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Friday October 19th 2018

Con-Air | 1997

This hi-octane thriller, from the Jerry Bruckheimer stable, is given a boost with a surprisingly classy cast.

After serving eight years in prison for basically defending himself in an unprovoked attack, poor Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) is about to be released and meet his young daughter for the first time. Uh-oh – his ride home is on a flight alongside a whole psycho-ward-full of super-predators bent on escaping.

“All those monsters in one place?”

“There’s nothing to worry about.” Right.

The prison from which Poe is being released is the venerable Lincoln Heights Jail, 421 North Avenue 19, Lincoln Heights, near downtown Los Angeles, a frequent movie location, seen in productions as diverse as George Cukor’s 1954 A Star Is Born (as the drunk tank where James Mason is held) and Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare On Elm Street (providing the school’s boiler room).

The initial boarding of ‘The Jailbird’, a Fairchild C-123 Provider transport aircraft, and the US Marshals' hangar, at ‘Oakland Airport’ is Salt Lake City International Airport, 776 North Terminal Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah.

The aircraft’s interior was reproduced in the Hollywood Center Studios, 1040 North Las Palmas Avenue, in Hollywood.

Hollywood Center Studios was founded in 1919 as the Jasper Studio. One of the oldest production facilities in Hollywood, it's changed ownership and name several times over the years. In 1926, when it was Metropolitan Studios, one of the film industry's first sound stages was built here. A few years later, Howard Hughes took up residence on the lot and used it to shoot his World War I epic Hell's Angels, the screen debut of Jean Harlow.

Scores of films were produced on the lot during the 1930s and 1940s, including the Mae West vehicles Klondike Annie and Go West, Young Man, the Hopalong Cassidy series, the Bing Crosby classic Pennies From Heaven and the Marx BrothersA Night in Casablanca.

James Cagney made several films on the lot – at a time when his brother William was a part owner.

It has since played host to many TV productions, including I Love Lucy, The Addams Family, Jeopardy! and The Rockford Files, and movie productions including Barry Sonnenfeld's The Addams Family movie, rom-com When Harry Met Sally... and Robert Altman's The Player.

In 1980, director Francis Ford Coppola famously purchased the lot, intending to use it to produce a slate of films as the Zoetrope Studio. Among them was the ambitious movie musical One From The Heart (for which he transformed the entire lot into a giant 'Vegas' set, including part of 'McCarran Airport", the failure of which ultimately sunk the project.

The landing, where serial killer Garland Greene (Steve Buscemi) gets added to the mix, is supposedly ‘Carson City, Nevada’. The storm-lashed desert was the Ogden Municipal Airport, now Ogden-Hinckley Airport, 3909 Airport Road, in Ogden, Utah.

The plane is supposedly flying over ‘Fresno’ when the body of Pinball (Dave Chappelle), caught in the undercarriage, is released bearing a clandestine message to the cops scrawled on its vest. Actually, it plummets to earth in downtown Los Angeles, at the junction of South Grand Avenue and West 6th Street, just south of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel.

Following the transponder, which has been secreted aboard a sightseeing tour plane, bad-tempered DEA agent Malloy (Colm Meaney) gets to fly over the spectacular red sandstone 'fingers' of Determination Towers, Mill Canyon Road, off US Route 191, northwest of Moab in Utah.

‘Lerner Field’, the airplane graveyard where the Jailbird touches down is Wendover Air Base, 345 South Airport Apron, Wendover, on the formless salt flats of the Utah-Nevada border. The old wartime bomber base also supplied the swimming pool at the base, where Garland Greene talks to a young girl. Hulk, Independence Day and The Core are among the productions that have used Wendover.

After filming, the filmmakers donated the Jailbird movie model used for the taxi scenes to the Historic Wendover Airfield Foundation and is currently on display at the ramp as an attraction for visitors.

The cons take off in a waiting plane, but Poe eventually manages to take over the cockpit. Heading toward Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, the Jailbird narrowly misses the tower of the Stratosphere, 2000 Las Vegas Boulevard South, and clips (a model of) the Fender Stratocaster sign of Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, 4455 Paradise Road, before having to attempt a landing on the Las Vegas Strip, ultimately ploughing into the lobby of the venerable hotel and casino the Sands, which had stood at 3355 Las Vegas Boulevard South since 1952. The epitome of old Vegas, the Sands was home to the Rat Pack, who regularly performed in its Copa Room. You can see it in the original 1960 Ocean’s 11.

The Venetian now stands on the site.

The script originally called for the plane to crash into the White House, but the filmmakers took the opportunity (as with the demise of the Landmark Hotel in Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!) to incorporate the last moments of a Vegas landmark into a fictitious scenario. The hotel developers were convinced (presumably, 'paid') to postpone the planned demolition of the hotel to enable filming.

For the stunt, a real C-123K was gutted, to make it as light as possible, and pulled by cable along a specially built 250-foot track into the front of the doomed casino.

Poe and US Marshall Vince Larkin (John Cusack) mount bikes to pursue chase Cyrus the Virus (John Malkovich) on a hijacked firetruck through the Fremont Street Experience – and straight into the Second Street Tunnel, running between Hill Street and Figueroa Street, downtown Los Angeles, before ending up back on Fremont for the ending.