat (Hitchcock); Bermuda Mystery (Stroloff); Buffalo Bill (Wellman); The Eve of St. Mark (Stahl); Four Jills in a Jeep (Weiter); Greenwich Village (W. Lang); Home in Indiana (Hathaway); Jane Eyre (Stevenson); In the Meantime, Darling (Preminger); Ladies of Washington (L. King); The Keys of the Kingdom (Stahl); The Lodger (Brahm); Pin-Up Girl (Humberstone); The Purple Heart (Milestone); Roger Touhy, Gangster (The Last Gangster) (Florey); The Sullivans (Bacon); Tampico (Mendes); Wilson (H. King)
Claudia and David (W. Lang); The Dark Corner (Hathaway); Duel in the Sun (K. Vidor); Home, Sweet Homicide (Bacon); It Shouldn't Happen to a Dog (Leeds); Johnny Comes Flying Home (Stoloff); Somewhere in the Night (Mankiewicz); Strange Triangle (Strange Alibi) (McCarey); Margie (H. King); 13 Rue Madeline (Hathaway); If I'm Lucky (Seiler); My Darling Clementine (Ford) (co)
The Brasher Doubloon (The High Window) (Brahm); Captain from Castile (H. King); The Homestretch (Humberstone); Carnival on Costa Rica (Ratoff); The Late George Apley (Mankiewicz); The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (Seaton); Boomerang! (Kazan); Thunder in the Valley (Bob, Son of Battle) (L. King)
Fort Apache (Ford); Three Godfathers (Ford)
Mighty Joe Young (Schoedsack); She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (Ford)
To Please a Lady (Brown); Wagonmaster (Ford); Across the Wide Missouri (Wellman)
Night into Morning (Markle); The People against O'Hara (J. Sturges); Just This Once (Weis)
My Man and I (Wellman)
Battle Circus (R. Brooks); Island in the Sky (Wellman)
East of Eden (Kazan)
The Searchers (Ford)
Films as Special Effects Artist:
The Mysterious Island (Hubbard)
History Is Made at Night (Borzage); Dead End (Wyler); The Hurricane (Ford)
The Adventures of Marco Polo (Mayo); Blockade (Dieterle)
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During Hollywood's Golden Age, James Basevi was one of the most successful and innovative set designers and special effects men working for the major studios. He made films with many of the greatest directors of his time including William Wyler, William Wellman, John Ford, and Elia Kazan. Both in collaboration with other leading designers and on his own, Basevi created some of the most memorable visual images in American film history.
Within a short time after his arrival in Hollywood around 1924, Basevi was an assistant to the highly influential Cedric Gibbons, working on silent classics such as The Big Parade. Among numerous consultancies and collaborations, Basevi's work with Richard Day is particularly notable. Their films together include Bardelys the Magnificent, The Hurricane, and Captain from Castile.
During the 1930s Basevi proved to be one of the greatest masters of special effects. In 1935, as head of MGM's special effects department, he collaborated with Arnold Gillespie on the lengthy and memorable earthquake sequence in San Francisco. This was, at that time, the most ambitious and technically exacting recreation of a natural catastrophe ever attempted; and even with the passage of many years, it remains extremely convincing. For John Ford's The Hurricane, a 1937 vehicle for Dorothy Lamour, Basevi devised a 600-foot miniature set representing a tropical island village which was to be deluged by a gigantic tidal wave. The wave effect was produced by releasing many thousands of gallons of water onto the model in a controlled manner through tall, specially designed and constructed channels. The result is one of the most believable storms ever filmed using studio miniatures.
As art director at Twentieth Century-Fox Studios from 1939 to 1944, later as head of the art department at Vanguard Films, and in subsequent freelance work, Basevi demonstrated a special skill in creating highly atmospheric images of the Old West. His sets for John Ford's My Darling Clementine and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon display the visual conventions of the Western genre at their most refined and persuasive.