When it comes to movie locations, L.A. is a lot like a shopping mall directory. From the “You are here” spot, it’s pretty easy to find your way to where a movie favorite was shot.
Los Angeles in Noir’s Postwar World
And to me, by far the best L.A. movie sites involve films noir. Seeing L.A. in these ’40s and ’50s movies is endlessly fascinating. The city grows up before your eyes. You recognize places that remain and sigh over sights existing now only in memory. All this with the city as a backdrop to sex, betrayal and mayhem.
What could be better?
So yeah, I’m hyperventilating over the American Cinematheque’s upcoming (13th Annual) Festival of Film Noir, tomorrow through April 20 at the venerable Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.
Twenty-three of this year’s 28 movies aren’t available on DVD. And some are pretty obscure; I’ve only heard of a few and have only seen one or two. You can check out the full schedule here.
Chatting With Eddie Muller
Noir scholars Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode again are programming the event, which for some reason also is called the Noir City festival (how many names do they need?). They’ll also introduce many of the double-bills comprising the event.
Muller admits he’s partial to the onscreen history of his native San Francisco. In programming events there, “I always have to show something shot in San Francisco, one or two movies,” he told me by phone the other day, “because we will pack the theater and you can just hear the excitement, and they stop and say, ‘Oh, that used to be the blah-blah-blah.’
“And in L.A., (it’s) exactly the same thing. People will come out just to watch the on-location shots.”
L.A. as Noir’s Backlot
In particular, four of the 28 festival movies shot extensively around So Cal. Of those, Loophole with Barry Sullivan and noir tough guy Charles McGraw probably made the most of L.A. locations.
“That was made in the early ’50s,” Muller told me. “And by then, except for the interiors of the apartments and everything, the entire movie is shot outdoors. I mean, there’s the Mocambo (nightclub, on the Sunset Strip), the market (likely in Glendale) — people just go nuts for that.”
And then there’s the beach house at the end. “Everyone will recognize (it) because — I hate to spoil it, but it’s the same beach house that appears in, like, six or eight other film noir movies.
“I was told at one point it was owned by MGM, I think, because it appears in the movie Tension. It appears in the movie Talk About a Stranger. I think it’s the same house that’s at the end of Kiss Me, Deadly.”
You know, the house destroyed in a nuclear blast. Yeah, that beach house.
The House With the Secret Sex Life
Muller thinks the house was in Malibu. “One of the studios built this house for…’whatever.’ You know, they probably were having affairs or something, with the studio executive…renting it out as a film location. (And) then it pops up all the time in these films.”
Another film at Noir City is The Threat – also with Charles McGraw, this time as a vicious killer on the lam in the Mojave Desert. It was shot in the San Fernando Valley, the Inland Empire (east of L.A., gateway to romantic places like, um, San Bernardino) and the high desert. The interiors were likely shot at a studio before the bad guys “get to the hideout in the desert. It’s clear (the filmmakers) just went out in the middle of nowhere and shot this stuff.”
They Won’t Believe Me, with Robert Young cast against type as a cad, offers a 1947 view of Hollywood cocktail lounges and downtown L.A.
I drool at the prospect.
Joan Crawford? Perverse? Nah!
Then there’s Female on the Beach, which the ‘Theque’s promotional notes call “perhaps the most perverse film of Crawford’s ’50s diva phase.” (Really? Ouch!) It was shot on tourist-infested Balboa Island, in the harbor off Newport Beach in the OC.
I’m not a Crawford fan, but who could resist a movie with that kind of recommendation?
Comparing noirs shot in New York and L.A., Muller says the difference between them is simple:
“The L.A. ones have all horizontal composition and the New York ones have all vertical composition. It sounds incredibly simple, but it’s actually true.
“Because there aren’t really any skyscrapers in L.A. (during noir’s heyday). So you see a lot of panning and a lot of pointing out the arid climate and everything. You get all that in L.A., but in New York you get the claustrophobic tilt shots looking up. Sounds totally stupid, but it’s amazing how true that is.
“And, of course, in New York is the place people escape from, and L.A. is the place people escape to.
“And,” he adds, with a laugh, “it all ends badly for everyone anyway.”
Call me a cynic, but I’m droolin’ again.