Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and many other silent comedians filmed stunt comedy sequences by building sets on Court Hill overlooking the south end of the former Hill Street Tunnel. As shown at left, filming a set against the street far below, while cropping the tunnel balustrade from view, created the illusion of great height. This remarkable setting was also adjacent to the magnificent Bradbury Mansion, one of the city’s finest original homes, that was later used as an early movie studio by Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Hal Roach, and was close to Court Flight, the city’s second (and now lost) funicular railway. You can see more pictures of the Bradbury Mansion, Court Flight, and the south end of the Hill Street Tunnel, in this earlier post (HERE), and can read all about them in my three books. (Note: this is my sixth post so far connecting silent comedy and film noir – there will be many more, especially regarding Harold Lloyd. You can link to these other noir posts HERE).
While the south end of the Hill Street Tunnel appears in dozens of silent comedies, the first film appearance of the north end of the Hill Street Tunnel of which I am aware is in the Burt Lancaster film noir drama Criss Cross (1949), co-starring a young and lovely Yvonne De Carlo as the femme fatale, who would later play matriarch Lilly Munster in the 1960s sitcom The Munsters.* In the above frame, Burt returns to Los Angeles by exiting a trolley at the north end of the Hill Street Tunnel at the corner of Temple. As shown at the end of this post on Google Street View, this corner, now part of the Los Angeles Civic Center, is redeveloped beyond recognition. The homes, the tunnel, and even the hill have all been graded flat. (*I realize now that during the Mack Sennett comedy Lizzies of the Field (1924) there is a brief shot approaching the north end of the tunnel – see inset).
As explained here, and in future posts, Harold Lloyd frequently filmed scenes from his early short comedies within steps of the former Bradbury Mansion studio on Court Hill, providing rare glimpses of this long-lost Los Angeles neighborhood that was later excavated and graded flat. Take A Chance (1918, shown above), was filmed at 406 Temple near the north end of the Hill Street Tunnel, just steps from where Burt Lancaster exited the trolley in Criss Cross. Down to his last dime, when Harold exits the Majestic Apartments situated directly between a barber shop and a restaurant, he flips the coin to decide whether to eat, or to spruce himself up, only to lose the dime in a storm drain.
The prominent white house at 215 N. Hill Street portrayed Burt’s family home in Criss Cross. This view below shows that this home (yellow box) and the Majestic Apartments (red box) were two of the last structures standing before Court Hill was excavated.
At left, Burt climbs the long flight of steps from the sidewalk up to his family’s home front porch at 215 N. Hill Street. Later, when Burt traverses back down the steps to the sidewalk (below), in a reverse view you can seen the flat terrace that stood above the north end of the Hill Street Tunnel, and details of some Civic Center buildings in the background.
This aerial below shows the line of sight from the front porch of 215 N. Hill Street towards the corner of the Hall of Justice at the corner of Temple and Broadway.
Criss Cross also has scenes filmed near Angels Flight, and Clay Street, the alley running underneath the Angels Flight elevated tracks, that appear during sequences in Harold Lloyd’s feature comedy For Heaven’s Sake (1926), but I’ll save these comparisons for another day.
In closing, here above is a view of Yvonne De Carlo waiting in a convertible parked on Hill Street along the south face of 401 Court Street, the large home on the corner of Hill and Court Street that once stood across from the Bradbury Mansion. The Bradbury was demolished in 1929, but its neighbor, pictured here, held on until at least the 1948 filming of Criss Cross, but did not survive long enough to appear in the 1951 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. The relative position of Yvonne’s car is marked with an oval on the map and aerial views above.
My book Silent Visions has an entire chapter devoted to Harold Lloyd filming on Bunker Hill. Look for future posts of Harold filming at noir classic settings.
HAROLD LLOYD images and the names of Mr. Lloyd’s films are all trademarks and/or service marks of Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. Images and movie frame images reproduced courtesy of The Harold Lloyd Trust and Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc.
Criss Cross (C) 1948 Universal Pictures Company, Inc.
This Google Street View of the corner of Hill and Temple matches the large movie frame of Burt Lancaster exiting the trolley above. Today the Bradbury Mansion, the Hill Street Tunnel, Court Flight, and Court Hill itself, are just memories.