9 September 2023

Alabama Hills CA, USA

Quentin Tarantino refers to his film DJANGO UNCHAINED as a 'southern': a spaghetti western set in the deep south of the United States. The story is set in 1858, two years before the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery.

Django Unchained, 1:07:42
A major inspiration was the 1966 Italian film Django directed by Sergio Corbucci about whom Tarantino wanted to write a book. The lead actor from that film, Franco Nero, has a guest role in this film. Filming started in November 2011 in California, followed by Wyoming in February 2012 and ended in Louisiana in July. In early December 2011, production went to the Alabama Hills in California.

Mobius Arch, Alabama Hills, 13 July 2023
This range of hills and rock formations is not a National Park but a 'Recreation and National Scenic Area' on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada near the town of Lone Pine. Quentin Tarantino no doubt chose this location because hundreds of westerns were filmed here from the 1920s onwards. One of the dirt roads in the Alabama Hills has been named Movie Road. The Alabama Hills were named for the Confederate warship CSS Alabama, deployed during the Civil War. Prospectors sympathetic to the Confederates named many mining claims after the ship, eventually applied to the entire range. 

During the opening credits of the film, five enslaved men in Texas are shown being forced to walk to their next owner.
Before a trip, I look on Google Street View to see if I can find locations. Unfortunately the dirt roads of the Alabama Hills cannot be viewed online. I had hoped to recognise the striking rock formations on the spot but failed to do so in all but one location.

Django Unchained, 0:02:16
Alabama Hills, 13 July 2023

A meeting with bounty hunter and former dentist Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) has major consequences. When he offers to buy Django (Jamie Foxx), the two brothers Ace and Dicky Speck (James Renar and James Russo) who escort the transport want to shoot him but Schultz is quicker. He kills Ace and injures Dicky. After paying as he does, he leaves with Django.

During a stop, Schultz tells Django that if he helps him tracking down three wanted brothers, he will get $ 75, a horse and his freedom. This scene was also shot in the Alabama Hills. There is no visitor centre in the area, but next to one of the information signs is a box where a free map of the area can be obtained. This map shows where famous scenes were filmed, including the conversation between Schultz and King; we would never have found this spot this ourselves.

Django Unchained, 0:24:34
Alabama Hills, 13 July 2023
Django Unchained, 0:24:45
Alabama Hills, 13 July 2023
Django Unchained, 0:24:52
Alabama Hills, 13 July 2023
Django Unchained, 0:24:55
Alabama Hills, 13 July 2023

Lone Pine is home to the Museum of Western Film History. During the filming of Django Unchained, director and screenwriter Quentin Tarantino, actors Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, James Renar, James Russo and director of photography Robert Richardson visited the museum on 4 December 2011 and signed one of the walls.

Museum of Western Film History, Lone Pine, 13 July 2023
Museum of Western Film History, Lone Pine, 13 July 2023

After production was completed, Tarantino donated Schultz's dental car, his director's chair and his script to the museum. The car was designed by J. Michael Riva, grandson of Marlene Dietrich. He died unexpectedly during filming at the age of 63.

Django Unchained, 0:13:56
Museum of Western Film History, Lone Pine, 13 July 2023
Museum of Western Film History, Lone Pine, 13 July 2023
Museum of Western Film History, Lone Pine, 13 July 2023

The museum is a must-see for any film buff. Besides many film posters and props, a documentary on the history of the Alabama Hills as a film location is shown. There is also a guide for sale with film locations along the Movie Road and a brochure with locations from westerns starring Audie Murphy. 

Screenshots © The Weinstein Company/Columbia Pictures 

13 August 2023

New York NY, USA

The film THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH is based on George Axelrod's play of the same name. He co-wrote the screenplay with director Billy Wilder. The title refers to a moment in a romantic relationship when feelings start to 'itch'; after seven years, partners become less happy with each other. There is however no scientific evidence for this assumption. 

Filming took place from 1 September until 4 November 1954, both on location in New York as well as at 20th Century Fox Studios in Los Angeles.

The Seven Year Itch, 0:11:48
The film opens with footage of women and children leaving New York in the summer. They leave the hot city while the men stay behind to work. One of them is Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell). After putting his wife Helen (Evelyn Keyes) and little son Ricky (Tom Nolan) on the train to Maine, he meets an unnamed woman, ‘The Girl’ (Marilyn Monroe), who temporarily rents the apartment upstairs.

Richard Sherman lives at 164 East 61st Street in Manhattan. Although many houses in this street have been replaced by new buildings, the apartment building is still there. In the film, the building is black; now it is painted white and the shutters and air conditioners at the windows are gone. The street is seen several times in the film, including the final scene when Sherman has decided to go to his wife and son. He lets The Girl stay in his apartment because he has air conditioning. She calls out of the window that he has forgotten his shoes.

The Seven Year Itch, 0:08:34
164 East 61st Street, New York, 1 July 2023
The Seven Year Itch, 1:09:53
164 East 61st Street, New York, 1 July 2023
The Seven Year Itch, 1:43:44
162-164 East 61st Street, New York, 1 July 2023
The Seven Year Itch, 1:44:02
164 East 61st Street, New York, 1 July 2023

The most famous scene in the film and perhaps in film history is that of the billowing dress. After having seen a movie at the Trans-Lux Theatre, Sherman and The Girl walk down the street. She deliberately stands on a subway grate. When a train passes by, it provides a cool breeze as the air is blown through the grate, also blowing up her dress. This scene was filmed on Lexington Avenue; the grate is on the corner with East 52nd Street. The cinema and shops have disappeared; an anonymous office building now stands on this spot. There are still grates in the pavement, though.

The Seven Year Itch, 1:14:05
Lexington Avenue, New York, 1 July 2023
The Seven Year Itch, 1:14:40
Lexington Avenue, New York, 1 July 2023

This scene was filmed in the early hours of 15 September 1954. Dozens of photographers were present to capture Marilyn Monroe in her white dress. The photos that were taken have become more famous than the film itself. The photos below were taken by Sam Shaw; the idea of the billowing dress was his.

Lexington Avenue, New York, 15 September 1954
Lexington Avenue, New York, 1 July 2023

Lexington Avenue, New York, 1 July 2023
Marilyn Monroe, New York, 15 September 1954

Several articles about this film say that the scenes filmed on Lexington Avenue proved unsuitable and were made for publicity purposes only. There was an additional day of shooting on 10 January 1955 at the Los Angeles studio where the street was recreated. In a highly recommended article by Scott Fortner on his website The Marilyn Monroe Collection, he points out a number of minor differences between the first and second time when a subway train is passing, including the bow at the belt on the dress, Marilyn's hair and the pavement tiles. This shows that footage filmed on location in New York as well as in the studio in Los Angeles were both used for the film.

The Seven Year Itch, 1:14:10 (New York) + 1:15:52 (Los Angeles)
The Seven Year Itch, 1:14:37 (New York) + 1:15:01 (Los Angeles)
The Seven Year Itch, 1:14:40 (New York) + 1:15:12 (Los Angeles)

90 jaar Marilyn, Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam,
9 December 2016 
The same article also discusses the dress worn by Marilyn Monroe. The original garment, from the collection of actress Debbie Reynolds, was auctioned on 18 June 2011 for US $ 5.6 million, including a $ 1 million commission. The dress was designed by William Travilla; he made four duplicate dresses for the film. Since the subway scene was filmed twice, it is highly possible that different dresses were used, a theory that is confirmed by the differences in the bow on the belt. In the 1960s, Travilla made a new duplicate of the dress especially for exhibitions. This means there are no less than five dresses in total, but which one is the one and only?
From 1 October 2016 to 5 February 2017, the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam hosted the exhibition 90 jaar Marilyn (90 years of Marilyn). The main piece of the collection was 'the dress' which I suspect is the duplicate from the 1960s, this one has another bow.

Pultizer Fountain, Grand Army
Plaza, New York, 1 July 2023
The aforementioned photographer Sam Shaw (1912-1999) was friends with Marilyn Monroe and often photographed her. In May 1957, she posed for him again in New York, this time at the Pultizer Fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel. The fountain was an initiative of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer who bequeathed US $ 50,000 after his death in 1911 to build a fountain with the same grandeur as the fountains at the Place de La Concorde in Paris, France. The structure was designed by architect Thomas Hastings, the statue on top by Karl Bitter. In May 1916, the fountain was installed at the Grand Army Plaza.
I assume Shaw only had a brief moment to portray Marilyn. As the other two photos show, she was surrounded by autograph hunters and even stepped into the fountain.

Marilyn Monroe, Grand Army Plaza,
New York, May 1957
Pultizer Fountain, Grand Army Plaza,
New York, 1 July 2023

Marilyn Monroe, Grand Army Plaza, New York, May 1957
Pultizer Fountain, Grand Army Plaza, New York, 1 July 2023
Marilyn Monroe, Grand Army Plaza, New York, May 1957
Pultizer Fountain, Grand Army Plaza, New York, 1 July 2023

Screenshots © 20th Century Fox Film Corp.
Photos Marilyn Monroe © Shaw Family Archives, Ltd.