Monday, July 7, 2014

Big City (1937) - Film Locations

Luise Rainer and Spencer Tracy

When I really like an actor I feel the need to see all of their films. I know not all of them will be great. Some will probably be only so-so or simply bad, but I get some enjoyment from watching the smaller or maybe less appreciated films that my favorite stars appeared in. At times I'm even surprised and a movie that I go into not expecting much turns out to have some qualities I really like. That's what happened when I watched Big City (1937), starring Spencer Tracy and Luise Rainer.

Tracy plays a New York City cab driver married to an immigrant wife (Rainer). The two are madly in love but things are tough in the big city, especially for independent cab drivers trying to make a living like Tracy, who are constantly being harassed by the big unionized cab drivers. Things get out of control, escalating to an all out battle between the independents and the union cabbies. After one person dies in an explosion, Tracy's immigrant wife is threatened to be deported.

The trouble with Big City is the story is all over the place. What starts as a romantic drama evolves into a manic slapstick comedy by the end, when a brawl erupts between the independents, the union cabbies and some famous athletes. The feel of the movie is inconsistent. Nevertheless, Tracy and Rainer make this movie fun to watch. I really enjoyed seeing Tracy and Rainer on screen in the only film they made together. Some other gems include seeing cameo appearances by some famous athletes of the time and something I'm always interested in, real world film locations.

Click images to see larger.

Jack Dempsey's Restaurant as seen in Big City.

Former site of Jack Dempsey's Restaurant in New York.

Near the end of the film, Tracy barges into a dinner meeting taking place inside Jack Dempsey's Restaurant. Tracy's wife is about to be deported and he pleads with the mayor, who is speaking at the dinner to help him, that if anyone could save his wife, it would be the mayor. The restaurant was a real location,  located at 8th Avenue and West 50th Street in New York and owned by heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey, who has a cameo appearance. The place opened in 1935, just a couple years before Big City was filmed.  Above is an image of Jack Dempsey's Restaurant as it appears in the film and below that is a vintage postcard image of how the restaurant looked.

The mayor decides to help Tracy. Escorted by some of the other dinner patrons (more famous athletes including Jim Thorpe, Jim Jeffries and Maxie Rosenbloom) the group races to the docks in a few cars to stop the ship that is about to deport Rainer. We see the cars race down two more real New York streets and then suddenly, for someone looking closely, one will notice the cars are racing down the streets of Hollywood! Below are two more views of New York and then the jump to Hollywood.

The first view is of Broadway, near the Jack Dempsey Restaurant location. In this view we see the Trans-Lux Theatre, located at 1619 Broadway. This theatre, which opened in 1931, was struggling by 1937 when this film was made. What's interesting is that in 1937, Jack Dempsey and his business partner Jack Amiel purchased the Trans-Lux property and converted the site into Jack Dempsey's Broadway Bar and Cocktail Lounge.

Trans-Lux Theatre, 1619 Broadway, New York

Contemporary view of the Trans-Lux Theatre site.

The next New York view seen in the film shows us the corner of West 47th Street and Broadway in Times Square. The most prominent building that can be seen in the screenshot is the Florsheim Shoe store. It's amazing how different Times Square looks today compared to 1937.

W. 47th Street and Broadway, New York

W. 47th Street and Broadway, New York

Now we jump to the Hollywood locations. As Tracy races down the New York City streets to reach his wife before she is deported we suddenly see the cars driving down Hollywood Boulevard and also down Ivar Avenue. Some of the buildings that can be seen are the Hollywood Citizen Stationary Store, a Schwab's store, Nancy's, Delphene's, a Thrifty Drug Store, a Colombia building, the Guaranty Building and the Broadway Hollywood Building.

Looking west down Hollywood Blvd from Cosmo St.
Looking west down Hollywood Blvd from Cosmo St.

Above is the first shot of Hollywood. This view is looking west down Hollywood Boulevard from Cosmo Street. The building with the neon "Dentist" sign is part of the Julian Medical Building, a former drug store with medical offices on top.

Hollywood Blvd at Cosmo St.

Corner of Hollywood Blvd and Cosmo St.

Corner of Hollywood Blvd and Cosmo St.

Former site of Schwabs and Hollywood Citizen Stationary.

Tracy's car races past Schwabs.

Thrifty Drug Store, SW corner of Hollywood Blvd at Ivar Ave.

Former site of Thrifty Drug Store, Hollywood Blvd at Ivar Ave.

Guaranty Building 6331 Hollywood Boulevard.

Guaranty Building 6331 Hollywood Boulevard.

Looking east down Hollywood Blvd from Ivar Ave.

Looking east down Hollywood Blvd from Ivar Ave.

Above is a view looking east down Hollywood Boulevard. The "Columbia" building is now hidden behind some trees. Below you can see a closeup image of this building to see how this building looks now. In the background of the screenshot the signs from the Broadway Hollywood Building and the Taft building can be seen - both buildings are still standing at the corner of Hollywood and Vine.

The former Colombia Building 6324-32 Hollywood Blvd.

Big City (1937) is available for rent through ClassicFlix. The film was directed by Frank Borzage and also stars Charley Grapewin, Janet Beecher, Eddie Quillan, Victor Varconi, Oscar O'Shea, Helen Troy, William Demarest, John Arledge, Irving Bacon, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, Regis Toomey, Edgar Dearing, and Paul Harvey.

All screenshots (c) Warner Home Video. All contemporary images (c) 2013 Google, except Jack Dempsey Restaurant site courtesy of ScenePast.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails