Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Carl Jules Weyl - Art Director

During the Oscars ceremonies, the awards given for Best Picture and Best Actor/Best Actress are often the most anticipated moment, while the categories of Best Sound, Best Set Design, and the like, are usually rushed through to make way for a commercial break. But I always find categories like these the most interesting because the men and women who work behind-the-scenes put in just as much effort as the leading players or director, and yet continue on in their careers without the plaudit of the general audience.

To pay tribute to some of the talented individuals who worked behind-the-scenes in films, Silver Scenes has been releasing a series of posts entitled Behind-the-Screen : Masters from the Golden Age of Filmmaking. Today, I'll be highlighting Carl Jules Weyl, an extremely talented art director who worked primarily for Warner Brothers studios throughout the 1930s and 1940s.

The Stuttgart-born Weyl studied architecture in Berlin, Munich, and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris before emigrating to America, where he worked as an architect throughout the 1920s. He designed such landmark Los Angeles buildings as the Hollywood Palace Theatre and the Brown Derby restaurant prior to landing a career as an art director in the early 1930s at Warner Brothers studios.
One of his first assignments was designing the sets for The Case of the Curious Bride ( 1935 ), an early Perry Mason mystery. It was a quick B-production featuring simple sets such as an apartment, court room, diner, and Mason's office, but it gave Weyl a chance to acquaint himself with creating architecture for film. Many more assignments for budget films and quick comedies would follow until 1937, when Weyl designed the sets for two better releases - Ready, Willing, and Able and Kid Galahad
His consistent work at the studio led to Weyl being offered The Adventures of Robin Hood, giving him his first chance to experiment with the architecture of a different period. Weyl created several beautiful sets for this classic, including the interior of Nottingham castle with the now-famous circular stone staircase, and Sherwood Forest. Weyl romanticized this forest, which was filmed in Chico, California, by spray-painting the foliage green and adding a number of artificial rocks and trees. 

While each and every one of his set designs were marvelous to look at, Weyl received but two Oscar nominations during his career, one of which was for The Adventures of Robin Hood. 

The enormous Nottingham Castle interior set

After Robin Hood, Carl Weyl worked primarily on designing sets for Warner Brother's leading players, notably for the films of Errol Flynn and Bette Davis. All This and Heaven Too, The Letter, The Great Lie, Watch on the Rhine, and The Corn is Green were all Bette Davis films that Weyl created sets for. 

Interior of Miss Moffet's cottage in The Corn is Green

Carl Jules Weyl varied his style for each different production, but a signature trademark of his work was that broad, almost medieval, strength of the frames on the structures that he designed. Almost all of the buildings he created for his films give the impression that they have been around for decades and will continue to stand for hundreds of years. Quite a feat to accomplish, considering many of these sets did not even have a backside to their walls! 

The Corn is Green ( 1944 ) featured a particularly memorable country Tudor, with heavily plastered walls and oak beams. He created a similarly indestructible set for the interiors of the German locations seen in Desperate Journey ( 1942 ).

Rick's Cafe interior and the train station from Casablanca ( 1942 )

Undoubtedly, Casablanca remains Carl Weyl's most famous set, even though the set required very little new construction with many of the exteriors of "Rick's Cafe" being taken from older sets, and the interiors being kept to a minimum as producer Hal Wallis did not desire a lush set design. George James Hopkins worked as the set decorator for this picture, adding all of the smaller elements that made up the interior of the famous cafe. 

During the 1940s, Weyl worked on many excellent dramas including Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet ( 1940 ), Kings Row ( 1942 ), Yankee Doodle Dandy ( 1942 ), Mission to Moscow ( which earned him his second Oscar nomination ), Saratoga Trunk ( 1945 ), and The Big Sleep ( 1946 ).

Sets from Escape Me Never
His final film, before he passed away at the age of 57, featured some of his best work, Escape Me Never ( 1947 ). This script allowed Weyl to create sets for three different country locations - Italy, Switzerland, and England. The opening sequence, set in Venice, perfectly captures the essence of the city while remaining condensed and accessible for filming. For the Switzerland sets, he created the exterior and interior of a charming Gasthaus and exteriors resembling mountain woodlands. These sets resembled another one of Weyl's fine creations - the interiors and exteriors of the Sanger house seen in The Constant Nymph ( 1943 ).


  1. Glad to read your article on this set designer. Such an important job for the look of a film.

  2. He’s my great great grandfather 💕