Thursday, July 24, 2008

Monument Valley

TCM showed the interesting crime movie 711 Ocean Drive at lunch time today. Sadly, it's not available on DVD, but the climax, set at Hoover Dam, got me to thinking about the use of famous sites in the movies.

If I had to guess, I'd bet that the Eiffel Tower is the most commonly used building. Since it stands out over Paris, it's visible in almost any establishing shot of Paris, at least in movies set in Paris after its construction in 1889. A few films in which important action actually takes place at the Eiffel Tower include:

  • Tod Browning's The Devil-Doll, in which Lionel Barrymore visits his daughter atop the Eiffel Tower;

  • In Ninotchka, Greta Garbo is far more interested in the technical specifications of the tower than she is in its use as a meeting-place for lovers;

  • Louis Malle's absurd French comedy Zazie dans le m├ętro has little girl Zazie fantasizing about spending a weekend doing all sorts of nutty things in Paris, including running up and down the Eiffel Tower.

  • The British Comedy The Lavender Hill Mob revolves around a plan to melt down stolen bullion, and recast it as statues of the Eiffel Tower. OK, so it's not the actual Eiffel Tower, but there was no way the thieves were going to smuggle a full-sized Eiffel Tower anywhere.

The Eiffel Tower isn't the only tower to be the climax of a movie. Never mind The Towering Inferno; there's also Devil's Tower, the natural formation in Wyoming where the climax of Close Encounters of the Third Kind takes place. And, of course, the Tower of London is a famous historical site where any number of dramas about British history are set.

The Empire State Building isn't just for giant apes to carry their girlfriends up. No, it's a place for illicit lovers to meet in movies like An Affair to Remember (which is, of course a remake of Love Affair).

I'm a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock's movies, and he used monuments and famous buildings fairly frequently in his work. This goes all the way back to his first sound picture, Blackmail, which ends with a chase through the British Museum. North By Northwest is very famous for using a mock-up of Mount Rushmore (naturally, there was no way that the Department of the Interior was going to let Hitchcock use the real thing!) for the chase at the end. Hitchcock, however, also used a mock-up of the Statue of Liberty in Saboteur; while the characters didn't walk over the faces in Mount Rushmore, there's rather more action on the outside of Lady Liberty. Finally, the Royal Albert Hall is used in Hitchcock's 1950s remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Even more of a blockbuster than Alfred Hitchcock's work are the James Bond movies, some of which involve very famous sites as well. Goldfinger has the plan to irradiate all the gold in Fort Knox, while in A View to a Kill, there is a fight on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Last, but not least, I'd like to mention another natural phenomenon, Niagara Falls. These were very effectively used in the Marilyn Monroe movie Niagara.

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