Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Big Night (1951) - Film Locations

The Big Night (1951)

Director Joseph Losey had a short career making films in America before he was forced to move to Europe after being blacklisted in Hollywood during the era of red-baiting and HUAC hearings. So, it's no surprise that Losey's films didn't get much attention in the United States, especially those films that he made in Europe. Although Losey's films are highly regarded in Europe, they're still not widely recognized and appreciated in the United States, which is a real shame because Losey made some real gems.

A few weeks ago I did a film locations post for one of Losey's American films, The Lawless (1950), which was filmed in Northern California. This time around I spotlight some of the film locations for The Big Night (1951) which was filmed in Los Angeles.

Like many noir films, The Big Night (1951) is a revenge story with a very simple plot, but I was quite surprised at just how dark and moody this film was. The film stars a young John Drew Barrymore, a teenager who witnesses his father beaten to a pulp. Barrymore takes to the streets with the intention of getting back at his father's attacker, but when he confronts the man that beat his father, he discovers some dark secrets about his father. But are they true? Things are little more complicated than Barrymore thought.

In one scene when Barrymore is wandering the streets he comes up to an old church. The building is St. Joseph Catholic Church located at 218 East 12th Street in Los Angeles. The church was constructed in 1901 and stood on the site for many decades, until in 1983 a fire damaged the church and the building was demolished. A new church was then erected in its place. Below is a screenshot from the film of Barrymore approaching the church matched with some images of the church during different time periods.

Barrymore at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Los Angeles

St. Joseph Catholic Church in 1906

St. Joseph Catholic Church ca. 1940

St. Joseph Catholic Church as it appears today.

During the opening of the film and later in the story, we see Barrymore running down the streets where the Southern California Gas Company tanks once stood. The intersection below is Center Street at Commercial Street near downtown Los Angeles.

Barrymore between the Southern California Gas Company tanks.
Center Street at Commercial Street, Los Angeles

Center Street at Commercial Street, Los Angeles

Barrymore running down Center Street passed the Friedman Bag
building, now the Devon Self Storage building.

Center Street at Commercial, Los Angeles
Former Friedman Bag building on left.

Side street next to the Friedman Bag building.

Looking down the side of the former Friedman Bag building.

The Big Night (1951) is currently available for streaming on Netflix Watch Instantly, but is not to be confused with the film from 1960 with the same title. To my knowledge it has not been released on DVD in the United States, but it is available on DVD as part of the Joseph Losey collection box set released in the United Kingdom.

Street View images (c) Google (2011), St. Joseph Catholic Church images from Los Angeles Library photo collection.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Donovan's Brain (1953) - Film Locations

Donovan's Brain (1953)

It's not a horror film, but Donovan's Brain (1953) is creepy enough (ok, campy enough) for October Halloween viewing.  In the film, Lew Ayres plays Dr. Patrick Cory, a scientist experimenting with keeping monkey brains alive outside of their bodies. When a millionaire by the name of Donovan crashes nearby Dr. Cory's home and lab, Dr. Cory volunteers to help resuscitate the victim. When that fails, Dr. Cory secretly removes Donovan's brain and attempts to keep the brain alive outside the body. The experiment seems to work until Donovan's brain begins to take control of Dr. Cory.

Many of the scenes take place at the home of Dr. Cory, which looks to be a remote area of Southern California. However, there are a few scenes that take place in Los Angeles. In an early scene when Lew Ayres needs to go into the city, we see his plane flying over downtown Los Angeles with a view of City Hall in the background.

Lew Ayers flies over Los Angeles. City Hall in background.

Bird's eye view of City Hall in Los Angeles as it appears today.

When Ayers needs to stay in Los Angeles for a few days he crashes at The Town House apartment building located at 639 S. Commonwealth Ave. This same apartment building can be seen 22 years earlier in the Charlie Chaplin film, City Lights (1931) in the scene where Chaplin, after receiving money from a millionaire, runs out of the apartment to buy the basket of flowers from the blind girl. Below are comparisons of the Town House apartments as they appear in the film and how the building appears today.

Lew Ayres arrives at the Town House apartments.

639 S. Commonwealth Ave, Los Angeles

The entrance to The Town House apartments.

A present view of the entrance to The Town House apartments.

The Town House Apartments, 639 S. Commonwealth Ave.

I'm not a hundred percent sure, but it looks like there may have actually been scenes filmed inside The Town House apartments building. Usually, a film production would recreate the interiors on a soundstage at the studio, but the screenshots below look like they may be an authentic look at the interior of the Town House apartments circa 1953.

Lew Ayres enters The Town House apartments.

Ayers goes up the steps to the lobby.

Ayers in the lobby of the Town House apartments.

The elevators inside the Town House apartments.

In the next scene comparison Lew Ayres is seen leaving The Town House apartments, getting into a cab parked on Commonwealth Ave. In the background you can see the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, the same church where James Mason brings his family in the Nicholas Ray film, Bigger Than Life (1956). In the modern day view you can just barely see the church steeples peeking above the trees and partially blocked by the modern glass building.

Looking down Commonwealth Ave 
outside the Town House apartments.

Looking down Commonwealth Ave, the First Congregational 
Church of Los Angeles in the upper right corner.

In one scene when Lew Ayres is going about town he is spotted by a reporter. In the screenshot below, we can see that the building Ayres goes into was on South Olive Street near West 7th Street. The building in the background can also be seen in Charlie Chaplin's film City Lights, in the opening credits of the Joan Crawford film, Possessed (1947),  and in the Pat O'Brien and Bette Davis film, Bureau of Missing Persons (1933).

Reporter on S. Olive near W. 7th Street, Los Angeles

S. Olive near W. 7th Street, Los Angeles

Near the end of the film, Lew Ayres is almost completely controlled by Donovan's brain. Under Donovan's control, Ayres nearly gets killed by stepping in front of moving traffic. The scene was filmed near the intersection of Wilshire Blvd and S. Westmorland.

Ayres on Wilshire Blvd near S. Westmorland. The art deco
Bullocks Wilshire building can be seen on the right.

Looking east down Wilshire. Bullocks Wilshire building on right.

Looking down S. Westmorland near Wilshire Blvd.

Looking down S. Westmorland near Wilshire Blvd. 
The side street is now divided in half.

Donovan's Brain (1953) is available on DVD and is currently available to Watch Instantly on Netflix. 

The film also stars Nancy Davis, later known as Nancy Reagan and Gene Evans.

Bird's Eye View (c) 2011 Microsoft Corporation, Pictometry Bird's Eye (c) 2010 Pictometry International Corp, Google Street View (c) 2011 Google

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Female (1933) - Film Locations

Female (1933)

It's a woman's world in the film Female (1933). Ruth Chatterton plays Alison Drake, a tough business executive at an automobile factory who has her way with all the men that work for her. When Alison sees one of her male employees that she fancies, she invites them over to her house for what will be a one night stand. Miss Drake doesn't get attached. That is until she meets Jim Thorne (George Brent), an inventor who refuses her advances. 

This unusual film is a pre-code comedy filled with gorgeous art deco sets and snappy dialogue. One of the interesting film locations is Chatterton's home, which is the Ennis Brown house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The home is located at 2655 Glendower Avenue in the hills of the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles and can be seen in numerous films. The Ennis Brown house was even the title character in House on Haunted Hill (1959), starring Vincent Price.   

Ruth Chatterton and her help outside the Ennis-Brown house.

The entrance to the Ennis-Brown House.

The Ennis-Brown House as seen in Female (1933)

The front of the Ennis-Brown House

The driveway of the Ennis-Brown House.

Ruth Chatterton in front of the Ennis-Brown house.

The back of the Ennis-Brown house.

Ruth Chatterton about to take a dip in her art deco pool.

In one scene we see that Chatterton's home has a large art deco swimming pool. That pool is not part of the Ennis-Brown home designed by Wright. It was fabricated on a Warner Bros. soundstage. According to IMDB, it was actually constructed for the musical number "By a Waterfall" in the bigger budget film, Footlight Parade (1933), starring James Cagney.


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