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Saturday May 18th 2024

The Grifters | 1990

The Grifters film location: the Bryson Apartment Hotel, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles
The Grifters film location: Roy Dillon's hotel: the Bryson Apartment Hotel, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles | Photograph: Google Maps

Los Angeles and Phoenix, Arizona, provide the backdrops for this sardonically dark thriller, adapted from a Jim Thompson novel.

It was going to be directed by Martin Scorsese, but he handed over the reins to British director Stephen Frears, staying on as Producer, while he worked on a little production called Goodfellas.

The opening split-screen montage introduces the three scam artists of the title: Lilly Dillon (Anjelica Huston) fixing odds at the trace-track, her estranged son Roy (John Cusack running small-time cons in bars; and Roy’s current partner Myra (Annette Bening) passing off dud jewellery.

The Grifters film location: Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
The Grifters film location: Myra uses her charms on the jeweller: Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood | Photograph: Google Maps

Myra uses her physical charms on a jeweller (Stephen Tobolowsky) in the store at 6439 Hollywood Boulevard, near Wilcox Avenue in Hollywood. This indeed used to be Stromberg Jewellers with its landmark clock standing on the sidewalk outside. These advertising gimmicks were once fairly common for jewellers, who often dealt in watches and clocks too. This is now one of only three remaining in LA.

Roy runs one of his minor scams in Bennigan’s, the Irish-themed chain of restaurant bars, which closed down in 2008. The generic look of the chain means it’s hard to recognise which branch.

He’s not so lucky in another bar, where he gets that fateful blow to the stomach before being thrown out. Outside he’s questioned by cops on Ivar Avenue, just south of Hollywood Boulevard. The stretch of road has been substantially redeveloped, but you can still recognise what is now HQ of the Church of Scientology in the background.

From Hollywood, we move to Downtown LA and the rundown hotel where Roy rents a dingy room, graced by that enviable pair clown paintings.

This is the Bryson Apartment Hotel, 2701 Wilshire Boulevard, in the MacArthur Park district. Built in 1913 as no-expense-spared luxury apartments in a then-smart part of town, it suffered the fate of many downtown luxury blocks, gradually going downhill.

It acquired a kind of cool reputation by becoming associated with the genre of “LA noir” after featuring in Raymond Chandler’s 1943 story The Lady In The Lake, and being mentioned (though not seen in) Billy Wilder’s 1944 classic, Double Indemnity.

In fact, Fred MacMurray, the film’s star, went on to buy the hotel which he owned for 30 years.

The Bryson also served as the hotel that Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway dive into to avoid the cops in Barbet Schroeder’s 1987 film of the semi-autobiographical Charles Bukowski novel, Barfly, and is briefly seen in the opening sequence of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.

Following the trend for gentrification, it’s recently been given a smart restoration.

Roy’s flashback to the youthful meeting with an older grifter who teaches him the tricks of the trade was filmed at Saugus Train Depot, Saugus.

Saugus is a neighbourhood in Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles, and the building is now home to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society Museum, in William S Hart Park, 24107 Newhall Avenue.

Saugus provided the ‘Arizona’ backdrop for the same year’s teen comedy-drama Pump up The Volume, with Christian Slater.

The Grifters film location: Mariposa Avenue, Mid-Wilshire, Los Angeles
The Grifters film location: Myra parks outside her apartment: Mariposa Avenue, Mid-Wilshire, Los Angeles | Photograph: Google Maps

Myra’s apartment, where she’s constantly behind with the rent, was 696 South Mariposa Avenue at 7th Street in the Mid-Wilshire district. It’s since been demolished, but the Embassy apartment next door, outside which she parks her car, remains unchanged.

The Grifters film location: Turf Paradise Race Horse Track, Phoenix
The Grifters film location: Lilly is met by her fearsome boss Bobo: Turf Paradise Race Horse Track, Phoenix | Photograph: Google Maps

After bungling her job, Lilly is met by her fearsome boss Bobo (Pat Hingle) in front of the Turf Paradise Race Horse Track, 1501 West Bell Road at 19th Avenue, in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s here that the cunning Myra spies on Lily’s modus operandi.

The Grifters film location: Sierra Pelona Motel, Agua Dulce, Southern California
The Grifters film location: Lilly hides out in the 'Phoenix' motel: Sierra Pelona Motel, Agua Dulce, Southern California | Photograph: Google Maps

The ‘Phoenix’ motel, though, to which Myra follows Lilly as she goes into hiding, is back in Southern California. It’s the Sierra Pelona Motel, 12117 Sierra Highway, northeast of Santa Clarita near Agua Dulce.

But it’s the real Phoenix again when Roy is met by police as he arrives at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, 3400 East Sky Harbor Boulevard.

The Grifters film location: Old Phoenix City Hall, Washington Street, Phoenix
The Grifters film location: Roy is taken to identify the body: Old Phoenix City Hall, Washington Street, Phoenix | Photograph: Wikimedia / Visitor7

He’s taken to identify the body found at the motel in the morgue at Old Phoenix City Hall, 125 West Washington Street.

Finally, it’s back to the Bryson for the shocking climax, with the sole survivor of the trio, in true noir style, driving into the night along Wilshire Boulevard.