Sunday, April 15, 2012

Big House, U.S.A. (1955) - Film Locations

Royal Gorge Park in Colorado

The film Big House, U.S.A. (1955) has more holes in the story than a pair of fishnet stockings but the cast of characters and location photography make this documentary style prison film, maybe not irresistible, but tempting to look at. Bad boys Ralph Meeker, Broderick Crawford, Lon Chaney Jr. and a young, buff Charles Bronson headline this story set in the Canon City/Royal Gorge Park area of Colorado, but the real star of the film is the Colorado landscape.

The story starts at a Colorado camp where a young boy, the son of a wealthy father, has run away. A park-wide search for the boy begins but it's Meeker who is hiking through the park that discovers the boy first. Instead of returning the boy, Meeker brings him to an empty lookout tower where he holds the boy until he can get a $200,000 ransom. Once Meeker receives the money he buries it in the park. When he returns to the boy he finds that the boy has fallen out of the tower and died. Meeker throws the body of the boy off a cliff and goes on the lam. While leaving the Royal Gorge Park Meeker is stopped by law enforcement and brought in for questioning. The FBI gets involved but cannot convict Meeker of kidnapping so he is sentenced to five years for extortion and sent to Casabel Island Prison. It's in prison where Meeker meets Crawford, Chaney Jr., and Bronson. Together this group of tough guys plan to break out of prison and travel back to the Colorado park to dig up the buried ransom money.

One of the landmarks of Royal Gorge Park is a suspension bridge that hangs 956 feet high and spans a quarter mile across a large canyon, often referred to as the "Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River." The Royal Gorge Bridge is featured heavily in Big House, U.S.A.  The bridge can be seen during the opening credits and often as a backdrop in many scenes.

Royal Gorge Bridge as seen in the opening of the film.

Another view of the bridge as seen in the film.

Contemporary view of the bridge from the blog Mountains Rule.

Near the bridge is a theme park with rides and a visitors center which includes shops and a restaurant. I'm sure many of the theme park attractions came along after the film was made, but there was a restaurant which can be seen in one scene. In the scene below Willis Bouchey who plays the missing boy's father is seen talking to one of the park rangers near the Royal Gorge Park restaurant, the "Royal Grill."

Willis Bouchey talks with a Ranger near 
the Royal Gorge Park restaurant.

A contemporary view of the Royal Gorge Bridge looking
over the visitors center. Photo from The Romanian Dream blog.

Willis Bouchey inside the Royal Grill.

Visitors at the Royal Gorge restaurant.

During the FBI's investigation, an agent visits a shop in Canon City, Colorado where a shopkeeper is questioned about a kidnapping suspect. The shop is located on Main Street near North 5th Street. What in the film looks like a general store now appears to be Emmerson Furniture Store.

A cop car drives down Main Street in Canon City, Co.

Looking down Main Street towards N. 5th Street in Canon City.

In another scene, special agent James Madden (Reed Hadley) visits a school where he tries to dig up some information from one of the students. The school is Canon City Middle School, formerly Canon City High School. The address is 1215 Main Street, Canon City.

Reed Hadley questions a student at Canon City High School.

Canon City Middle School, formerly the High School.

Big House, U.S.A. will be showing on the big screen at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood on Thursday, April 26 at 7:30pm as part of the Noir City: Hollywood, 14th Annual Festival of Film Noir. The film is the second part of a double-feature. The first film is Caged (1950), another prison film but with women behind bars. Like Big House, U.S.A., Caged features a stellar cast which includes Agnes Moorehead, Hope Emerson, Betty Garde, Jan Sterling, Lee Patrick, and Jane Darwell. 

Have you ever visited Royal Gorge Park or crossed the Royal Gorge Bridge?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Gun Crazy (1950) - Film Locations

Those attending the 2012 TCM Film Festival this coming weekend will have to make a difficult choice in which film to see during the early evening screenings on Saturday. The obvious choice is the 60th Anniversary World Premiere Restoration of Singin' in the Rain which will be shown in the historic Grauman's Chinese Theater and will include discussions with Debbie Reynolds and Patricia Kelly. I mean, what an opportunity to see one of cinema's most noteworthy musicals in such a spectacular environment with one of the original cast members in attendance! But, at around the same time another great screening will be taking place down the street at the Egyptian Theatre. Gun Crazy may not be as iconic as Singin' in the Rain, but it is a landmark film noir worth adding to the "must see" list. The cinematography in Gun Crazy is marvelous and should look stunning on the large Egyptian Theater screen. And like the Singin in the Rain screening, Gun Crazy will also feature a discussion with one of the stars: Peggy Cummins.

Gun Crazy is a Bonnie and Clyde type of story about a sharp shooter husband who gets pushed into going on a crime spree by his trigger happy wife. The couple then find themselves in over their heads and must go on the lam. Although in the story the action takes place across several states, filming was done in California. One of the filming locations (see the newsstand below) is even walking distance from the Egyptian Theater where the Gun Crazy screening is taking place. Here are some of the key filming locations for Gun Crazy.

One of the great scenes in the film is a robbery that takes place in the fictional town of "Hampton," the real town being Montrose, California. The scene shows Annie (Peggy Cummins) and Bart (John Dall) driving into town, parking next to the bank, pulling the heist and then driving away all in one long continuous shot. We see the couple drive down Verdugo Road, make a right onto Broadview Drive, another right onto Market Street and then a left onto Honolulu Avenue, finally parking at the corner of Honolulu Avenue and Ocean View Boulevard.

Cummins and Dall drive down Broadview Dr
towards Market Street.

Looking down Broadview Dr towards Market St.

Cummins and Dall turn right onto Market Street.

Looking up Market St. towards Honolulu Avenue.

Cummins and Dall about to turn left onto Honolulu Ave.

Market Street facing Honolulu Avenue.

Cummins parks on Honolulu Ave at the corner of Ocean View Blvd
while Dall runs into the bank.

The corner of Honolulu Ave and Ocean View Blvd.

In the film, the bank is the "Hampton Building and Loan Association" but the real name of the bank during the time of filming was Security First National Bank of Los Angeles. Today the building is the site of Faye's Intimate Apparel. 

Cummins looks down Honolulu Ave from Ocean View Blvd.

Looking down Honolulu Ave from Ocean View Blvd.

Another view of the bank on Honolulu and Ocean View.

Honolulu Ave at Ocean View Blvd.

Dall and Cummins make their getaway by turning left 
down Ocean View Blvd.

Looking down Ocean View Blvd towards
Broadview Drive.

Dall and Cummins turn left onto Broadview Dr.

Looking down Broadview Dr. at Market St.

Looking down Broadview Dr. towards Verdugo Rd.

Looking down Broadview Dr. towards Verdugo Rd.

Dall and Cummins turn right on Verdugo Rd.

Turning right onto Verdugo Rd.

In another crime scene Dall and Cummins are seen running out of a store called "Rangers Growers" which was originally the Reseda State Bank building and now is the Allen's Flower Market building located on the corner of Sherman Way and Reseda Blvd in Reseda, California.

"Rangers Growers" on the SW corner of Sherman Way at Reseda Blvd.

Allen's Flower Market is now at the site of
Sherman Way and Reseda Blvd.

Cummins stands at the SE corner of Sherman Way
and Reseda Blvd and aims her gun towards Rangers Growers.

Looking at the SE corner of Sherman Way and Reseda Blvd.

Looking South down Reseda Blvd from Sherman Way.

Looking South down Reseda Blvd from Sherman Way.

Looking North down Reseda Blvd towards Sherman Way.

Looking North down Reseda Blvd towards Sherman Way.

Looking west down Sherman Way from Amigo Ave.
Old Richfield Gas Station can be seen on the left.

Looking west down Sherman Way from Amigo Ave.
The old Richfield gas station is now part of Eckharts Trailer Hitch.

In a third robbery, Dall and Cummins rob an Armour's Meat Packing plant. In the story the plant is located in Albuquerque, but the filming location is located at 2300 East Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles. The robbery begins at the plant on Olympic Boulevard and during the getaway, Dall and Cummins drive down Mateo Street.

An Armour meat truck drives down Olympic Blvd
heading towards Mateo Street.

Looking down Olympic from Mateo. The yellow oval
marks the railroad crossing that is still present.

The truck drives down Olympic and passes Mateo Street.

The Department of Water and Power building at 926 Mateo Street can be seen in the background inside the red square.

Looking down Mateo Street from Olympic Blvd.

The truck drives down Olympic and passes Mateo St.

Looking down Mateo St. from Olympic Blvd.

In the next screenshots the meat truck continues down Olympic Boulevard. It has passed Mateo Street and begins to enter the driveway at 2300 East Olympic Boulevard. Unfortunately, the Armour's Meat Packing building seen in the film is no longer standing at the site.

The Armour truck turns into the driveway on Olympic.
A car is parked at about 2305 Olympic Blvd in background.

Looking across from the Armour entrance on Olympic.
Another car is parked in the yellow circle near 2305 Olympic.

The truck pulls into the Armour plant on Olympic Blvd.

Looking down Olympic Blvd from the Armour entrance.

The Armour's entrance near 2300 E. Olympic Blvd.

The former site of the Armour plant at 2300 E. Olympic Blvd.

In the next few screenshots Dall and Cummins make their getaway by leaving the Armour meat packing plant parking lot and driving down Mateo Street.

Dall and Cummins pull out from the Armour parking lot on 
Olympic Blvd and drive down Mateo Street.

Looking down Mateo Street from Olympic Blvd.

Dall and Cummins on Mateo Street crossing 7th Street.
The Merchants National Bank building can be seen on the right.

Looking down Mateo Street near 7th Street.

Dall and Cummins continue down Mateo to Industrial Street. 
The National Biscuit Co. building can be seen on the left.

Mateo at Industrial Street. National Biscuit Co. on left.

Dall and Cummins continue down Mateo and approach Jesse Street.

Looking down Mateo St. towards Jesse St.

After Dall and Cummins have committed a crime spree across the United States, they eventually make their way to Los Angeles, California. One of their first stops is to a newsstand located at 1655 North Las Palmas Avenue in Hollywood. Dall hops out of a cab, picks up a newspaper and then gets back in the cab. At the end of Las Palmas Ave we get a view of the First Baptist Church on 6682 Selma Ave. If you attend the Gun Crazy screening at the Egyptian Theater you can make a pit stop at this filming location which is just blocks from the theater.

Cummins and Dall parked at newsstand at 1655 N. Las Palmas Ave. 
The First Baptist Church can be seen in the distance.

Looking down Las Palmas Ave towards Selma.
Newsstand is on right and First Baptist Church at end of street.

Dall and Cummins, while in Los Angeles, spend a day at Ocean Park Pier. This pier was an amusement park filled with roller coasters, themed attractions, carnival games, and restaurants. It was a separate pier a little further down from the existing Santa Monica Pier. Unfortunately, the Ocean Park Pier fell into disrepair and eventually was demolished. Dall and Cummins visit what was the Egyptian Ball Room (How fitting then that the Gun Crazy screening is being shown in the Egyptian theater?).

Dall outside the Egyptian Ball Room on Ocean Park Pier
in Santa Monica.

Ansel Adams photo of Ocean Park Pier ca. 1940.
Photo from Los Angeles Public Library.

If your attending the TCM Film Festival next weekend I strongly recommend the screening of Gun Crazy on Saturday evening. Gun Crazy is available on DVD but it certainly will be a treat to see on the big screen.

Your thoughts?


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