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 mysewsweetstudio.blogspot.com


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.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Love Crazy (1941) - Film Locations


Steve and Susan Ireland are about to celebrate their fourth anniversary, but when Steve runs into an old flame, a meddling mother in-law convinces her daughter that Steve is cheating on her. After some misunderstandings Susan decides to file for divorce. Steve pretends to be crazy in order to delay the divorce and buy some time to win his wife back. That's the premise for the 1941 screwball comedy Love Crazy

William Powell and Myrna Loy, famous as a husband and wife team in the Thin Man films, once again play husband and wife in Love Crazy. Although this comedy is a fun watch, it doesn't have the same wit as the Thin Man films and at times the humor seems forced. The best moments come from the supporting cast, particularly Jack Carson, a neighbor who gets in the middle of the Ireland's marriage and Florence Bates who plays the mother in-law.

Most of the action takes place inside the Ireland's apartment building, but of the few exterior scenes, I recognized some sets from the MGM backlot. I was later able to verify the MGM backlot sets using the book, M-G-M: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot, by Steven Bingen, Stephen X. Sylvester, and Michael Troyan. This book makes a great reference book.

William Powell gets pushed into the "Esther Williams Pool"

In one scene, Powell, who is attending a party, takes all of the mens' hats from the hat check and throws them into a swimming pool. Powell is pretending to be crazy by "emancipating" the hats. In the process Powell gets shoved into the "Esther Williams Pool." According to M-G-M: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot, the pool was built in about 1935. Williams didn't take her first swim in the pool until 1942 but she would go on to use the pool frequently for her many aquatic themed pictures.

Powell is taken into the Dr. Wuthering's Rest Home

After a judge believes Powell to be crazy, he is sent to the Dr. Wuthering's Rest Home, which was really the MGM "Girl's School" backlot set. This set was possibly first constructed for the 1940 film, Forty Little Mothers. Some other movies that have used the Girl's School set included Cynthia (1947) The Cobweb (1955), and The Wheeler Dealers (1963).

Below is a video tour of the MGM backlot showing how some of the outdoor sets appeared in 1963. One of the backlot sets that is seen in the video is the Girl's School set, starting at the 33 second mark.

MGM Studios backlot video tour.

Powell on the Girl's School backlot set.

Jack Carson and William Powell on the Girl's School set.

Unfortunately, these MGM backlot sets have been demolished so the only way we can see them now is in these classic movies.

Love Crazy is available for rent through ClassicFlix and is also available to purchase on DVD.

To learn more about the book M-G-M: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot, visit the official site here. You can also read my interview with one of the coauthors, Steve Bingen, here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Fatty Arbuckle's 1919 Pierce Arrow

Fatty Arbuckle's 1919 Pierce Arrow

They certainly don't make them like this anymore. Check out this short video from CNNMoney showing off a custom built 1919 Pierce Arrow automobile. The vehicle was made for silent film star Fatty Arbuckle, at one time the most popular motion picture star - that is until a scandal ruined his career. This Pierce Arrow recently went up for auction at Barrett-Jackson. The bidding went up to $1.1 million but according to the video the reserve was not met and the vehicle was not sold.

A couple years ago on a visit to the Nethercutt Museum in Sylmar, California, I was able to get up close to another of Arbuckle's vehicles, a 1923 McFarlan. If you've never seen the Nethercutt collection, it's a real treat. The collection includes many rare and exotic vehicles, including some previously owned by Hollywood notables. You can see some snapshots from my visit to the Nethercutt Museum here

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