CineSavant Column

Tuesday June 27, 2023


A Few Words about ‘Where’d the COMMENTS go? . . .’

… in particular, the Trailers from Hell comments section … which is presently disabled. I am informed that it has been dropped for technical reasons and not because it wasn’t wanted. Some readers asked where it went. The answer I got was something about bandwidth; apparently some other things were trimmed as well.

No Angry Mob has formed as of yet. ( green image just above  )

I can’t say I’m destroyed by this. Much more meaningful to me is my Email correspondence, which contributes more to the feeling that our Hard Work Ain’t Been In Vain for Nothing. It’s also much more fun interacting with an identifiable person instead of reacting to one-way communication from someone using an alias. I rush to read CineSavant email. Many readers are better informed than I am, and their corrections and advise are much appreciated. I can also quote them for CineSavant Columns — they send in fun links I’d never find on my own.

So, no, CineSavant didn’t shut down comments. I just enjoy being an overpriviliged guest at the Trailers from Hell site. Note that every CineSavant page and review has a blurb saying ‘Glenn Erickson answers most reader mail.’ The email link works. We welcome new information, comments, corrections, gripes, and whatever comes to mind.



Photo Study: The Legendary Malibu Beach House

Next up is a short photo article. We’ve always been fascinated by the lonely Malibu beach house seen at the conclusion of Robert Aldrich’s 1955 Kiss Me Deadly, the one that now resembles a mythical ‘House at the End of the World.’  It’s got the same vibe as the eerie death house at the conclusion of Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross, with an added atomic kicker. Along with Arch Oboler’s FIVE, Kiss Me Deadly cemented the association of a lonely stretch of Malibu Beach with an apocalyptic ground zero. That’s where Spartacus ends up when his rebellion reaches the End of the Line, with nowhere else to go. For Rock Hudson in John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, Malibu is a false escape into a trendy but illusory paradise . . . you know, California.


The finale had the house blasted with atomic fire, an ironic reversal that pulls the rug out from under Ralph Meeker’s cocksure tough guy Mike Hammer. But Aldrich resurrected it for the finish of his 1962 What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, where critics theorized that Aldrich was suggesting a different kind of bleak ‘psychological apocalypse.’ 


In practical terms it’s more likely that Aldrich found the location convenient and economical. It could be controlled without hiring an army of security people. And there’s a tall hill right behind the house, for dramatic down-angled shots.


But the legendary beach house appeared in one, maybe two films before Kiss Me Deadly. We suspect but are not sure that part of it is shown at the conclusion of 1954’s Loophole, directed by Harold D. Schuster. But the house very clearly seen in, of all things, Roger Corman’s The Fast and the Furious starring John Ireland and Dorothy Malone.   Corman’s second full-on producing effort was his first for the company that would become American-International Pictures. A patchwork wonder, it intercuts footage shot on a winding road in Griffith Park with a lot of work on a Rear-Projection process stage. Paying the bill for the process work likely influenced Corman to avoid using RP again, unless absolutely necessary.


The story is a trifle about a crook (John Ireland) using a car race to make an escape from the police. Near the finish Ireland’s Frank Webster is racing South along the Pacific coastline. To continue he must run a roadblock at the U.S. / Mexico border. That’s where Ireland’s Jaguar passes the legendary beach house, repurposed as a ‘U.S. Customs’ building.   We note that the border crossing doesn’t even fly an American flag. With weeds growing in the carport, we wonder if the house was unoccupied for some reason. There’s certainly a lack of close neighbors — it’s way out at the far end of Malibu, very near Point Dume.


 Here’s a frame from Kiss Me Deadly showing the same carport. The house’s trim displays the ‘X motif’ that’s prominent throughout the movie — did Aldrich go looking for a good beach house, see the ‘X’s, and seize on the visual serendipity?  Or did the art director add them, to maintain the visual theme?  In the same shot we note that the road does seem to be paved, but is mostly covered with sand. In the TFATF footage we see similar hints of a paved roadway.


    Here are two RP shots of John Ireland driving past the house in question. Ocean-adjacent, it’s a very sandy place. Maybe there IS a paved lane under the sand.


A couple of hundred yards South of the house, the final angle appears to represent the Mexican side of the border crossing.   It’s a pure Corman invention — one guard, no flag, and a crossing gate that looks like some random lathe slats tacked together ten minutes before filming. The actor playing the guard might be holding the gate, to steady it against a stiff shore breeze. He also looks like he’s holding a hammer — as if he just finished making the gate himself.


Every time a movie shows scenes on what looks like Malibu Beach we pay attention. A helpful page called Movie Tourist has a gallery of Kiss Me Deadly locations, most of which fell to redevelopment in the 1960s. Movie Tourist identifies the Beach House only as being ‘on Westward Beach Road near Point Dume, Malibu.’

Sometime in the 1960s or early 1970s, the Beach House disappeared as well. It may have had something to do with the work of The California Costal Commission. I learned about the subject while working on the movie “1941” — the Spielberg movie constructed Ned Beatty’s two-story ‘Dagwood Bumstead’ beach house in Malibu, on a flat surf-adjacent Trancas Beach lot that had long been abandoned.   A.D. Flowers’ effects crew rigged the whole house to slide over a cliff onto the beach sand. The incredible super-gag — it had to work the first time — was really something to behold.


I don’t know the specific politics involved, but ‘1941’ made use of an entire little neighborhood had been reclaimed by the state and razed. Nothing was left but flat pads where the houses had been. The location manager said that one blank lot had been a former home of Vincent Price, something I never confirmed. Was the lonely Kiss Me Deadly house constructed before the zoning rights had been established?  Or did eminent domain step in and change the game?  Whatever happened, the Commission has done a good job protecting the natural coastline along Point Dume. The last couple of miles up the coast from Malibu to Oxnard remain a refreshing & relaxing drive, with nary a house nor a McDonalds in sight.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson