Monday, February 25, 2013

Highway Dragnet (1954) - Film Locations

Last week the blog Paradise Leased provided an update on the status of Apple Valley, California's famous Hilltop House, a once gorgeous modern home that unfortunately has been left to deteriorate over the years. Today, this house built for one of Apple Valley's co-founders, Newton T. Bass, is just a skeleton of the structure it used to be, but the house is now for sale and hopefully some buyer can return the home to its original beauty. You can read and see photos of the home on the Paradised Leased blog here.

The update on the Hilltop House reminded me of the film Highway Dragnet (1954), which was partly filmed in Apple Valley, at another area landmark, the Apple Valley Inn located in the valley just below the Hilltop House. Highway Dragnet stars Richard Conte, Joan Bennett and Wanda Hendrix. It tells the story of a Korean War vet, played by Conte, who is wrongly accused of killing a woman he was seen with earlier inside a Las Vegas bar. Conte must go on the lam until he can clear his name. He gets out of town by hitching a ride with a female photographer (Bennett) and her model (Hendrix). Although the story has a few holes in the plot, it is still entertaining to watch, particularly for all the excellent location filming.

The film starts with scenes in Las Vegas, including a shot of the Golden Nugget and Binion's Horseshoe casinos on Fremont street.

Looking down Fremont Street in Las Vegas.

Fremont Street today. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

One major change to Fremont Street since the time Highway Dragnet was made is the addition of the Fremont Street Experience, a canopy that produces a colored light show above several blocks of the street.

The Horseshoe casino as seen in Highway Dragnet.

Binion's Gambling Hall formerly The Horseshoe.

After the Vegas scenes, the film shows Conte hitching a ride with Bennett and Hendrix in the desert. The threesome eventually pull over and get a room at the Apple Valley Inn.  The Apple Valley Inn was a hotel developed by Newton T. Bass to help attract land buyers to housing development he created out in the middle of the California desert. During the 1940s and until the 1960s, it was a popular place for many Hollywood celebrities, including Bob Hope, Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.

Police set up a barricade in front of the Apple Valley Inn.

The entrance of the Apple Valley Inn as it appears now.

Highway 18 leading up to the Apple Valley Inn driveway.

Looking down Highway 18 from the Apple Valley Inn driveway.

Conte in front of the Apple Valley Inn.

The Apple Valley Inn. Photo from

Historic postcard view of the Apple Valley Inn.

Conte, Bennett and Hendrix inside a room at Apple Valley Inn.

An agent stands in front of the Apple Valley Inn pool.

Hendrix sits on the pool's diving board.

Bennett stands by the Apple Valley Inn pool.

The Macdonald Carey family visits the pool at Apple Valley Inn. Photo from Paradise Leased.

When it's revealed that Conte, who police believe to be the killer is hiding out at the Apple Valley Inn, he races out of the place, driving a car right through a police barricade.

Conte drives through a police barricade at Apple Valley Inn.

Exiting the driveway at Apple Valley Inn.

The final scenes take place at the Salton Sea. According to the site Lost Resorts, the Salton Sea was once known as the Riviera of the West or "Palm Springs by the Sea." It is the largest lake in California and used to be a major destination in the 1950s and 1960s for tourist and celebrities. The sea was created by accident. In 1900, developers created a series of canals and dikes to divert water from the Colorado River to turn the arid desert into farming land. In 1905 heavy rains caused the Colorado River to rise, a dike was then broken and the Imperial Valley filled with water, becoming the Salton Sea.

The Salton Sea as seen in Highway Dragnet.

A present day view of the Salton Sea. Photo from Lost Resorts.

Documentary video of the Salton Sea.

Above is a short video clip showing scenes of the Salton Sea and the people that live in the area. Today the area is almost a flooded ghost town. Water levels would continue to rise, flooding buisnesses that surrounded the lake. Salt and fertilizers from run-off accumulated and killed off most of the fish. Now what was a bustling resort area is filled with dead fish, decaying boats and buildings drowning in water.

For more on the Apple Valley Inn read this wonderful post from Paradise Leased.

Highway Dragnet is available for streaming on Netflix and can also be seen on YouTube here.


theyareangry said...

This is really a good movie which can be found on Netflix. By the way, this is a top notch site. In fact, one of the best, if not the best. I salute you. I sincerely hope one day you're rewarded for this. It gives me great happiness to come on here often.

Laura said...

Loved your post! I was fascinated by the Apple Valley Inn when I saw HIGHWAY DRAGNET and wanted to know all about it. You've got great photos here. Since then I've seen the Inn turn up in FOXFIRE and THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW. Seems to have been popular in the mid '50s! Thanks for a post focusing on this great location.

Best wishes,

Robby Cress said...


Thanks for the comment about the site and glad to hear you are enjoying the blog.


Thanks for bringing up FOXFIRE and THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW. I haven't seen either of those films yet. I always enjoy Fred MacMurray so ...TOMORROW will be at the top of my list. How interesting that that film which includes sceness at the Apple Valley Inn also stars Joan Bennett!

Vienna said...

I love your posts . There is something magical at seeing sites where films were photographed. It sort of connects us to the films, especially if you are lucky enough to live in or visit the area.
I'd love one day to to visit Lone Pine where so many westerns were filmed.

Vienna's classic Hollywood

ockie ditchbank said...

The Apple Valley Inn was part of the Roy Rogers Museum complex, which was moved to Branson, MO several years ago and which, more recently, was liquidated and sold at auction.

One of the great things about low-budget pictures is their sheer innocence and honesty when it comes to vehicles and locations - Highway Dragnet certainly being no exception!

The faux paus, too, are fun to discover: the 1953 Ford Sunliner that broke down on the desert does NOT come with a manual starter!

All is all, a great movie. For dialog, I give it a D+. For cars and locations, it gets an A+!


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