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On a recent visit by Jerry to the site, the speeding cars had been replaced by the relative calm of a homeless person's shopping carts and other worldly belongings.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