I'm hoping that the picture of the Triborough Bridge comes out clearly and that this picture evokes some great memories for those who participated in the most popular after school group activity that did not show up on any official Mater Christi high School transcript:
Right Out of Film Noir, a Shadowy New York
Many New York City neighborhoods and landmarks, including the Triborough Bridge are extensively featured in classic film noir.
By WENDELL JAMIESON
Published: December 2, 2005
NEW York is Film Noir City: as I move through it, I scout locations for my imaginary 1947 thriller. All I need is a little night - plenty of that this time of year - and the last six decades are gone.
The director of my imagination who wants to make the archetypal film noir of my imagination has endless miles to work with: whole swaths of Manhattan, especially the garment district and Wall Street, and much of downtown Brooklyn and Queens. The city is still filled with bars and restaurants that opened in the 1940's and early 50's, the years that bookend the classic film noir cycle.
My obsession with the movies of this period is in full flower these days because, on Tuesday, 20th Century Fox Home Video is set to release three especially good noirs on DVD: "The Dark Corner" (1946), "Kiss of Death" (1947) and "Where the Sidewalk Ends" (1950). All are beautiful new prints and are accompanied by various extras and commentaries. "Where the Sidewalk Ends" is an especially big treat because, as far as I can tell, it was never officially released on video.
All three movies take place in New York City, and the city is a major character in each one. "Kiss of Death" trumpets its use of actual locations in the opening credits, while the other two splice studio work with second-unit exteriors shot around the city.
To watch all three back-to-back in one sitting is to hypnotically experience another New York. Not the actual metropolis of the late 1940's as you might see in a Ken Burns documentary, but a New York City that was probably as realistic then as the New York City portrayed in movies is today.
It is a proto-New York, a heightened New York, a super-New Yorky New York, a city of supreme alienation, overcrowded sidewalks, pitch-black menace, thick accents, way too many cigarettes, packed bars that always have one empty table, exaggerated street noise, and skyscrapers that exist solely to have characters pushed off them.
It is also a New York where class distinctions are as sharp as late afternoon shadows: police officers make fun of fancy rich folks buying expensive art; all the criminals know one another; waiters are always genial although they are treated poorly; and anyone who tries to pull himself up to the next social level ends up dead or suffering terribly.
Many of the locations in the films have since changed or disappeared. But many still exist. And for every one that is gone, well, that's not a problem - I've scouted dozens around the city to take their places.
The Mystery on Third Avenue
"The Dark Corner," which was directed by Henry Hathaway and stars Mark Stevens, Clifton Webb, William Bendix and a surprisingly sexy Lucille Ball, opens with a deep-focus shot of the rattling Third Avenue El. The camera then pans down to focus on two street signs above an intersection: Third Avenue and Grand Street.
Thus, one mystery occurs in the first seconds, because these two streets don't intersect: not today, and not in maps of Manhattan from around the period. Then as now, Third Avenue merges at Cooper Square into the Bowery.
The El is a presence throughout the movie, its cross ties, stanchions and stairways acting as a shadowy geometric spider web, and its perpetual racket contributing to the paranoia of Stevens's private detective, whose office window is feet from the tracks. Today, of course, the El is gone from Manhattan, but it's easy enough to get a sense of it by visiting Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn, nine blocks of which sit in slanting shadow beneath the elevated B and Q trains.
This is where the lead character in my fictional film noir would catch his train. Woody Allen saw the similarities, too: he shot a scene for his 1940's period comedy "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" at the bottom of an entrance stairway there.
"The Dark Corner" features an explosive set piece in a skyscraper called "The Grant Building." Webb lures Bendix here, telling him he has a dentist appointment on the 31st floor, and then shoves him to his death through a conveniently opened, oversize window.
"The Grant Building" shown in the movie is actually 500 Fifth Avenue, at the corner of 42nd Street. It was built in 1931 and designed by the firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, who also designed the Empire State Building. The elevators today look as if they were redone in the 1990's, but the 31st floor itself is quite noir - orange-yellow marble walls, stone floors inlaid with brass, old glass mail shoots. And there is a dentist on the floor, Dr. Scott M. Fine, D.D.S.
"Oh my God," he said, when told of the coincidence. His suite, which he has leased for 10 years, was specially designed for a dentist when the building went up, he said - it came with all the intricate plumbing necessary for those little sinks.
"The windows are nice windows," he said between patients. "They are large enough to hurl someone out of, but I don't know if you can open them up that wide anymore."