Friday, March 27, 2015


I'm ending our week-long tour of old LA via stock footage with a look at Christmas on Hollywood Blvd. in the late 40s. Dig the glaring Christmas sun. Dig the absurd decorations. Dig the restaurant called 'Doloros's' (at two minutes in) that looks like 'Mildred's' from 'Mildred Pierce'. It's Christmas in LA in the late forties, and it looks more or less the same as every Christmas I've spent in LA over the years. Ewwwww...

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Thursday, March 26, 2015


Today's view of a Los Angeles that only partially still exists takes us on a smooth ride down Hollywood Blvd., starting in the domestic flats just east of Laurel Canyon (and hence directly below Marlon Brando's house which I've featured over the previous two posts--scroll down, honey, scroll down) and continuing all the way to Highland Avenue. A few things to note. 1) The domestic area looks pretty much the same today as it did when this was shot. 2) At around forty seconds, our driver blows a red light. 3) At a minute and twenty-some seconds, a dishy blonde dame crosses the street wearing tight pants and early F-Me Pumps. 4) Streetcar tracks still existed on Hollywood Blvd. and are visible once the car crosses La Brea and enters the business district. 5) Grauman's Chinese Theater is clearly visible on the left. 6) More dangerous driving is displayed as our camera-car almost collides head-on with another car just east of La Brea.

At Highland, they make a left and proceed north. The church on the corner of Franklin is unchanged. On the hill just above it is the apartment house--barely visible but definitely tucked in there--that I lived in from 1992 to 1994. And then the world we're watching goes dark...

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Look what I found. It's a segment from Edward R. Murrow's 'Person To Person' TV program featuring Marlon Brando being interviewed in the house that's currently for sale and that I posted about yesterday (scroll down, kiddo, scroll down). The year is 1955 and it's just a few days after Brando won his Oscar for 'On The Waterfront'. The exterior of the house is pictured and is exactly the same as in the photos currently on display. The interview begins in the garden, where Brando treats us to the nighttime view from his patio. From there we move inside to the massive sunken living room, also pictured in yesterdays link. Brando's father shows up and is most unpleasant--Murrow asks him if he's proud of his son and the bastard actually answers, "As an actor, no. As a son, yes." Jesus.

The offscreen sound of beating conga drums interrupts the interview. Brando apparently has a musician friend stashed in the basement. He leads us down to the mysterious room beneath the living room (possibly the room that's shown in the brochure as the wine celler?), where we're treated to a long, boring conga duet. The interview ends there and so does our tour of 8142 Laurel View Drive, in the year of our lord 1955.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Portrait of Ann Miller Premium Poster

No, Marlon and Ann never hooked up--at least as far as I know--but they did share a house. At different times each of them lived in 8142 Laurel View Drive, in the hills over Sunset Blvd and Laurel Canyon.

Located directly above the Chateau Marmont, the house--an eccentrically Moorish four story villa--is now for sale for somewhere in the low three-millions. Click here to view 15 photos of the joint. I doubt it will fetch that. It's a wonderful place but requires an exceptionally peculiar buyer. The house is laid out on at least seven levels--the main entry floor contains a circular foyer, a raised dining room, a sunken living room, stairs to the second floor bedrooms, further stairs to a third floor tower room and somewhere, somehow, passage to a wine room that seems to be below the living room. Brando lived there in the mid-fifties but I don't know when Ann did. I'm seriously tempted to call the realtor and waste a little of their time checking it out, as I did with Billy Wilder's apartment.
Marlon Brando (April 3, 1924 – July 1, 2004)

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Monday, March 23, 2015


Today's filmed tour of ancient Los Angeles takes us on a drive down Wilshire Blvd. in 1935. Beginning at Canon Drive in Beverly Hills, the car--with camera mounted on the rear looking backwards--heads east all the way to Robertson Blvd. where it makes a slight turn and then stops. The camera cuts and, at two minutes and twenty-five seconds, resumes back at Canon Drive, this time pointing southward (thus giving us the view from the side window) and makes the same drive. You can see the Warner Brothers Beverly Hills Theater, then playing "Oil For The Lamps of China", a lot of gas stations, plenty of open lots and the very interesting free-form style of driving that then existed. Cars sort of float around in a friendly, not-threatening way that's devoid of any rigid pattern i.e staying in lanes. 

There are several things to be deduced from the above clues. One is that in 1935 Los Angeles it took under three minutes to drive on Wilshire Blvd.from Canon Drive to Robertson Blvd. That drive--which I do quite frequently--is now at least a fifteen minute affair. (Note that there appear to be no traffic lights at that time). We must certainly deduce from the high quality of the photography that this was not some joyride shot by an amateur but more than likely a photograph 'plate' for purposes of rear projection in a movie scene. (For those who aren't hep to RP screens, basically the actors sat in a dummy car seat on a sound stage and behind them, on a large screen, an image of passing scenery from a car window was projected, thereby giving the impression that they were really driving. Actually setting up a camera in a car--or on a 'process trailer' which is the way it continues to usually be done--didn't start happening until the early 1940s as more movies began shooting on location). The likelihood of this being shot for RP purposes is made even more certain by the fact that they start the whole drive over again, facing out the side window. Thus in the scene where Pat O'Brien is driving and James Cagney is the passenger, Cagney's close-up will utilize the second shot for background.

But what about O'Brien's close-up? This is where things get weird. Because when the camera cuts again at four minutes and twenty seconds, I fully anticipated the next shot being the similar side view facing north. Instead we are treated to footage of something called 'Broken Egg Spring' which apparently is to be found in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Not only does this visual non-sequitar not take place in the same state, it's not even shot as well as the car stuff and is clearly the work of an amateur cameraman. So how did these two disparate pieces of film wind up on the same reel? How the hell should I know? And with that, he hit save, published his Monday blogpost, tweeted it, went to the bathroom and then sat down to get some real work done...

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Friday, March 20, 2015


Continuing our severing of the funny scenes from the unfunny scenes in 'A Night At The Opera', here's one of the most underrated of the Marx's farcical room shuffle chases (they have one in almost every movie--hotel doors slamming, mistaken identities, confused authorities, confounded blackmailers etc.) This is the 'missing beds' boogie, where Chico and Harpo move all the furniture from one room of the hotel suite to another right under the nose of the law. In addition to the impeccable timing, the scene also contains what is clearly an on-set ad-lib that got left in. Henderson the Private Eye, in response to Groucho's Garboesque "I vant to be alone" says "You'll be alone once I throw you in jail!" And Groucho--with a lack of conviction that makes me think he truly did just stumble upon the thought at precisely that moment--says "Isn't there a song called something like that, Henderson?" It's not the funniest line he ever delivered, but you kind of feel you're in the moment on-set with him, as he tosses another strand of spaghetti at the wall and sees if it will stick. This one did...

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Here, in all its four minutes of glory, is the seminal 'stateroom sequence' from ANATOP. Each of Groucho's lines is my favorite one in the scene, until the next one tops it. Scroll down to previous two days posts containing the opening Driftwood/Claypool meeting and the "party of the first part" contract scene. "Is my Aunt Minnie here?" "No, but you're welcome to come in and prowl around a bit." Enough said.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Per yesterdays promise, a week of excerpted comedy scenes from 'A Night At The Opera' continues with the opening scene between Groucho (Otis B. Driftwood) and Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Claypool). Scroll down to yesterday's post for the 'party of the first part' contract scene, as well as my favorite Groucho/Thalberg anecdote. "Do you follow me?" "Yes, I do." "Well, stop following me or I'll have you arrested!" Enough said.

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Monday, March 16, 2015


By 1934 The Marx Brothers were an act that had gone into freefall. 'Duck Soup' had, unbelievably, been a huge box-office disappointment and Paramount had failed to renew their contract. Zeppo, sick of being fourth banana, had abandoned the act and started a new career as an agent (and a quite successful one as it turned out). Harpo went on tour in the Soviet Union, Groucho toured in the play 'Twentieth Century' and decided he preferred actually being an actor to being a comedian and Chico played a lot bridge. Then along came Irving Thalberg who decided that there was mucho juice left in the act as long as they revamped their style of filmmaking. Instead of hanging absurd comedy routines on an absurd plot (as had been their modus operandi thus far), Thalberg insisted that a conventional plot with romance, pretty songs and intrigue would lure non-Marx lovers into the theater and provide a more suitable backdrop for their madness. The initial result, 'A Night At The Opera', has for so many been considered their best film that it's impossible to watch it anymore with anything but regret that Thalberg was right. One misses the irrationality of the Paramount films and one loathes the romance and pretty songs and intrigue. Having said that, ANATO is still a hell of a great comedy and I've decided to spend the week excerpting the comedy scenes, several of which are among the best things they ever did. Above is 'the party of the first part' contract scene in which Groucho and Chico obsess on the sound of the writing of the contract, as opposed to the content. As Joe Adamson points out in his seminal book "Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Sometimes Zeppo" if we all thought about the way contracts sounded, nothing would ever get signed. (His book, by the way, is not just the best Marx Bros. book but one of the finest and most amusing of all film studies books. I highly recommend it).

Would you like to hear a Marxian anecdote? Okay. When Thalberg and the Marxes first met, Thalberg asked where Zeppo was. Groucho told him that he'd decided to leave the act and now it was just the three of them. Thalberg asked if they still expected to be paid as much as they previously had now that there were only three of them. "Don't be silly," answered Groucho. "Without Zeppo we're worth twice as much."

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Friday, March 13, 2015


This time our mystery cameraman has front mounted his camera and taken a daytime drive around Hollywood Blvd. and its environs. It's 1957 and Los Angeles has already acquired the same glaring, brown, sickly light that has made me nauseous for as long as I can remember. There is a near collision with a blue Thunderbird that, after waiting at a red light, attempts to jump the green light and make a left turn, only to find itself stuck as the car next to our camera-car apparently beats him to it. Another instance of LA having changed very little--aggressive drivers in sports cars continue to screw things up to this day.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015


Leaping ahead sixty-plus years and crossing the country in an airplane that had yet to be invented in the world we visited yesterday, lets take a drive down the Strip that time forgot. It's an evening in 1967 and somebody's decided to take their 16mm camera (at least it looks like 16--8mm wouldn't have been able to capture this as well), mount it in the rear window and then take a drive down Sunset, heading east. He starts rolling somewhere just outside of the Beverly Hills city limit, as the first thing we see is the sign for Doheny Rd. (The City National Bank building looms to the right, as it continues to do in the present day). The Strip has many wonderful nightclub signs of course, but I'm a little surprised at how many service businesses there are--a market, several gas stations, rent-a-car places. Then there are the cars and boy are there a lot of Camaros, then brand new. This charming three minute ride is followed by a fatally uninteresting one minute ride down Hollywood Blvd. which you are free to skip. And the music is dreadful--'I Can See For Miles' by The Who. Turn it off and replace it with something from the Sammy Davis Jr.-Count Basie album. Or Tony Bennett singing 'Smile' might work, in a melencholic, noirish kind of way.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Above I've posted a mysterious and fabulous piece of footage that I don't think I've ever before seen. It's a ride down Broadway in a trolley, shot sometime in the early 20th century. The reasons for this film's existence are lost to time. Somebody mounted a camera on or at the front of a streetcar and just exposed film. What we have as a result is a wonderful study in traffic--the lawlessness of the era allowed streetcars, trolleys, horse and carriages and pedestrians to dodge and feint, avoiding near-collisions with almost comedic deftness. The streets are crowded with gentleman in top-hats, the ladies carry parasols, several store signs advertising closing sales (one thing that hasn't changed) and the whole thing winds up at 14th street and Union Square which is astonishingly recognizable. And, as always with these snippets of antiquity caught on film, I find myself fascinated by the simple act of watching all of those dead people, very much alive in their moment in time and never dreaming that the streetcar coming toward them contained a mechanism that would allow people to see them alive, in the unimaginable 21st century.

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