Edmond O’Brien: Happy 100th Birthday!

Actor Edmond O’Brien was born Redmond O’Brien—really? They couldn’t let him keep the R?—in New York City one hundred years ago today.

O’Brien played a wide range of roles on Broadway, on radio and television, and in the movies, but he’s perhaps best remembered for his work in film noir, especially his role in one of the classics of that genre, D.O.A. (1950). In that picture, O’Brien plays Frank Bigelow, a man who, having learned he is not so slowly dying after being poisoned, sets out to track down his murderer.

Some years ago, we made one of our periodic pilgrimages to Los Angeles, where we always like to track down film locations for our favorite pictures. On this trip, one of our stops was at the Bradbury Building, a classic structure in downtown L.A. that has appeared in countless motion pictures and television programs.

In a key scene in D.O.A., Frank Bigelow is in the Bradbury Building after hours, and he takes a rather extravagant spill there in the darkened lobby. It was mid-day when we visited the Bradbury, but we didn’t let that stop us. We took a spill of our own as a tribute to a great movie and a terrific actor, and didn’t let the skunk eye cast our way by the security guards in the lobby bother us.

Happy birthday, Mr. O’Brien. We’ll raise a toast to you today—a gimlet, with perhaps just a drop of “luminous toxin” in it for that extra kick.

Edmond O'Brien quote

Make a left at 1935…

Most New Yorkers we know get a kick out of seeing motion pictures that were shot in the Big Apple. It’s fun to watch for spots you know, to think, “Hey, I live just a few blocks from that restaurant—I had brunch there once” or “I used to walk by that store every day on my way to work.” And even transplants to the city feel like a true New Yorkers when we can spot continuity errors, when a character steps out the door of his building on the Upper East Side, for example, and rounds the corner, only to be on the Upper West Side in the very next shot.

Even more fun is watching classic movies that were filmed in New York (though most NYC-set pictures in those decades were shot on studio lots in Los Angeles). Harold Lloyd‘s Speedy (1928) is a great example of a movie shot in NYC, and Lloyd’s climactic race at the helm of a horse-drawn trolley that covers the length of Manhattan during the picture’s climax provides some terrific opportunities to see New York as it once was (and to watch for a few landmarks, such as the arch in Washington Square Park, that are still standing).

We’ve never resided in Los Angeles (though we’re not averse to the notion), but having spent a week at a time there on several occasions over the past decade, we find that we’re able to spot a number of familiar locales and locations when we watch movies that are set there. And, of course, site spotting while enjoying old movies that are set in Los Angeles is great fun. One of our favorite examples is the frequent appearances made by downtown L.A.’s Bradbury Building; that classic structure shows up in any number of movies, old and new, including the 1950 thriller D.O.A. (in one scene in that noir classic, Edmund O’Brien takes a head-first spill while running through the building’s lobby; when we paid a visit to the Bradbury some years back, we couldn’t resist taking a fall of our own as a sort of tribute).

All of which is by way of setting up the following video clip, which is stock footage shot in 1935 and meant, we presume, to serve as the background for scenes that were meant to take place in automobiles but were filmed in those studio-bound contraptions that were rigged to resemble a car’s interior.

The car carrying the camera that shot this footage starts near Canon Drive and travels east along Wilshire Boulevard through Beverly Hills. If you grew up near there in the 1930s, you’ve got a real treat awaiting you. If you didn’t, this may be as close as you can hope to get to experiencing what it was like then.

We can’t help it; we’re suckers for quick trips back in time such as this one.