Alexandre Trauner, 87, the dean of European art directors whose films ranged from “Children of Paradise” and Orson Welles’ “Othello” to his Oscar-winning work on “The Apartment,” died Dec. 5 in Omonville-La-Petit, Normandy, France. He died of natural causes after having suffered a debilitating stroke two years ago.
Known for his collaborations with such directors as Marcel Carne, Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, Fred Zinnemann, William Wyler, Anatole Litvak, Jules Dassin, John Huston, Joseph Losey and Bertrand Tavernier, Trauner established his reputation as arguably the most important and influential art director in Europe in the late 1930s.
A Hungarian Jew, he worked anonymously in hiding on major productions during the Nazi Occupation, and in the 1950s branched out into large international productions shot in Europe, Hollywood and elsewhere. During his nearly 60-year career, the impish, endlessly energetic and humorous man designed more than 100 motion pictures.
Born in Budapest in 1906, Trauner studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in his native city and moved to Paris in the mid-1920s to exhibit his paintings. He continued painting throughout his life, but entered cinema as assistant to the era’s most celebrated art director, Lazare Meerson, who set the style of poetic realism on early works by Rene Clair and Jacques Feyder that was to become the hallmark of French cinema through the 1930s.
Striking out on his own in the mid-1930s, Trauner continued in this tradition , notably in the many films he designed for Carne, most of which were written by Trauner’s closest friend, Jacques Prevert.
His large-scale sets were essential to the romantic, humanistic mood of “Drole de Drame” (“Bizarre Bizarre”), “Quai des Brumes” (“Port of Shadows”), “Hotel du Nord” and “Le Jour Se Leve” (“Daybreak”).
During the war, Trauner stayed mostly in the mountains, but managed to do some of his most important work clandestinely, on Carne’s “Les Visiteurs du Soir” and the classic “Children of Paradise,” for which he designed enormous 19 th-century street sets that were built at the Victorine Studios in Nice.
His work for Carne after the war included “Les Portes de la Nuit,””La Marie du Port” and “Juliette ou la Cle des Songes.”
His career took an international turn with “Othello.” One of his most ambitious undertakings was Hawks’ “Land of the Pharaohs,” for which he had to construct facsimiles of the ancient pyramids under construction.
He began his collaboration with Wilder on the Paris-lensed “Love in the Afternoon,” and subsequently did “Witness for the Prosecution,””The Apartment” (including the famous soundstage-sized office set), “One, Two, Three,””Irma La Douce,””Kiss Me Stupid,””The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” and “Fedora” with the director.
Among his many other credits were Dassin’s “Rififi,””Uptight” and “Promise at Dawn,” Zinnemann’s “The Nun’s Story” and “Behold a Pale Horse”; “How to Steal a Million,””The Night of the Generals,””A Flea in Her Ear,””Impossible Object” and Huston’s “The Man Who Would Be King.”
Trauner began a collaboration with Losey in the mid-1970s that embraced “Mr. Klein,””Les Routes du Sud,””Don Giovanni” and “The Trout.”
He remained very active into his 80s, designing such pictures as Claude Berri’s “La Premiere Fois” and “Tchao Pantin,” Tavernier’s “Coup de Torchon” and “‘Round Midnight,””Subway,””Le Moustachu” and Jerry Schatzberg’s “Reunion,” in which he also acted.
He also designed several theatrical productions during the 1950s and 1960s, including “Kean,””Tresor,””La Guerre du Sucre” and “Le Grand Ceremonial.”
Married once before, he is survived by his widow, Janine. He will be buried next to Jacques Prevert in the small village cemetery in Omonville-La-Petit.