Here's what the Iverson Movie Ranch obsession is all about ...

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

One part of L.A. has barely changed since the 1950s — and giant ants just love the place! (Off the Beaten Path)

Who didn't love the 1954 sci-fi classic "Them!"? It was one of the few movies on which my mom, who could hardly be described as a monster movie buff, and the young me — pretty much all monsters all the time as a kid — could agree. We were both huge fans.

The movie features giant ants preying on L.A. residents from a colony based in the tunnels beneath the city ... what could be more terrifying — or more terrific.

"Them!" (1954): James Arness (in hat and coat) and James Whitmore (white shirt) 
inspect ant damage in the L.A. River

I was pleased to learn that the headquarters for the infestation — essentially the L.A. River through downtown Los Angeles, along with some tunnels branchng out from the river — remains pretty much intact. The above screen shot is taken in the riverbed — aka the "wash" — looking north toward the Fourth Street Bridge.

The same location as it appears today (photo by Jerry Condit)

Film historian and photographer Jerry Condit has been roaming the L.A. River and some of those same downtown tunnels, and shared a few great "then and now" shots that reveal just how little the scene has changed since the ants were cleared out in 1954. A few more power lines have been put up, but not much else is new.

"Them!": Outside the tunnel

This shot from the movie is taken from the entrance to the giant ant tunnel under the Sixth Street Bridge.

The same location in 2015

Here's Jerry's photo of the site as it appears today — still pretty much the same. Am I overstating it if I say it's a net gain for modern culture when someone's willing to rummage around the L.A. River to document movie history?

This is the view of the same massive bridge support from inside the tunnel, taken on Jerry's recent expedition.

Here's a similar shot of the tunnel and bridge support back in 1954, as the Army arrives to battle the ants. Excuse the bad lighting, which I suppose is typical of old monster movies set in subterranean tunnels.

Scouring for evidence around the entrance to the tunnel, as seen in the movie.

Back to the scene of the crime, 60-plus years later. Today the site includes signs of graffiti.

A closer look at the tunnel entrance, 2015.

And into the tunnel the Army goes, to meet an uncertain and potentially grisly fate.

"Grease" (1978)

The same L.A. River site, under the Sixth Street Bridge, appears in the retro musical "Grease" during the memorable "Thunder Road" riverbed car race sequence. Note the tunnel entrance area toward the left — the same ant tunnel seen in "Them!" Please feel free to click on any of these photos to see larger versions.

Here's the "Grease" site today, in Jerry's beautifully matched photo duplicating the angle seen in the movie. Along with the ant tunnel at the left, note the Fourth Street Bridge in the background.

This shot offers a closer look at the Fourth Street Bridge in the "Grease" sequence. The modern power lines seen in the left half of the photo went up during the 24-year span between "Them!" and "Grease."

The Fourth Street Bridge again, in 2015. The appearance of the site is almost identical to how it looked in 1978 for the "Grease" car race, although a new, more imposing fence is in place along the top of the wash.

"To Live and Die in L.A." (1985)

The riverbed again played host to a car action sequence seven years later in "To Live and Die in L.A.," directed by William Friedkin. Similar to the action in "Grease," this shot captures part of the base of the Sixth Street Bridge looking north toward the Fourth Street Bridge.

The same spot in 2015

On a recent visit by Jerry to the site, the speeding cars had been replaced by the relative calm of a homeless person's shopping carts and other worldly belongings.

"To Live and Die in L.A.": Seventh Street Bridge

The car chase in "To Live and Die in L.A." included this shot of the Seventh Street Bridge, looking south.

Here's what the Seventh Street Bridge looks like today. The water level appears to have come up just a bit since the day the car chase was filmed.

What's the single biggest problem with most old monster movies? Every young fan of the genre knows the answer: Too much gabbing, and not enough monster! For this reason, and others, let's revisit the theme of giant ants.

"Empire of the Ants" (1977): Joan Collins in grave peril

To have an excuse to run this series of publicity photos, I thought I'd mention that the 1954 classic giant ant movie "Them!" should not be confused with the much later, somewhat less classic, giant ant movie "Empire of the Ants," in which Joan Collins is among the hapless souls being tormented by atomic mutants.

Moments later in the photo shoot, Collins appears to be in even further danger, as the giant ant — let's call him G.A. — makes inroads into her blouse area.

Things take a turn when Collins finds herself strangely drawn to G.A., and uses her feminine charms to soothe the savage beast. (I don't believe the situation was quite this cordial in the actual film.)

Finally, everyone enjoys a good laugh about the whole silly misunderstanding. Sadly, "Empire of the Ants" was produced during the Iverson Movie Ranch "lull" of the 1970s, and was not filmed on the location ranch.

I want to send out a thank-you to Jerry Condit, creator of some of the best "then and now" shots I've ever seen, for taking many of the photos seen in this post and sharing "Them!" with us. I encourage readers to click here to see Jerry's amazing work tracking down locations in Franklin Canyon for the TV series "Combat!"

"Off the Beaten Path" is a series of posts that stray from the usual subject matter of this blog, which is the Iverson Movie Ranch. Past topics in the series have included Franklin Canyon, Bell Ranch, Pioneertown, Corriganville, Oak Park and other old filming locations. You can go directly to the "Off the Beaten Path" posts by looking up the term "Off the Beaten Path" in the long index of labels at the right of the page, or by clicking here.

1 comment:

princedragna said...

The Seventh St bridge can also be seen towards the end of the pilot episode of "Fear of the Walking Dead."......Bill B