Los Angeles, master of disguise
Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, was not filmed in Morocco's largest city but almost entirely in Warner Brothers’ Burbank studios. (AP Photo)
Los Angeles was not always the movie capital of America. The first silent pictures in the US were shot in multiple eastern cities. But independent filmmakers and producers started moving west when Thomas Edison, the inventor who owned patents on filmmaking technologies, began imposing fees. Director DW Griffith (of Birth of a Nation fame) discovered the sunny village of Hollywood in 1910 while filming the 17-minute long motion picture, In Old California. With its beautiful natural light and mild climate, Hollywood would attract countless movie-makers to come.
Over the years, Los Angeles has had to stand in for non-LA locations in many movies and television programmes. The sitcom It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, for example, is filmed for the most part in studios in even sunnier LA. And several shows focusing on New York City's Manhattan, such as Mad Men, Friends and How I Met Your Mother, are also shot primarily in the City of Angels.
In perusing the many movies with LA filming locations, there were several that surprised us. So, we put together a list of ten movies (some better than others, mind you) with scenes you probably did not know were shot in or around LA. Their locations make for exciting tourist destinations.
1. The Sound of Music
While the majority of The Sound of Music was filmed in Austria, certain iconic scenes were actually in LA. The climactic scene where the Von Trapp family hides from the Nazis in St. Peter's Cemetery was recreated on a soundstage in 20th Century Fox Studios. "The set really did feel like a cemetery, even though it was all fake... " wrote Charmian Carr, the actress who played the eldest Von Trapp daughter, in her memoir Forever Liesl. "It was dark and creepy and full of real-looking graves."
Located in the Century City district, 20th Century Fox's backlot is a draw for many tourists, though its studios do not offer public tours. Nearby landmarks include Fox's headquarters at Fox Plaza, featured as Nakatomi Plaza in the movie Die Hard, and the Century Plaza Towers.
2. The Prestige
Production designer Nathan Crowley found 70 locations around LA to stand in for 19th century London, the backdrop for this tale of rival magicians. The four stages upon which illusionists Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) perform are all located in downtown LA. The Los Angeles Theater, the Tower Theater, the Palace and the Belasco are four historic theatres transformed into Victorian London performance halls and these beautiful venues in LA's historic Broadway Theater district are worth a visit. To find out about walking tours, visit the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation's website.
Like The Prestige, Inception was also directed by Christopher Nolan, who once again played bait-and-switch when it came to settings. In the opening scene, Leonardo DiCaprio's character Dom Cobb washes up on the shore of a dream-concocted Japanese beach. But DiCaprio is actually awakening on the coast of the Palos Verdes peninsula, about 40 minutes south of LA.
As the scene suggests, Rancho Palos Verdes is a beautiful place for a day trip. If hanging out on the beach or going for a swim is not enough, check out the State Ecological Preserve at Abalone Cove Shoreline Park to search out starfish, sea urchins and hermit crabs, the occasional snake and mammals such as rabbits.
4. Memoirs of a Geisha
Another movie with scenes set in Japan but shot in LA is the 2005 Memoirs of a Geisha. One scene set in a Kyoto teahouse was filmed in Yamashiro Restaurant in Hollywood. Yamashiro was actually modelled after the Japanese palace by the same name and has been around for nearly 90 years - back in Hollywood's "Golden Age". Make a reservation for a taste of Chef Brock Kleweno's "CalAsian" cuisine with a side of contemporary Californian history.
The eerie Bates Motel, located somewhere between Phoenix, Arizona and California, was actually recreated in LA. Along with the Bates house, it was constructed on the backlot of Universal City Studios. The house was supposedly designed to resemble the Edward Hopper painting House by the Railroad.
A trip to Universal Studios, now also an amusement park, would be incomplete without the backlot studio tour through a working movie set, which includes the still-standing Bates house facade. If you are still in a spooky Hitchcock mood, the theme park's House of Horrors haunted house is open year round.
6. This is Spinal Tap
This mock rock-umentary follows fake heavy metal band Spinal Tap on tour across the United States. While the movie depicts several American cities, most of it was really shot in LA. The scene with the band's record company, located in Atlanta, is filmed in the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in LA's financial district. If you find yourself in the financial district, try a food tour hosted by Six Taste. In addition to hitting some restaurants, you will visit landmarks such as Pershing Square and the Central Library.
In fictionalizing the events leading up to the ship's sinking, the reimagined RMS Titanic was shot in several locations. The Titanic's wake was shot off of California's coast using the SS Lane Victory, a World War II ship preserved as a maritime museum and monument. This ship museum can be found docked in the San Pedro area of LA. Anyone interested in World War II history will enjoy boarding the ship; admission is just $3 for adults and $1 for kids. The SS Lane is also the last fully operational Victory ship, something you can experience for yourself during the summer when the museum hosts cruises to Catalina Island.
8. Date Night
This romantic action comedy revolves around a night set in Manhattan. Although parts of the movie were shot on the streets of New York, Date Night's crew was not allowed to shoot its crazy car chase there due to car accidents resulting from chase scenes in other recent movies. Instead, the scene, in which two cars lock front bumpers for a "Siamese car chase", as the director called it, was taken to Broadway in Los Angeles.
After returning to the scene of the crime during your trip to LA, consider seeing a Broadway show. The musical Hair is currently playing.
9. The King and I
1860s Bangkok was recreated in 20th Century Fox Studios for the 1956 musical The King and I. Not one scene was shot outside of the studios in LA. The decision not to shoot on location may have been a wise one since the movie is banned in Thailand due to historical inaccuracies. Even so, the movie won actor Yul Brynner an Academy Award and actress Deborah Kerr an Oscar nomination. Along Hollywood's Walk of Fame, the actors' sidewalk stars are located on the south side of the 6100 block and the west side of the 1700 block of Vine Street, respectively. Coincidentally, we assume, they are both just a few blocks from Thai Town, a great place to browse through Thai markets and shops or grab a delicious meal.
Despite taking place in Morocco's biggest city, this 1942 classic was filmed almost entirely in Warner Brothers Burbank Studios. The only scene shot outside depicts the arrival of Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt). This was shot at the nearby Van Nuys Airport. The film's iconic ending, however, which also involves an airplane, was recreated on a soundstage, fog and all.
Van Nuys Airport, used by private and chartered planes, has potential for celebrity sightings since it caters to the wealthy. Other Van Nuys attractions include the Japanese Garden, the Encino Reservoir and the Woodley Lakes Golf Course.
Travelwise is a BBC Travel column that goes behind the travel stories to answer common questions, satisfy uncommon curiosities and uncover some of the mystery surrounding travel. If you have a burning travel question, contact Travelwise.