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5 Things You Might Not Know About 'L.A. Confidential'

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist September 19, 2012 at 12:07PM

It's safe to say that "L.A. Confidential" wasn't greeted with especially high expectations in the run up to its release. James Ellroy's 1990 book, the third of his "L.A. Quartet" (preceded by "The Black Dahlia" and "The Big Nowhere," and completed by "White Jazz") was a favorite among crime fans, but hardly a best seller. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland was known only for "Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master" and a rewrite of actioner "Assassins." Director Curtis Hanson was well-liked, but mostly known for mid-level programmers like "Bad Influence," "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle" and "The River Wild." And the cast was led by two virtual unknowns from the Southern Hemisphere, with the most recognizable names in the cast being Kim Basinger, whose career was a little on the outs, comedy actor Danny DeVito and recently Oscar-nominated character actor Kevin Spacey.
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LA Confidential
3. Hanson held a mini film-festival for cast and crew in the run up to the start of production.
It's fairly common practice for a filmmaker to round up a selection of their inspirations for a new project in preparation of filming, and screen them for cast and crew -- Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan are among those well known for the practice of late. While Hanson was committed to an unstyilized approach that didn't directly nod to the past of the crime genre, he wasn't above showing some of their influences to the cast and crew. According to Amy Taubin in Sight & Sound, Hanson screened Vincente Minnelli's "The Bad And The Beautiful," for its depiction of classic Hollywood, Nicholas Ray's "In A Lonely Place," for its look at the dark underbelly of that world, Don Siegel's "The Lineup" and "Private Hell 36" for the efficiency of its storytelling, and Robert Aldrich's "Kiss Me Deadly" for its look at a future-conscious 1950s atomic age. Furthermore, Hanson and DoP Dante Spinotti looked at the Cinemascope look of Minnelli's "Some Came Running" and Douglas Sirk's "The Tarnished Angels" as inspiration for their widescreen framing, while Russell Crowe took Sterling Hayden in Kubrick's "The Killing" for inspiration for his take on Bud White.

LA Confidential
4. The film was mostly shot on location, despite being a period piece.
One of the ways that Hanson and co. made the film viable on a mere $35 million budget was by vowing to shoot as much as possible on standing L.A. locations. As much as the City of Angels likes to tear down and rebuild its past, there's plenty of 1950s era-architecture still around, and only the Victory Motel set at the end of the movie had to be built as a standing set (in part because it got shot to pieces). Even then, it wasn't on a studio backlot, but on the Baldwin Hills oilfields in Culver City. In terms of a tour of the rest of the city, you can find the cops' HQ in LA City Hall, on 200 North Spring Street -- which was also police headquarters in "Dragnet." The premiere of "When Worlds Collide," the site of Jack Vincennes' pot bust, was at an abandoned bank building on 5620 Hollywood Boulevard, while the famous globe of Crossroads of the World on 6671 Sunset Boulevard provided the exterior for Sid Hudgens' office. Location favorite Boardner's on 1652 North Cherokee Avenue (also seen in "Ed Wood") is where Dudley Smith and Bud White meet, and Jack suffers a crisis of conscience at Bob's Frolic Room on 6245 Hollywood Boulevard, while the Liquor Store where White meets Lynn Bracken for the first time is Ramon's Cane Shop on 1277 South Cochran Avenue. The Nite Owl Cafe was in fact the J&J Sandwich Shop on 119 East 6th Street, while Pierce Patchett's home is the gorgeous 1929 Lovell House on 4616 Dundee Drive. The body of bisexual actor Matt Reynolds is found on the Hollywood Center Motel on 6720 Sunset Boulevard, and Exley and White come across the real Lana Turner in the Formosa Cafe on 7156 Santa Monica Boulevard. And in the less glamorous side of things, Mrs Lefferts' home is in Elysian Park, Lynn Bracken's is on Wilcox Avenue, the Nite Owl suspects were found on Avenue 27 in Lincoln Heights, and Jack and Ed interview an informant at Bellevue and Marion in Echo Park.

LA Confidential
5. The film inspired a TV pilot spin-off starring Kiefer Sutherland, and almost got both official and unofficial sequels.
Even before the film was made, there'd been talk of turning "L.A. Confidential" into a miniseries, or HBO show, so it's no surprise that the film's success saw New Regency put together a TV version of the material in 2000. Penned by Walon Green ("Sorceror," "Robocop 2"), it toplined a pre-"24" Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Vincennes, less Dean Martin-type smoothie and more haunted, generic 1950s Jack Bauer, with Josh Hopkins ("Cougar Town") as Bud White, David Conrad ("The Ghost Whisperer") as Ed Exley, Pruitt Taylor Vince as Sid Hudgens, "Alias" star Melissa George as Lynn Bracken (now a Marilyn Monroe impersonator), TV vet Tom Nowicki as Dudley Smith, "Breaking Bad" star Anna Gunn as a junkie hooker, and most unlikely of all, Eric Roberts taking over from David Strathairn as Pierce Patchett. The pilot was included on the recent DVD/Blu-ray re-release of the film, and it's not hard to see why it wasn't picked up: necessarily watered down, it's pretty much a generic cop show in period garb, and virtually every actor is woefully miscast (Hopkins probably fares the best, but pales in comparison to Russell Crowe's performance). Still, it serves as an interesting curio. Back on the big screen, soon after the first book in the L.A. Quartet made it to the screen in Brian De Palma's unbelievably awful 2006 film "The Black Dahlia," Joe Carnahan came incredibly close to making "White Jazz," with George Clooney and Chris Pine in the lead roles.  The book features Dudley Smith and Ed Exley in the lead roles, but neither would have featured in the film, due to the characters being owned by New Regency as part of the "L.A. Confidential" deal, and Carnahan had renamed the characters in his script (which makes sense, given that Smith is killed at the end of Hanson's film). Just as Carnahan got his project going, news also emerged from TMZ that Hanson and Helgeland were working on their own sequel, with an original story focusing on White and Exley. No details have emerged since, so it's unclear if the project is still in development (Hanson's been in poor health recently, replaced for the last few weeks of the upcoming "Chasing Mavericks" after heart surgery), while Carnahan's film hit the blocks after Clooney dropped out, although he told us recently it may yet be revived. Still, we may get some Ellroy on the big screen before too long -- only last week, it was reported that "I Am Love" director Luca Guadagnino is attached to an adaptation of "The Big Nowhere," from "Harry Potter" producer David Heyman.

This article is related to: 5 Things You Might Not Know About..., On This Day In Movie History, Features, Curtis Hanson, James Ellroy (story, Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn, James Cromwell, Brian Helgeland, L.A. Confidential


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