Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The House as Character: Iconic Cinema Houses

“It was a great big white elephant of a place. The kind crazy movie people built in the crazy twenties. A neglected house gets an unhappy look. This one had it in spades.” 
--William Holden as screenwriter Joe Gillis, Sunset Boulevard, 1950

Scarlett's Tara, Rebecca's  Manderlay, Citizen Kane's Xanadu and Mr. Blanding's Dream House. All houses that shared billing with the actors and played an integral part of a film. The following a are a few iconic images of famous cinema homes...

The real star of Sunset Boulevard (1950) is the mansion itself. Aging, decrepit and filled with despair, much like Norma Desmond herself. 

The Manderlay estate is a constant reminder of the deceased ex-wife in the Hitchcock thriller Rebecca (1940).  The film's producer David O. Selznick searched all over for an appropriate mansion and was finally convinced a miniature version and matte shots would do the trick.

Frank Lloyd Wright's cantilevered Falling Water house in Pennsylvania became the influence for the villian Phillip Van Damm's (James Mason) residence  in Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959).

Art Director Robert Boyle designed the set as a jungle gym for Cary Grant's action sequence.

A symbol of vast wealth, Charles Kane's house was influenced by the Hearst mansion San Simeon and Mont St. Michel in Citizen Kane (1941). Director Orson Welles was overextended on his budget and oversize elements from the RKO prop house were used to fill the space.

Perhaps one of the most iconic houses was the Connecticut home of the Blandings in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), a film that chronicles the frustration of home renovation. Fleeing the city, the couple, played by Cary Grant and Myrna Loy,  search for a house with rolling hills, a fireplace and a patio for barbeques - a sign of the times in the late forties.

Gone With the Wind's (1930)  Tara was built on the studio backlot at a cost of $12.059.00

Dr. Zhivago's (1965) famed "ice palace"/dacha where the doctor and his lover Lara made their refuge was filmed in the middle of summer in Soria, Spain. The sets were dressed in hot wax and sprayed with cold water to resemble the look of frost and ice. 

The Victorian mansion on the sprawling Benedict ranch in Giant (1956). With no landscaping or neighbors for miles, the house was designed to represent the lonely marriage of the Benedicts played by Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor.

Photo Credits: Rex Features, MGM, Warner Brothers, Margaret Herrick Library