Having studied the new Blu-ray release of W.C. Fields and Louise Brooks in It’s The Old Army Game (1926) (with more posts to come), let’s focus on the beautiful Kino Lorber Blu-ray release of Fields’ Running Wild (1927), another wonderful comedy loaded with visual history, this time filmed in Astoria, Queens. Fields plays a meek shipping clerk, a widower cherished by his adult daughter, but cruelly mistreated by his second wife and step-son. When accidentally hypnotized, Fields roars to life, rightfully asserting himself the master at both work and at home. The movie was filmed at the Paramount Astoria Studios on 35th Avenue and 35th Street, with many exteriors filmed within a block or two of the studio.
Above, scenes from throughout the movie were all filmed close to the studio. Noted Fields biographer James Curtis explains that “in March, 1927 the Astoria studio was closed by Famous Players and all the companies moved to California where production would be consolidated under B.P. Schulberg. (It took talkies and the urgent need for stage-trained actors to force the re-opening of the studio.) It fell to Jesse Lasky to personally approve the making of Running Wild in New York, so they had the entire run of the studio while making it. Without Lasky, it would have been done in Los Angeles. Personally, I think the Long Island locations are an asset to the film, and that it wouldn’t have tuned out as well if made in California.” Thank you Jim, I agree the locations really help set off the film.
Meek and superstitious, Fields walks to work, careful to avoid stepping on any cracks, and later dodging a ladder set up on the sidewalk.
These early scenes above were filmed walking east along 35th Avenue towards the SW corner of 35th Street, with the studio standing on the opposite NE corner.
Afraid to cross the street, Fields pauses beside some school kids at the NE corner of 36th Ave and 34th St.
A cop holds back traffic, the view looks SE down 36th Ave from 34th St towards the intersection of 35th St at back.
Fields and the children cross 34th St under the policeman’s watchful gaze.
Safely reaching the NW corner of 36th Ave and 34th St, Fields continues on his way to work.
Later in the film, Fields flees for his life from an infuriated shopkeeper, turning the NE corner of the Astoria Studio at 35th Ave and 35th Street.
Fields seeks refuge in a handy doorway, leading to the backstage of a theatrical hypnotist act already in progress. The doorway at 34-31 (or so) 35th St, flanked by windows on both sides, is now the side entrance to the Kaufman Astoria Studios.
Fields responds so aggressively to the hypnotic suggestion that he is a lion that he knocks out the hypnotist and flees the stage before the spell can be undone.
King of the World – Fields zooms east along 35th Ave with the 31st St elevated tracks and matching buildings east from 32nd St behind him.
This POV shot looks east down 35th Ave approaching the intersection of 34th St.
Traveling a bit further east, the NW corner building at 35th Ave and 33rd St appears at back.
Modern views of the studio front entrance, at left, and the twin apartments, at right.
As Fields races along 35th Ave towards the studio, the two story studio laboratory building appears to the far left, with the studio formal front entrance columns further at back. The arrow in this 1921 photo (Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives) shows Fields’ walking path above avoiding the sidewalk cracks – the apartment in that scene would be built on the foreground vacant lot.
The POV shot at left includes the twin apartments between 34th and 35th Streets, where Fields walks to work avoiding the sidewalk cracks.
Switching perspective, Fields drives west towards the SW corner of 35th Ave and 35th St, then along the same sidewalk, and towards the same ladder, that Fields encountered on foot earlier in the film. The corner drug store was fittingly named the “Studio Pharmacy.”
This shot was staged a bit further afield, the NW corner of 31st Ave and 34th St.
A view of Fields’ house, to the left at 32-62 35th St, one block north of the studio, moments before he slams his car into the tree out front. Though the three homes have all been modernized, their proportions and configuration remain the same, especially the stone porch of the middle house. I found this spot by dumb luck. On a whim I decided to check for homes near the studio, and found this almost immediately.
Although snapped from his hypnotic trance, Fields retains his swagger, and the film ends as he chases his terrified step-son up the street.
A careful analysis of the 1927 view above, and the matching Google Street View 90 years later below, reveals numerous unique details appearing in both images. I live in California, and may never visit this spot in person, yet thanks to the internet it’s possible to confirm vintage and remote locations by simply working from a computer.
At left, here’s one location from Fields’ race home that I have not been able to identify. Presumably it too is close to the studio, if still standing. Likewise, these scenes of Fields at the right may have been filmed against one of the studio buildings. Notice the corridor bridge crossing above a downgrade drive. Although the doorway at right reads “14th Precinct,” the true 14th had a 229 W 123rd address, conflicting with the “452” address appearing in another shot. Since the “Harvey & Co.” sign is a prop for a fictitious company, the precinct sign is likely a prop too.
Bonus: the back end of the 36th St side of the studio (1929 photo (Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives) appears during a New York scene from Fields’ earlier silent comedy It’s The Old Army Game). I already have 5 posts about It’s The Old Army Game, filmed with Louise Brooks in Ocala and Palm Beach Florida, and will soon issue a bonus post about the scenes filmed in New York, where W.C. Fields crossed paths with Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd (who knew?)
Check out Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of Fields’ Running Wild.
Below, the Kaufman Astoria Studios today.