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Wednesday August 15th 2018

1941 | 1979

1941 filming location: Cannon Beach, Oregon
1941 film location: the Japanese submarine surfaces on the 'Northern California' coast: Cannon Beach, Oregon

Riding high on the phenomenal successes of Jaws and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Steven Spielberg embarked on turning Robert Gale and Robert Zemeckis’s dark comedy The Night The Japs Attacked into a gigantic screwball comedy. There’s a terrific cast, bags of energy and invention, Oscar-nominated special FX and a thrilling John Williams score… what could go wrong? It’s engaging and enjoyable but sadly for a comedy, laugh-free.

It’s not the massive flop it’s often dismissed as – it was quite successful, though way down from the director’s previous two movies – but critics tend to be particularly tough on expensive films by successful directors.

The plot is based on several actual events (not all of which took place in 1941), centering on the paranoia following the attack on Pearl Harbor when the Japanese were expected to appear over every hill.

There’s perhaps a touch of hubris in opening the film with a pastiche of the director's own biggest hit as Susan Backlinie reprises her scene from the opening of Jaws, this time as a member of the ‘Polar Bear Club’ who encounters not a Great White Shark but a Japanese submarine.

The ‘Northern California’ coast is very recognisably Cannon Beach in Oregon, with the landmark Haystack Rock in the background. Spielberg (as producer) returned to this location in 1985 for The Goonies.

There’s another self-referential moment as Wild Bill Kelso (John Belushi) lands his plane on the desert highway to refuel. The gas station is the same one seen in Duel (with the Snakerama reptile display), and it’s managed by the same actor, Lucille Benson. It’s in Acton, north of Los Angeles.

The rest is Los Angeles itself, mainly on studio sets. The film was a joint production from Universal and Columbia, with sets built at Warner Bros in Burbank and at MGM.

At the time, the largest miniature created for a film, ‘Ocean Park, Santa Monica’, with its ferris wheel and pier, was constructed at MGM, using the water tank of the famous Esther Williams Stage, where the model submarine was also filmed.

Another extensive miniature, a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, with such recognisable landmarks as the Roosevelt Hotel and the Broadway, was built on Stage 16 at Warners. The buildings are really quite accurate for 1941, although they're shifted around a little for visual effect.

1941 filming location: Los Angeles Theatre, Broadway, Downtown Los Angeles
1941 film location: General Stilwell watches Dumbo: Los Angeles Theatre, Broadway, Downtown Los Angeles | Photograph: Broadway Theatre Group

The ‘Hollywood Boulevard’ set with cinema and USO dance hall, scene of the Zoot suit riot and other mayhem, was the film’s largest interior set, built at WarnersBurbank Studios.

Once General Stilwell (Robert Stack) enters the cinema to enjoy Disney’s Dumbo, the lavish interior is that of the Los Angeles Theatre, 615 South Broadway, Downtown Los Angeles, the city’s most ornate movie palace when it was built in 1928. It's gorgeous lobby is a screen regular seen in Charlie's Angels and sequel Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Batman Forever, Chaplin, New York, New York, as the venue for the Halloween dance in A Cinderella Story, as a raunchy casino in Armageddon, and as ‘the Vatican’, no less, in End of Days.

'Daugherty Field' airport, where Capt Birkhead (Tim Matheson) tries to pass himself off a pilot to impress Donna Stratton (Nancy Allen), is Long Beach Airport, 4100 Donald Douglas Drive, about three miles north of downtown Long Beach, where more than a dozen vintage World War II airplanes were deployed. It did used to be called Daugherty Field, after famous barnstormer (stunt pilot) Earl S Daugherty, who originally established his flying school on this spot.

The Cliffside home of Ward Douglas (Ned Beatty), ‘1313 Pelican Way, Santa Monica’, was built from scratch on a bluff overlooking Malibu. It was built on rollers for its final collapse into the sea.