Bumstead, Henry

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Art Director. Nationality: American. Born: 17 March 1915 in Ontario, California. Career: Art director from 1948; received Academy Award nominations for Vertigo, 1958; and Unforgiven, 1992. Awards: Academy Awards for To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962; The Sting, 1973. Address: Smith, Gosnell, Nicholson and Associates, Pacific Palisades, CA, U.S.A.

Films as Art Director:


Saigon (Fenton); The Sainted Sisters (Russell); My Own True Love (Bennett)


Song of Surrender (Leisen); Top 'o the Morning (Miller); My Friend Irma (Marshall)


The Furies (A. Mann); No Man of Her Own (The Lie) (Leisen); My Friend Irma Goes West (Walker); The Goldbergs (Hart); The Redhead and the Cowboy (Fenton)


Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (Binyon); Jumping Jacks (Taurog); Come Back, Little Sheba (Daniel Mann)


The Stars Are Singing (Taurog)


Knock on Wood (Panama and Frank); The Bridges at Toko-Ri (Robson)


The Man Who Knew Too Much (Hitchcock); Run for Cover (Ray); Lucy Gallant (Parrish)


That Certain Feeling (Panama and Frank); The Leather Saint (Ganzer); The Vagabond King (Curtiz); Hollywood or Bust (Tashlin)


I Married a Monster from Outer Space (Fowler); As Young As We Are (Girard); Vertigo (Hitchcock)


The Hangman (Curtiz)


The Bellboy (Lewis); Cinderfella (Tashlin)


Come September (Mulligan); The Great Imposter (Mulligan)


The Spiral Road (Mulligan); To Kill a Mockingbird (Mulligan)


A Gathering of Eagles (Delbert Mann)


The Brass Bottle (Keller); Bullet for a Badman (Springsteen); Father Goose (Nelson)


The War Lord (Schaffner)


Beau Geste (Heyes); Blindfold (Dunne); Gunpoint (Bellamy)


Banning (Winston); Tobruk (Hillier)


The Secret War of Harry Frigg (Smight); What's So Bad about Feeling Good? (Seaton)


Topaz (Hitchcock); Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (Polonsky); A Man Called Gannon (Goldstone)


The Movie Murderer (Sagal); McCloud: Who Killed Miss U.S.A.? (Portrait of a Dead Girl) (Colla)


Joe Kidd (J. Sturges); Slaughterhouse-Five (Hill) (+ ro); High Plains Drifter (Eastwood); The Victim (Daugherty); The Adventures of Nick Carter (Krasny)


The Sting (Hill)


The Front Page (Wilder); Honky Tonk (Taylor)


The Great Waldo Pepper (Hill)


Family Plot (Hitchcock)


Don't Push, I'll Charge When I'm Ready (Lande—produced 1969)


Same Time Next Year (Mulligan); House Calls (Zieff)


The Concorde—Airport '79 (Airport 80—The Concorde) (Rich); A Little Romance (Hill)


The World According to Garp (Hill)


Harry & Son (Newman); The Little Drummer Girl (Hill)


Psycho III (Perkins)


Funny Farm (Hill); A Time of Destiny (Nava) (+ ro)


Her Alibi (Beresford)


Almost an Angel (Cornell); Ghost Dad (Poitier)


Cape Fear (Scorsese)


Unforgiven (Eastwood)


A Perfect World (Eastwood)


The Stars Fell on Henrietta (Keich)


Absolute Power (Eastwood); Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Eastwood); Home Alone 3 (Gosnell)


True Crime (Eastwood)


Space Cowboys (Eastwood)


By BUMSTEAD: article—

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), May 1974.

On BUMSTEAD: articles—

Button, Simon, Review of Home Alone 3 in Total Film (London), January 1998.

McCarthy, Todd, "Eastwood Shows His True Grit," in Variety (New York), 15 March 1999.

* * *

Embarking on his 1955 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, Alfred Hitchcock asked cameraman Robert Burks to recommend the best designer among those currently at work for Paramount under Hal Pereira. Roland Anderson and John Meehan had won Oscars, but Burks suggested Henry Bumstead, then designing Michael Curtiz's The Vagabond King, a period musical starring the Mario Lanza-surrogate Oreste Kirkop.

Bumstead did the art direction on four Hitchcock films, including Vertigo, one of his finest, and went on to an Oscar-winning career. Until then he had mainly worked for Paramount's second-string directors like Mitchell Leisen, who as an ex-designer himself had had his own ideas of how Song of Surrender and No Man of Her Own should look. Hitchcock was no less specific about his wants, but Bumstead, sensing the director's tastes, not only reflected but amplified them. The London suburban chapel haunted by Bernard Miles and Brenda de Banzie in The Man Who Knew Too Much improved on Alfred Junge's 1934 original, while the new addition of a taxider-mist's shop lined with stuffed animal heads prefigures Norman Bates's office in Psycho. Less flamboyantly, a Moroccan restaurant in the same film shows the eye for authentic detail that was to enliven Bumstead's later design.

In 1957, Hitchcock called on Bumstead again for Vertigo. He told him he conceived the film as almost motionless, a series of tableaux vivants which would demand particularly evocative set design. As a further hint he suggested Bumstead "try to use a lot of mirrors," emphasizing the dual role played by Kim Novak and the moral ambivalence of the James Stewart character. Bumstead turned these suggestions into one of the most visually distinctive of all Hollywood films. The empty picture gallery where Kim Novak contemplates what appears to be her own portrait, Barbara Bel Geddes's San Francisco apartment with its vertiginous view from the kitchen window, the Spanish mission church tower around which much of the film hinges, all fulfill the requirement of great design, telling us part of the story even before we see a moment of action.

Bumstead would later design Topaz and Family Plot for Hitchcock but in neither case did the story demand much besides simple backgrounds, both being shot on mainly existing locations, though Bumstead did put much effort into turning Hitchcock's chosen graveyard for the latter into an effective setting. He also worked on No Bail for the Judge, the 1959 Audrey Hepburn thriller that Hitchcock cancelled when the star rejected the script. Bumstead had meanwhile become a member of the Hitchcock entourage, a dubious honour. It was the designer who drove Hitchcock to his naturalisation ceremony in April 1955, a favour for which the director rewarded him with one of his practical jokes, calling him in and asking his secretary casually, "Dolores, how would you like to screw Henry Bumstead?" Hitchcock's appreciation of the Vertigo sets was as typically egocentric and cutting. Impressed by Bumstead's design for Tom Helmore's book-lined red leather 19th-century office, Hitchcock asked him to redo his own study in the same style. When he got no acknowledgement for his work Bumstead asked the director's wife if he'd been satisfied. Prompted, Hitch rang with his thanks—and a request that Bumstead similarly renovate the house's gates and furniture.

On the foundation of his Hitchcock films Bumstead built a distinguished career. He won an Oscar nomination (shared by tradition with Universal design supervisor Alexander Golitzen) for the Sharecropper Gothic sets of To Kill a Mockingbird and gained considerable acclaim for his work on Franklin Shaffner's 1965 The War Lord, which recreated with atmospheric accuracy a world of magic and superstition in 11th-century Brittany. Guy Stockwell's muttered comment, "This place has the dimensions of heresy" as he rides through a forest festooned with charms and fetishes is an implied endorsement of Bumstead's authenticity.

In 1973, Bumstead won an Oscar for The Sting, not so much for the film's meticulous recreation of 1920s cafes, bookie joints, and train interiors, as for decades of imaginative design. He continued to work with such cosy materials on films like Her Alibi, but it was in the area of exterior and, in particular, western designs that his reputation increased during the 1980s and 1990s.

He had already designed his share of such productions during the 1960s, notably George Roy Hill's film of the post-First World War barnstormers, The Great Waldo Pepper, and Abraham Polonsky's socially-conscious Native American drama Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, employing a style on which he enlarged in Cape Fear for Martin Scorsese and A Perfect World for Clint Eastwood. In particular, however, High Plains Drifter inaugurated a long and fruitful collaboration with Eastwood, establishing a distinctive vision of frontier architecture that was to prove highly influential. Raw as a wreck and dumped down in the most bare and hostile of plateaux, the town in High Plains Drifter is human habitation reduced to the barest of bones, an effect heightened when Eastwood's vengeful gunman forces it to be literally painted red in retribution for its betrayal. Bumstead exploited this vision further in Unforgiven, that bleakest of 1990s revisionist westerns.

The collaboration with Eastwood has become a regular arrangement in the second half of the 1990s, with Bumstead bringing his talent for American landscapes to bear on Eastwood's penchant for thrillers in unremarkable films such as Absolute Power, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and True Crime. His work with director James Keach on The Stars Fell on Henrietta, a film set during the oil boom, reworks much of the cinematic imagery of the West that he helped establish. In contrast, the ill-conceived sequel Home Alone 3 could not be saved even by Bumstead's instinct for imaginative detail.

—John Baxter, updated by Chris Routledge