The Drive-in That Ate the San Fernando Valley

Crime of Passion movie poster
Recently we watched (for the third or fourth time) Barbara Stanwyck‘s final picture that might be considered film noir: Crime of Passion (1957).

In it, she plays a columnist for a San Francisco newspaper who rather impulsively gives up her career to marry a Los Angeles police detective (Sterling Hayden). She moves into his home, which is situated, as a passage of dialogue reveals, in the San Fernando Valley.

In two or three brief scenes set outside the newlyweds’ home, we see in the background the hulking screen of a drive-in theatre towering over the neighborhood. So prominent is this screen tower that it seems almost ominous.

Each time we’ve watch this picture, we’ve been struck by this choice on the part of the filmmakers because not a word is said about the screen. No one refers to it in any way. But it’s such an imposing element in those exterior shots that we can’t help but wonder why director Gerd Oswald didn’t shoot from the other direction, so that the screen tower didn’t appear.

Mind you, we’re glad he didn’t—as a drive-in aficionado, we enjoy seeing the screen in the background when we watch the movie—but it’s undeniably a distraction.

It does speak, we think, to how relatively ubiquitous drive-in theatres once were that Oswald didn’t balk at including that huge screen in the scenes in which it appears. Who knows, it may be that someone viewing the film in 1957 wouldn’t have even given it a second thought.

Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill, Then and Now

The Bunker Hill neighborhood in downtown Los Angeles was once a fashionable area where the many of the city’s elite resided. By the late 1940s, the Victorian homes those well-to-do families had occupied had been transformed into boarding houses and apartment buildings, and the people who called them home were decidedly not high society.

Today, the neighborhood would be all but unrecognizable to those who lived there in either the good old days and the bad old days, as is demonstrated in this film by Keven McAlester, which juxtaposes 1940s footage (shot, we’re guessing, as background for some of the many films noir of the day that featured scenes shot in the neighborhood) with contemporary footage of the same streets that are captured in the earlier footage.

It may come as no surprise to you that, given the choice, we’d opt for the Bunker Hill on the left in a heartbeat.

Happy Birthday, Carole Lombard!

October 6 marks the birthday of the divine Carole Lombard. As you probably know, she was taken from us far too soon, dying in 1942 in a plane crash outside Las Vegas, Nevada. She was returning to Los Angeles after participating in a war bonds rally in her home state of Indiana. She was only 33.

One of the reigning queens of screwball comedy, Carole Lombard was said to have been a great dame, with the colorful vocabulary of a sailor and a courageous and joyous spirit. Too bad she never appeared in a Preston Sturges comedy; what a team they’d have made.

Happy birthday, Ms. Carole Lombard, wherever you may be!

Carole Lombard quote