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Tuesday June 19th 2018

Carol | 2015

Carol film location: Shillito's, West 7th Street, Cincinnati
Carol location: ‘Frankenberg's Department Store’: Shillito's, West 7th Street, Cincinnati | Photograph: Wikimedia / Joe D Good

Patricia Highsmith is best known as the writer of top-notch thrillers, such as Strangers On A Train and the Tom Ripley books, including The Talented Mr Ripley, but she produced this quasi-autobiographical novel, entitled the Price Of Salt, anonymously back in the dark days when its lesbian theme could have been career ending.

The character of Carol Aird was inspired by Virginia Kent Catherwood, a Philadelphia socialite six years older than Highsmith, with whom the author had a love affair in the 1940s. Catherwood did lose custody of her daughter after the taped recording of a lesbian liaison in a hotel room was used against her.

Set in the 1952, the Over-The-Rhine district of downtown Cincinnati, Ohio, stands in for Fifties ‘New York’. Bypassed by redevelopment, Over-The-Rhine is the largest, most intact 19th-century urban neighbourhood in the States, making it an ideal period backdrop, seen as 1950s ‘Manhattan’ in both 1991’s A Rage In Harlem, with Forest Whitaker and 1992’s The Public Eye, with Joe Pesci, and as 1919 ‘Chicago’ in John Sayles’ 1988 Eight Men Out.

Cincinnati's now-vacant Second District Police Headquarters, 314 Broadway Street, became a make-do soundstage, with several of its rooms redressed to suit the film’s settings. 

The framing scene is clearly an homage to a similar device in David Lean’s magnificent 1945 Brief Encounter, right down to the barely perceived hand on the shoulder.

Just as Laura and Alex are denied the chance to express any trace of emotion in the Lean film when Dolly Messiter barges into their last precious moments together, Therese (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett, surely Oscar-worthy?) are obliged to mask their feelings with small talk as Jack (Trent Rowland) unwittingly interrupts a potential reconciliation.

The opening shot of Jack walking through a ‘Manhattan’ street is West 7th Street at Elm Street, downtown Cincinnati, where the exterior of the ‘Ritz Tower Hotel’, with its stylish deco lamps, is the Elm Street entrance to the Cincinnati Bell offices at 209 West 7th Street.

The ‘Ritz Towers’ restaurant interior is the Lobby of The Cincinnati Club, 30 Garfield Place.

Most of the film is told in flashback, from the time when Therese, working in the toy department of ‘Frankenberg's Store’, is instantly captivated by the cool and charismatic Carol who buys a train set for her daughter

The gorgeous streamlined deco exterior is that of the old Shillito’s Department Store, now The Lofts at Shillito Place, 7th Street between Elm and Race Streets (directly across from the Cincinnati Bell office).

The interior is the empty Mill End Draperies Upholstery, 26 West Seventh Street, which at the time still housed glass display cases from its days as Oskamp Nolting Department Store. Oskamp Nolting closed in 1980 – its shopping days are over and the building is scheduled to be turned into apartments.

After work, Therese drinks with her rather dull fiancé Richard (Jake Lacy) and their friends at Arnold’s Bar, 210 East 8th Street at Main Street, a few blocks east. It’s here Therese reveals she is an aspiring photographer and gets an invitation to visit the New York Times office from Dannie (John Magaro).

She returns to her apartment at 24 West Court Street, above what is now Doscher’s Candies, north up Race Street.

After Therese returns a pair of mislaid gloves, the grateful Carol invites her to lunch. The restaurant where the clearly overawed Therese sips a dry martini is Maury's Tiny Cove, 3908 Harrison Avenue, Cheviot.

Carol reveals she’s in the process of getting a divorce from her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) and invites Therese to visit the ‘Ridgewood, NJ’ home she shares with daughter Rindy.

Cincinnati’s Lytle Tunnel, which carries I-71 under Lytle Park, stands in for the ‘Lincoln Tunnel’ connecting New York City and New Jersey, but since it’s only a few hundred yards long, the drive through it had to be repeated several times.

They stop briefly at Eden Park, Lake Drive northeast of downtown, where Therese takes photographs of Carol as she buys a Christmas tree. Eden Park also stands in for ‘Central Park’ when Richard returns the box of photographs to Therese toward the end of the film.

Carol and Rindy's 'New Jersey' home is 2581 Grandin Road in the Hyde Park district, northwest of Cincinnati proper.

When Carol’s separated husband invokes a ‘morality clause’ to gain sole custody of Rindy, the strain begins to take its toll on the seemingly unflappable Carol. She invites Therese on a getaway trip west to ‘Chicago’.

‘Colony’s record Store’, where Therese buys a Billie Holiday record for Carol is Player Piano Shop, 611 Main Street, downtown, a piano tuning business.

On the road, Therese presents Carol with the Christmas present, and admits that she’s not missing Richard at all, at the ‘Liberty Bell Diner’, which in reality is Kostas Restaurant, 221 Court Street, Hamilton, on Route 127 about 25 miles north of Cincinnati.

The ‘McKinley Motel’, where the increasingly confident Therese suggests they accept the offer of the Presidential Street – at an attractive rate – is the Hollywood Court Motel, 10599 Reading Road, Cincinnati. It’s here they first bump into apparently goofy salesman Tommy Tucker (Cory Michael Smith).

Arriving in ‘Chicago’ they check into the famous ‘Drake Hotel’. The real Drake has featured on screen several times, notably in Risky Business with Tom Cruise, My Best Friend's Wedding and Accidental Hero, but this film remains firmly anchored in Cincinnati. The luxurious stay-over is at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, 35 West 5th Street, within Carew Tower.
And luxurious it is, a French-style Art Deco hotel masterpiece, opened in 1931. The historic hotel's main lobby and mezzanine areas feature a half acre of rare Brazilian rosewood, German silver and stylized Egyptian decor. Don’t miss the Hall of Mirrors, modelled after nothing less than the Palace of Versailles in Paris.

It’s time to return to ‘New York’. On the way back, they stop at ‘Waterloo, Iowa’, where events take a distinctly darker turn. The motel in which they celebrate New Year and get a terrible shock the next morning, is the Shaker Inn, 600 Cincinnati Avenue, Lebanon, northeast of Cincinnati.

Now aware her ‘behaviour’ is being monitored, Carol disappears tasking her best friend and ex-lover Abby (Sarah Paulson) with driving Therese back home.

On the way, they stop at the Spare Time Grill, 7807 Alexandria Pike, Alexandria, which has since closed.

For the chance to meet her daughter, Carol is forced to endure an excruciating meal with Harge and his sniffy parents , who live at the Edward R Stearns House, 333 Oliver Road, Wyoming, Ohio.

Yes, there's a town called Wyoming, about ten miles north of Cincinnati.

Because of Wyoming's proximity to the industry of Lockland and Cincinnati, many wealthy industrialists built grand country houses in the area, and this one, now designated a historic site, was built at the turn of the 20th Century for textile baron Edward Stearns.

The film returns to the opening scene, with Carol attempting a reconciliation when Therese is whisked away by a group of friends.

The party where, left alone, Therese begins to reconsider her decision is at the Saxony Apartment Building, a historic apartment building at the intersection of Ninth and Race Streets, directly opposite the Phoenix Building, part of the same complex which houses the The Cincinnati Club. Both buildings were designed by Samuel Hannaford, and it's at the Cincinnati Club that the film winds up.

Having second thoughts, Therese heads of to find Carol in the ‘Oak Room’ of the ‘Plaza Hotel, New York’. Now closed, this restaurant was made famous in the original film of Arthur.

For this film, another location stands in. It’s another part of the Cincinnati Club – which stood in for the ‘Ritz Tower Hotel’ they had just left.