The allure of Film Noir, those dark downtown thrillers have mesmerized viewers since they began in the 1940’s. These steamy, seamy tales of hardboiled P.I.s, of good cops gone bad over a dame and smoldering femme fatales in sinister bars top the list of cult classic favorites.
The true hero of these dark thrillers though is the city of Los Angeles itself. And unlike the noir characters, the city never dies. Films like Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard and Kiss Me Deadly of the 40’s and 50’s began the noir style. Newer landmarks of the 70’s: Chinatown and The Long Goodbye are feasts for hungry fan’s imagination.
Today the streets of Hollywood look more like a cheerful and sun-drenched theme-park impersonation of its own dark past. These days, visitors admire their favorite noir character in the Wax Museum on Hollywood Boulevard. or take a tour of stars’ homes, or if more morbidly inclined, embark on one of the Graveyard or Dearly Departed tours through Hollywood’s long-gone noir glory. Noir L.A. is alive, lurking, waiting to grab the viewer.
Begin your day at Kelly’s café at the Kodak theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Peek out from behind your newspaper, to observe the unsuspecting stream of tourists. An imaginary drop dead gorgeous Veronica Lake look-alike beckons. Weave your way out of the throng of visitors that flock around Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard and follow your very own fantasy noir heroine deep into the streets of Hollywood.
Catch a fleeting glimpse of her as she soaks in the sun behind dark shades on a court yard bench at 1575 Crossroads of the World. Built in 1936 to look like an ocean liner with a rotating globe on top, the building’s appearance is pure decadence as featured in L.A. Confidential. But wait, the elusive heroine is already gone, leaving just a whiff of her sultry scent.
Follow her trail up to the historical Egyptian Theater where the American Cinematheque holds its Annual Film Noir Festival. Just a stroll away at Musso and Frank’s guests soak up a real life noir moment in the legendary restaurant’s ultimate noir ambience. It’s here where Raymond Chandler wrote ‘The Big Sleep.’
There is Veronica, her eyes blazing behind her long bangs that curtain the side of her face; waiting teasingly behind the wheel of a black 1959 Cadillac limousine. Jump in and breeze past deco mansions, Spanish bungalows, and Tudor cottages to the Formosa Café. Across the street from the former Warner Brother’s studios, the 1939 Chinese restaurant transports visitors back in style to the heights of the noir era. A former railroad corner road car, the café was a regular hangout (and thriving bookmaking operation) to likes of Humphrey Bogart and Lana Turner. Around back, there is a darkly-lit red leathered bar few but the locals know about, where you can immerse yourself in the Formosa’s noir embrace, and pretend you stepped right back into L.A. Confidential which was also shot here.
Ok, enough of Hollywood. What about downtown, Bunker Hill and Chinatown?
‘Just say the word babe and we’ll get you there’. The imaginary noir heroine seems to anticipate your every whim and desire. Beneath the kitsch and tourist bustle, Chinatown is a vibrant maze, where paranoia and potential betrayal lurk at every corner. The atmosphere is memorialized in the first classical Neo-Noir, Roman Polansky’s Chinatown with Faye Dunaway.
Follow Hill Street down past lavish two-story Victorian mansion towards Bunker Hill to ‘The Angel’s Flight’ tramway. Known as the “Shortest Railway in the World,” it opened in 1901 and was featured in Robert Aldrich’s 50’s cult classic, Kiss Me Deadly. Angel’s Flight was shut down after a fatal accident in 2001 but after extensive repairs is scheduled to reopen in 2008.
Catch up with Veronica, already some steps ahead, at the nearby Bradbury Building at 304 South Broadway and Third Street. Blade Runner, the neo-noir classic that twisted the genre in a futuristic sci-fi direction was filmed here. A red-brick block outside, the building enchants on the inside with a central courtyard illuminated by skylights, wrought-iron grillwork, and open-cage elevators.
As evening falls, your imaginary noir heroine has slightly more macabre plans – The ‘Hollywood Forever’ cemetery on Gower and Santa Monica Boulevard, resting place of countless Hollywood celebs and noir heroes. There will be an outdoors movie screening at nine in the evening. Bring your own picnic, trance to throbbing dance music and afterwards soak in the movie featured for the night. ‘Nice and easy, buster’ Veronica whispers coolly into your ear. It might just be your favorite noir thriller that flickers across the dark sky tonight.
Round out your perfectly thrilling day with a night out on the town at the big clubs on the Strip. The House of Blues has recently been the location of a very darkly-disturbing real life murder case surrounding Phil Specter and a talented young actress. The club is just one of many along this stretch of Sunset where you can club ’til you drop and finally crawl home in the wee hours of the night.
Only in Hollywood the ‘noir’ thrills never seem to end.
What & Where:
Grauman’s Chinese Theater (6925 Hollywood Blvd; 323-464-8111)
Crossroads of the World (6671 Sunset Blvd; 323-463-5611)
Egyptian Theater/American Cinematheque (6712 Hollywood Blvd; 323-461-2020)
Musso & Frank’s (6667 Hollywood Blvd; 323-467-7788)
Formosa Café (7156 Santa Monica Blvd; 323-850-9050)
Angel’s Flight (351 S. Hill St.)
Bradbury Building (304 S. Broadway; 213-663-2489
House of Blues (8430 Sunset Blvd; 323-848-5100)
Kelly’s Café at the Kodak Theater(6801 Hollywood Blvd; 323-308-6300)
Hollywood Forever Cemetery (6000 Santa Monica Blvd; 323-469-1181
Silvia Kratzer is a professor of Film and Television at UCLA and at Chapman University. She has previously published her work in the academic field. More recently she has written screenplays and fiction and non-fiction essay published in the e—zine Crumpled Papers that she co-founded with other writing members and café literati of Hollywood. Originally from Germany, she has lived in Hollywood for over ten years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.