The alleys at the SE corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Cahuenga are certainly the most historically significant silent film locations in town. The yellow arrow above marks the alley entrance from which Buster Keaton grabs a passing car one-handed in Cops (1922). But the back of the same alley portrayed the employee entrance of the De Vore Department Store (red box above), where Harold Lloyd’s character works in Safety Last! (1923). I explain how Harold filmed the hanging-from-the-clock stunt in Safety Last! at this post, and how Cosmos Street, the alley connected to the alley shown here, also appears in Safety Last! and Cops at this post. But we’ll focus now on how two of the most iconic silent film comedies were filmed at the same spot. [Note: in a later post I show that Charlie Chaplin also filmed scenes from The Kid (1921) here – three masterpieces at the same spot you can still visit today.]
To begin, in Safety Last! go-getter Harold always arrives early for work, but finds himself, after a moment’s distraction, locked in the back of a laundry wagon, with a deaf teamster at the wheel unable to hear Harold’s cries for help. As shown above, the wagon turns south from the “Cops” alley onto Cosmo Street. The Markham building to the left has been re-modeled over the years (in fact the upper floor has been removed), but the Palmer Building at back (once home to the Hollywood Daily Citizen newspaper) confirms the location.
Later in the film, Harold formulates a plan to sneak into work late, by posing as a store mannequin. The red boxes show matching elements of the Palmer Building.
You can see matching window elements on the Palmer Building in this view from Cops. As evident, the building was still under construction when Buster filmed here early in 1922, but was completed by the time Harold filmed late that same year. The building on the left side of the alley was rebuilt in the 1930s, causing the alley to become a bit more narrow.
In Safety Last! Harold convinces his room-mate Bill Strother to play rough-house with a policeman who was Harold’s friend back home. Bill knocks down the wrong cop, played by Noah Young, who ends up chasing Bill for the remainder of the film. This establishing shot above of Harold’s policeman friend was filmed looking north up Cosmo Street at the SW corner of the Palmer Building. It matches the yellow oval on the top aerial view.
This shot of Noah Young knocked to the ground looks west down the Cops alley (arrow), the same point of view Buster saw when he ran down the alley preparing for his amazing stunt. Note: time does not stand still. The alleyway marked with the arrow has recently been closed to vehicles to make room for outdoor dining, and the driveway on Cahuenga leading into the Cops alley is now blocked to traffic with a raised curb and pedestrian sidewalk.
Safety Last! also contains a number of early scenes filmed on Cahuenga. At the left, a man giving Harold a lift back to work is ticketed for parking in front of a fire plug. The buildings behind Harold stand on Cahuenga a bit south of the Cops alley, while the arrow corresponds to the aerial view above. The fire plug stood in front of the former joint fire/police station once located at 1625-1929 Cahuenga, that appeared in Buster Keaton’s feature films Three Ages (1923) and The Cameraman (1928). You can read more about the former fire/police station at this post.
Aerial photographs from HollywoodPhotographs.com.
A short segment from the Locations and Effects 2013 documentary with Academy-Award winning effects supervisor Craig Barron and the author filmed for the Criterion Collection release of the Safety Last! Blu-ray appears below.
HAROLD LLOYD images and the names of Mr. Lloyd’s films are all trademarks and/or service marks of Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. Images and movie frame images reproduced courtesy of The Harold Lloyd Trust and Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. Cops licensed by Douris UK, Ltd.
A view west down the Cops alley from Cosmo Street.