Once again, we’re hitting someone it’s extremely difficult to find information about. The Art Directors Guild has a page about him. Which they bloody well ought, given he basically created the look of film noir. He was only nominated for five Oscars, only won once, but he is the sort of person you have to say that “only” about, because his list of iconic films is longer, much longer, than the list of websites that have any kind of information about him. Honestly, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find a picture of him at all.
He started his career at Paramount, which apparently was full of extremely talented art directors, making it hard to really rise. So he accepted an offer from Universal, and it was there that his career really took off. Okay, not all of his movies were classics; I’ve never even heard of a lot of them. But among ones I have heard of? Touch of Evil. Psycho. The Incredible Shrinking Man. Inside Daisy Clover. He won his Oscar for Ship of Fools.
And, yes, he worked for Disney, because Disney hired some top talent. No one seems to have a complete credit list for him—the problem with our usual information sources is that you can’t be sure what’s missing from them on cast members, and all Wikipedia has is his Oscar-nominated movies—but he definitely did The Parent Trap and Pollyanna and Summer Magic. Two of those are period pieces, and while some of the colours of Pollyanna were a bit garish, it is other than that a really strikingly beautiful film. And I’m frankly distraught that you can’t just log into Disney+ and see how well done Summer Magic is, because it’s one of the movies on my “Disney’s underrated gems” list, and the art design is part of that.
Though art design is also one of those headings that no one really talks about until it’s done badly. There are exceptions, a few times when the design of the movie is so astonishing that it’s hard to miss—I mean, it’s the main thing to talk about with Inception, for example, along with the special effects. But would Psycho be Psycho without the input of Robert Clatworthy? I put it to you it would not, and that’s worth talking about more than we do. How much did he do what he did because Hitchcock told him to do it? Who knows? But he did it, and goodness knows he did things Hitchcock could not himself.
On the one hand, I tend to be ridiculously smug when I discover that someone on my “people should talk about this person” list is indeed not mentioned much. His Wikipedia page is a stub. His IMDb page basically has none of his Paramount credits, and I have no way of knowing if his later credits list is complete. So I’m right, and this is someone who shaped film and should be talked about more. That said, do you know how challenging it is to put together a full article about someone you can’t find any information about?