Sunday, December 4, 2011

Down Three Dark Streets (1954) - Film Locations

Down Three Dark Streets (1954) stars Broderick Crawford as John Ripley, an FBI agent who takes on three unrelated cases in hopes that one will lead to the killer of his fellow agent. As with so many 1950s crime films, this one was done in a documentary style, with a heavy use of voice-over. I feel this technique makes the film less thrilling but overall the film still works as an entertaining  mystery. What's most attractive about this film is its use of location photography, including scenes at Los Angeles's Subway Terminal (yes, LA had a subway in the 1950s),  downtown Los Angeles, and the Hollywood Sign.

The establishing shot for the Los Angeles branch of the FBI, as seen in the screenshot below, includes LA's iconic City Hall building on the right and the District Court building on the left. As you can see in the comparison photo, this location hasn't changed much. That isn't the case with some of the other locations.

District Court building on left. City Hall on right.

The District Court and City Hall buildings as they appear today.

Before FBI agent Zack Stewart (Kenneth Tobey) is shot and killed and Crawford takes over his cases, Stewart pays a visit to Ohrbach's department store on Wilshire Boulevard where he intends to meet a woman named Kate Martel (Ruth Roman), a victim of an extortionist. Ohrbach's was located where the Museum Square area is today. Below is a screenshot of Stewart walking up to Ohrbach's, a vintage postcard looking down Wilshire Boulevard with a view of the art deco Desmond's building in the background, and a Google Street View showing the same view as it appears today. If you look closely you can still see the Desmond's department store tower in the background of the Google Street View.

Stewart visits Ohrbach's department store.

Ohrbach's department store on Wilshire Boulevard, LA.

What is left of Ohrbach's department store on left.

In another scene, Crawford visits Connie Anderson (Martha Hyer), the girlfriend of one of the men Stewart was investigating at her apartment in West Hollywood. Hyer's apartment building is the Colonial House located at 1416 Havenhurst Drive. This building, built in 1930, recently had a three bedroom condo for sale listed for $2,150,000 so it doesn't come cheap. Below is a screenshot of the entrance of the Colonial House, a contemporary view of the entrance and a Bing Bird's Eye view of the building. 

Crawford and partner approach the Colonial House.

Colonial House, 1416 Havenhurst Drive, West Hollywood

Bird's Eye View of the Colonial House

The screenshot below is a view looking down North Broadway towards West Temple Street. The Law Building can be seen on the right. On the far left you can see the corner of the Los Angeles Hall of Justice building. In the contemporary image you will see that The Law building and the building directly across the street are both demolished. The old Los Angeles Hall of Justice Building, although closed, is still standing.

Looking down Broadway towards Temple. 
Hall of Justice far left. Law Building on right.

Looking down Broadway towards Temple.
Hall of Justice on left. Law building on right now replaced.

In another downtown Los Angeles scene FBI agents follow Hyer on her way to the subway. In the screenshot below we get a glimpse of Hill Street at Fourth Street. For comparison I've included a historic image of the intersection from the Los Angeles Library Photo Collection which shows the domed Brighton Hotel on the northeast corner and the Hotel Sherman on the southeast corner. Below that is a contemporary view of the intersection. You can see nothing is really left. The whole intersection is completely different.

Looking down Hill Street towards Fourth Street.

Hill Street at Fourth Street.

Looking down Hill Street at Fourth Street as it appears today.

When Hyer boards the subway at the downtown Los Angeles Subway Terminal Building, she sneaks onto a train headed for Glendale. That train comes above ground at the Toluca Portal near 279 S. Toluca Street. The portal has now been sealed up and the train line has been completely blocked by the construction of a new building. Below is a screenshot from the film showing the train exiting the tunnel, a contemporary look of the tunnel as it appears today looking from Toluca Street, and a Bing Bird's Eye View showing the building that now stands directly in front of the tunnel.

Hyer rides the train through the Toluca Portal.

Looking at what is left of the Toluca Portal.

The portal (top center) blocked by a large building.

Once the train goes above ground it follows the path of Glendale Boulevard. In the screenshot below the train goes under the Beverly bridge near the intersection of Glendale Boulevard and 2nd Street.

The Beverly Bridge. Glendale Blvd @ 2nd Street

The Beverly Bridge as it appears today.

In the next scene the train continues down Glendale Boulevard. In the screenshot below the train approaches the intersection of Glendale Blvd and Court Street. What's amazing to see is how the skyline has changed so much since 1954. In the background of the screenshot you cannot see even one high-rise building.  In the contemporary image you can see all the modern office tower buildings in the background.

Glendale Blvd at Court Street

Looking down Glendale Blvd at Court Street as it appears today.

In the next scene the camera changes directions and looks down the other direction of Glendale Boulevard, still near Court Street, towards the 101 freeway in the distance.

Looking down Glendale Blvd from Court Street.

Looking down Glendale Blvd from Court St towards the 101 freeway.

The finale of the film all takes place in the Hollywood Hills near the famous Hollywood sign. Crawford is hot on the trail of the killer of his fellow agent who also happens to be the extortionist. The screenshot below shows the intersection of Westshire Drive near Beachwood Drive just a short distance below the Hollywood sign.

Westshire Drive at Beachwood Drive as seen in the film.

Westshire Drive at Beachwood Drive as it appears today.

Crawford learns that the killer as at the Hollywood sign.

Down Three Dark Streets is an alright film that is worth watching if for nothing else, the time capsule look at Los Angeles in the 1950s. My favorite scenes are those showing the old Subway Terminal Building and the shots of the train passing through the Toluca Portal. Down Three Dark Streets is available on DVD and is also currently available as a Netflix Watch Instantly title.

Your thoughts?

All Street View images (c) 2011 Google Street View, Pictometry Bird's Eye (c) 2010 Pictometry International Corp.


Ron said...


Is it just a coincidence that ten or so years later in "Experiment in Terror", Glenn Ford's character was also an FBI agent named John Ripley?

Ron said...

I just answered my own question. Streamed the movie from Netflix. A writing team named the Gordon's wrote both.

Laura said...

Thanks for another excellent post. I really admire your "detective work" shared in these posts.

When I drive past the Hall of Justice, it looks so sad with the windows boarded up...

Best wishes,

RoeH said...

I watched Shadow of a Doubt yesterday with Joseph Cotton. Ya' gotta do a post on those locations. Yeah - not in Hollywood but interesting anyway.

Paul D. Marks said...

You do a great job, Robby. Love to see the comparisons from then to now of L.A. And the pic of Ohrbach's brings back memories of my childhood. Don't think it's there anymore though...


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