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Tuesday September 22nd 2020

Darkman | 1990

Darkman film location: East 3rd Street, Little Tokyo, Los Angeles
Darkman location: Peyton Westlake apartment-cum-laboratory: East 3rd Street, Little Tokyo, Los Angeles | Photograph: Google Maps

Director Sam Raimi wanted to make a film of 1930s comic strip The Shadow but couldn’t get the rights (Russell Mulcahy finally adapted it in 1994, with Alec Baldwin).

Undeterred, Raimi invented his own damaged anti-hero in Peyton Westlake, hideously scarred and left for dead but – fortunately – also a scientist who’d been perfecting a formula for synthetic skin.

Raimi’s modest feature has acquired a well-deserved following and led, in 2002, to him getting the chance to turn Spider-Man into such a smash hit.

Darkman’s setting is left vague (a city supposedly on a river) but those regular shots of the US Bank Tower (the high-rise blown to smithereens by the aliens in Independence Day) clearly signal Downtown Los Angeles.

The production was based at the (since closed) Harbor Star Stage in San Pedro, south LA, and the opening scene, setting up ruthless crime lord / amateur finger collector Durant (Larry Drake) and his oddball gang is filmed at the San Pedro docks.

Westlake’s (Liam Neeson) apartment-cum-laboratory isn’t, as it appears, on the 'riverfront'. It's 458 East 3rd Street, near South Central Avenue in Little Tokyo east of Downtown LA.

Darkman film location: Westin Boneventure Hotel, South Figueroa Street, Downtown, Los Angeles
Darkman location: the office of property developer Louis Strack: Westin Bonaventure Hotel, South Figueroa Street, Downtown, Los Angeles

His girlfriend Julie Hastings (Frances McDormand) uncovers the dubious dealings of her boss, ruthless property developer Louis Strack (Colin Friels). The four massive glass cylinders of Downtown's Westin Bonaventure Hotel, 404 South Figueroa Street, stand in for Strack's HQ. The hotel's distinctive appearance is familiar from many productions including True Lies, In The Line of Fire, the 1983 remake of Breathless, Strange Days, Rain Man and is even glimpsed as the band’s ‘Atlanta’ record company HQ in This Is Spinal Tap.

Perhaps less familiar is the Bonaventure’s cavernous lobby, which was transformed into the interior of the NASA facility for Christopher Nolan's 2014 Interstellar.

The unprincipled Strack, it turns out, is involved with Durant, and Julie's investigations have unwittingly put Westlake in harm's way. When his lab is blown up, he’s presumed dead in the all-consuming fire, with only a single ear surviving the blaze.

This is duly interred in the Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery, 1831 West Washington Boulevard, Pico-Union, southwest of Downtown, where Julie dutifully pays her respects.

The cemetery is the last resting place of several Hollywood legends: Tod Browning (director of the 1931 Dracula with Bela Lugosi and of the extraordinary Freaks), Hattie McDaniel (Mammy from Gone With The Wind, and the first person of colour to win an Oscar), Everett Sloane (in Citizen Kane and The Lady From Shanghai, a mainstay of Orson Welles’ rep company), and Dooley Wilson (Sam, from Casablanca).

Darkman film location: West 6th Street, Los Angeles
Darkman location: Julie Hastings's art deco apartment: West 6th Street, Los Angeles

Westlake has survived, hideously disfigured and having lost the ability to feel pain, and he attempts to contact Julie outside her wonderful art deco apartment block at 2505 West 6th Street, just north of MacArthur Park, west of Downtown.

She's unable to recognise the unkempt and ragged stranger so Westlake sets about fashioning himself a new face, setting up a new base in what was the industrial wasteland of factories and warehouses east of Downtown. Inevitably, the area is now being rediscovered as an artsy district of new companies and loft apartments.

Darkman film location: Ebell of Los Angeles, South Lucerne Boulevard, Midtown, Los Angeles
Darkman location: the 'Strack Industries Ball': Ebell of Los Angeles, South Lucerne Boulevard, Midtown, Los Angeles

Strack seizes the opportunity to come on to Julie at the 'Strack Industries Ball’, held in the Lounge of the Ebell Of Los Angeles, 743 South Lucerne Boulevard, Midtown.

The Ebell complex, housing a women's club and the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, is a regular film location which you might have seen in Forrest Gump, Air Force One, The Addams Family, The Artist, Catch Me If You Can, Old School, Ghost, Death Becomes Her and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button among many other films.

Spying on the event, Westlake recognises Rick, one of Durant's gang (Ted Raimi, the director's brother) and takes the chance for bloody revenge. The unfortunate Rick gets his head pushed up through a manhole in the middle of unusually heavy traffic on Ivar Avenue, in front of the Hollywood Knickerbocker Apartments between Hollywood Boulevard and Yucca Street, Hollywood.

Darkman film location: Vine Street, Hollywood, Los Angeles
Darkman location: Westlake disguises himself as gang member Pauly: Vine Street, Hollywood, Los Angeles | Photograph: Google Maps

Westlake goes on to use his prosthetic skills to impersonate another gang member Pauly (Nicholas Worth) for a money drop at what was then Erny's Best Deli, 1645 Vine Street – now incorporated into Katsuya Hollywood sushi restaurant – at the famous Hollywood and Vine junction.

Darkman film location: Rosslyn Apartments, Main Street, Downtown, Los Angeles
Darkman location: the real Pauly is thrown from his hotel window: Rosslyn Apartments, Main Street, Downtown, Los Angeles

Too late, Pauly finds he's been set up and gets ejected by Durant’s gang from the window of his room high, high up in the Hotel Rosslyn, one of those big old hotels that’s seen better days in LA’s rundown Main Street area. It’s now been converted into private accommodation, the Rosslyn Apartments, 112 West 5th Street. In its days as a hotel, the Rosslyn appeared in Michael Bay’s The Rock.

With his money now gone missing, Durant faces a cashflow problem and needs to call in some debts. Westlake, as ever, is one step ahead, recording the mobster’s voice as he speaks on the phone in his kitschy mock-Tudor mansion at 664 Alameda Street in Altadena, the pleasant suburb north of Pasadena.

Impersonating Durant himself, Westlake sets him up for a piddling grocery store robbery which results in the furious mob boss being hauled off to jail. The imposing ‘police station’ is the US Courthouse, 312 North Spring Street at Main Street, Downtown, alongside the famous tower of LA City Hall.

Darkman film location: Realm Gift Store, Gin Ling Way, Chinatown, Los Angeles
Darkman location: disguised Westlake demands money from Hung Fat at his Chinatown restaurant: Realm Gift Store, Gin Ling Way, Chinatown, Los Angeles

This leaves Westlake, in the guise of Durant, to collect a substantial debt from restaurant owner Hung Fat. Fat’s establishment was Hong Kong Low, 425 Gin Ling Way at North Broadway in Chinatown, which went on to become famed rock venue Hong Kong Cafe but is now gift store Realm.

The enraged Durant finally launches an all-out attack on Westlake's hideout, culminating in the movie’s action set-piece which sees Westlake dangling from Durant’s ‘copter over Downtown LA, as it careers down South Grand Avenue and over the (since demolished) Sixth Street Bridge before smashing into the entrance to the Third Street Tunnel where it runs under Hope Street just east of Flower Street.

Peyton now retreats into his new persona, the multi-faced crime-fighter Darkman. Julie still searches for him at the foot of the flamboyant 1988 marble-striped Figueroa Tower, 660 Figueroa Street at the corner of West 7th Street – unaware that he has a new face (the ‘Final Shemp’ as he’s listed in the credits, as a nod to The Three Stooges) and looking remarkably like Raimi regular Bruce Campbell.