Cruising Bunker Hill, 1940s

Bunker Hill film

Writing for On Bunker Hill, my crime buddy Nathan Marsak has done a breakdown of shots in a 6-minute film that turned up at The footage was apparently filmed as background for an unidentified movie.

Let’s see if we can unravel a bit of the mystery about who shot the film.

Fortunately, whoever digitized the film left the leader intact:


So if we go frame by frame, and reverse the images we can put it back together. Sort of – because not every frame was captured.




Which translates as:

Columbia Photographic Effects
Neg Scenic
Neg Can # 12D17 (or 19)
Neg Key # ? OB 9 ? 537- ? 27
Neg Key # 21? 3?73 – 909

Or pasted together:


This may well scramble the Neg Key and Neg Can numbers. Or it may help. At least we know it’s from Columbia.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Architecture, Downtown, Film, Transportation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Cruising Bunker Hill, 1940s

  1. Fibber McGee says:

    Hoo, boy, that film clip is the real deal. I love shots of olde El Lay. There seems to be a postwar Plymouth in the shots which were marketed from late 1945 to early 1949. Also, I do not see any gas ration stickers on any of the cars so it was probably not shot during the war. Great stuff.


  2. Sam Flowers says:

    Great footage, gives a whole different perspective of Bunker Hill to me.


  3. These are what were known as background process plates. Prior to the late sixties, when cameras were actually mounted on cars, driving shots were made on sound stages. The actors would be shot inside a partial-car set placed in proximity to a rear process screen. On that screen would the moving background projected from the behind. Various perspectives of traffic were shot on location, then projected so that the illusion of movement could be seen from more than one angle. What fun to see the background shots by themselves. They are history unaffected by artifice.


  4. Mary Mallory says:

    Except if it was shot 1945-1949, how is there a building that Marshak says is the 1961 annex there?


  5. Nathan Marsak says:

    Aha, Mary! Good call. That’s a kerfuffle between the published and an earlier version of my post — plus poor proofreading on my part. Shall have to go fix it later today. What I was *attempting* to say, and bolixing it up mightily, is that the Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Co Bldg (which broke ground in 1946 and is completed in January 1948), is seen here at 434 S Grand, and is still extant; also, the Victorian apts to the north in the image are demolished a decade later, subsequently the 1961 Pacific Telephone Communications Center is built there at 420, and it is *also* extant, and is the building you know as having this upon’t, as well as the microwave tower, added in 1962


  6. Fibber McGee says:

    Fibber didn’t say the shots were taken in ’45 to ’49, he said the car was marketed (new) then. The point was it did not seem the photos were from before 1945. They still drive old cars around. We’ve got one. — Molly


  7. Knowing Harry Cohn’s Columbia, those background plates could have been used and re-used in a number of pictures through most of the Film Noir decade, well into the fifties. Columbia and RKO excelled at those low budget, atmospheric works. Columbia’s budgets were probably the leaner. Cohn never spent a penny more than he had to. Except when Frank Capra called.


  8. Here in Van Nuys says:

    I noticed in the film that there is a 1940 (?) Lincoln Zephyr trailing behind the camera in the beginning of the drive. It is the same model visible in this photograph taken by Charles W. Cushman in Elysian Park:


  9. It is probable that the Lincoln Zephyr was part of the unit making those shots. It could have been there either to guide the camera crew, or perhaps the car would have been a ‘character’ in the first film for which the plates were being exposed. Just a guess.


  10. This footage also shows where Laurel & Hardy, Harold Lloyd, and other Hal Roach Studios stars, filmed scenes for their silent comedies on Bunker Hill. My post shows how this film captures the settings appearing in these classic silent comedies.


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