Douglas Fairbanks, Edge of Doom, and Film Noir

Click to enlarge. Looking east down 1st Street from the former City Jail (at right)

Click to enlarge. Looking east down 1st Street towards Broadway from the former City Jail (at right)

Farley Granger in Edge of Doom

Farley Granger in Edge of Doom.  The twin bay windows to his left appear in the center, above.  The “modern” Los Angeles Times Building, that opened in 1935, stands tall in the far background.

During Douglas Fairbanks’ 1916 short comedy The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (part of the Fairbanks Modern Musketeer DVD set from Flicker Alley), a police van races from HQ down a quaint, post Victorian era Los Angeles street.  Thirty-four years later, the same setting appears in the bleak film noir drama Edge of Doom, the same film, as I explain in this prior post, that shares a common setting on Witmer Street with both Harold Lloyd’s 1928 comedy feature Speedy, and the popular contemporary television sit-com The Office.  As shown here, both the 1916 Fairbanks movie and the 1950 drama contain scenes filmed at the former Los Angeles City Jail (1897-1954) that once stood at 320-330 1st Street between Hill and Broadway.

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Click to enlarge.  The City Jail (cut off from bottom) stood on 1st Street between Hill Street to the left  (note the early landmark twin-bore Hill Street Tunnel) and Broadway, at the center of the photo.  The arrow points east down 1st Street starting from Broadway towards the Wilson Building (oval) at 1st and Spring.  LAPL Photo 00044288

Click to enlarge. Both images show the distinctive dome tower of the Wilson Building that once stood at 1st and Spring. Tagging this unique dome was the clue to solving this location mystery.

Click to enlarge. Both images show the distinctive dome tower of the Wilson Building that once stood at 1st and Spring. Tagging this unique dome was the key to solving this location mystery.  The third Los Angeles Times Building (1912-1934) at 1st and Broadway appears to the far left of the movie frame.  It was here that Charlie Chaplin filmed his first movie Making A Living in 1914.  The tall building at the far left background was lost to create City Hall Park.  Photo LAPL 00018907

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.  The jail vehicle entrance appears at the far left edge in this Edge of Doom movie frame, and is marked with an arrow showing the path of the police wagon in the 1916 Fairbanks movie frames above.  Notice the triangular parapet that once stood atop the jail.  Photo LAPL 00037446

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Harold Lloyd in Never Weaken.  The oval marks the jail parapet visible in the above right photo

Because the City Jail was located near Hill Street, it frequently appeared in the background of the various stunt and thrill comedies filmed above the Hill Street Tunnel overlooking 1st Street.  This scene to the left from Harold Lloyd’s third stunt climbing comedy Never Weaken (1921) shows the jail in the background (oval).  You can read more about how Lloyd filmed stunt comedies above the Hill Street Tunnel at this post HERE.

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This view matches the Farley Granger movie frame above.  The arrow matches the police wagon route, above.  By this point the City Jail’s distinctive triangular parapet had been removed.  USC Digital Archive CHS-33276

The Mystery of the Leaping Fish is an odd film, known for Fairbanks’ comic portrayal of a manic, drug-addled detective named Coke Ennyday.  Whenever he needs a boost to defeat the villains, Doug injects himself with a fresh syringe, and like Popeye after eating his spinach, quickly dispatches the crooks.  It is also a historically rich film, containing many scenes filmed near the Long Beach Pike, and beside Chinatown’s Ferguson Alley.  I hope someday to discuss these other locations in a future post.  But as shown here, Fairbanks now joins his brethren Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd, in filming at the classic downtown street corners that would later appear in film noir.

The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916)—Douglas Fairbanks: A Modern Musketeer Collection (David Shepard, Film Preservation Associates, Jeffrey Masino, Flicker Alley LLC).  Edge of Doom Copyright 1950 The Samuel Goldwyn Company.  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.

Below, only the 1935 Los Angeles Times Building remains in this 2011 view.

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4 Responses to Douglas Fairbanks, Edge of Doom, and Film Noir

  1. Mike Kichaven says:

    Hi John. As always, your posts are great. Is there any chance of including present-day Google street map grabs to have a true compare/contrast?

    Thanks,
    Mike

    • Hi Mike – Google maps (above) show that as of May 2011 the entire block of 1st between Hill and Broadway is a vacant lot. The only “vintage” building remaining is the 1935 LA Times Building, which obviously wasn’t there in 1916 when Fairbanks filmed. The U.S. General Services Administration plans to build a 550,000 square foot court house on the site, to open in 2016.

  2. Tracey Goessel says:

    At last! Doug enters your canon! I have found lots of NYC locations in his Triangles, especially His Picture in the Papers and Manhattan Madness. My question for you: is the 5th Avenue shot in Manhattan Madness a rear projection, or was he really on top of that bus?

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