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Wednesday July 17th 2024

The Driver | 1978

The Driver filming location: South Naomi Avenue, downtown Los Angeles
The Driver film location: the Driver dismantles the orange Mercedes in the garage: Flower Street, downtown Los Angeles

Walter Hill’s fast-paced, pared-down thriller was filmed on the streets of Seventies Los Angeles. Not even David Fincher’s Se7en makes downtown LA look this dirty.

I’ll come clean. I never really figured out what ‘existential’ means, but I do know that in existential movies, the characters don’t have names.

So Bruce Dern is ‘The Cop’ determined to lock up speedy getaway expert ‘The Driver’ (Ryan O’Neal). It’s a clear inspiration for Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive.

The bar in which the Cop hangs out was Torchy’s, which stood at 218 1/2 West Fifth Street, downtown LA. Obviously a fave Walter Hill location, you can see Torchy’s as the ‘San Francisco’ redneck bar of 48 Hours. Torchy’s has since closed and the premises is currently an electrical goods store. In fact, you can glimpse it in Spider-Man as Spidey swings along a supposed ‘New York’ street.

The Driver filming location: St Vincent Court, downtown Los Angeles
The Driver film location: shaking off the cops: St Vincent Court, downtown Los Angeles

The Driver picks up two guys who’ve just robbed a casino, only to be chased by the cops through a benighted downtown LA, on 7th Street, around Hope and Spring Streets, shaking off the first car as he roars through the (now prettified) St Vincent Court, running between 7th and 6th Streets, bursting out onto South Hill Street opposite the Los Angeles Jewelry Center, 629 South Hill Street.

The geography of the city takes second place to the visceral ride. Turning from Flower Street onto 7th street, he’s then suddenly heading back into town, west on the Sixth Street Bridge, where the car’s trunk is shot off by the police. The bridge, which has featured in so many films, was demolished in 2016 after the degeneration of its concrete lead to it becoming unsafe.

The Driver film location: East Cesar E Chavez Avenue, downtown Los Angeles
The Driver film location: the car chase: East Cesar E Chavez Avenue, downtown Los Angeles

In the blink of an eye, the driver is up to the north, swinging south from East Cesar E Chavez Avenue into North Alameda Street, by the US Post Office Building. A game of chicken finally gets rid of the cops.

The ‘Figueroa Market’ robbed by the three guys that the Cop goes on to recruit, is now Big Saver Foods, 2625 North Figueroa Street at West Avenue 26, Elysian Park, northeast of the Dodger Stadium.

The Driver film location: Westin Bonaventure Hotel, 404 South Figueroa Street, downtown Los Angeles
The Driver film location: The Driver meets The Player at the glitzy downtown hotel: Westin Bonaventure Hotel, South Figueroa Street, downtown Los Angeles

The Player (Isabelle Adjani) stays at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, 404 South Figueroa Street, where the driver meets up with her on its illuminated walkways. The hotel’s landmark glass towers are familiar on screen, in films such as Barry Levinson’s Rain Man; Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar; Wolfgang Petersen’s In The Line Of Fire; Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days; James Cameron’s True Lies; and, briefly, even Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap.

Sent by the Cop to hire the Driver, he smells a rat and in the film’s most famous scene, dismantles their orange Mercedes in the garage at 400 South Flower Street (right behind the Westin Bonaventure).

The arrogant Cop gives his subordinates a lecture on winners and losers outside the Bixby Hotel, 433 Wall Street at Winston Street in the city’s Historic Core. Amazingly, this little hotel is still there.

Three blocks west, the bank job the sleazebags eventually pull, to entrap the Driver – and where one of them gets shot – is 354 South Spring Street at 4th Street.

The luggage deposit boxes, where Bags are stored and switched, and the Cop sets up the driver for the climax, are at Union Station, 800 North Alameda Street.