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Exploring the Streets of New York on Film with Bruce Goldstein

May 6, 2021

TCM Classic Film Festival fans will recognize Bruce Goldstein from his famous trivia sessions in Club TCM and his illuminating intros for past fest selections including The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) and Blood Money (1933). When he’s not regaling attendees with his vast cinematic knowledge at TCMFF, Goldstein is the Repertory Programming Director of New York City's famed Film Forum and the founder of Rialto Pictures, which specializes in distributing classic film reissues.

In addition to his immeasurable contributions to the worlds of movie programming, distribution, and preservation, Goldstein recently added another title to his mantle: short film documentarian. This year, TCMFF presents his New York trilogy, all of which can be accessed in the festival's "Streets of New York” collection on HBO Max. His first two entries, In the Footsteps of Speedy (2015) and Uncovering The Naked City (2020), take fans through several of the filming locations for the respective classics Speedy (1928) and The Naked City (1948). Goldstein’s newest short, Pelham One Two Three: NYC Underground (2021), an entertaining essay on one of his favorite New York movies, debuts at the 2021 festival.  

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Bruce Goldstein at the 10th annual TCM Classic Film Festival in 2019. (Photo courtesy TCM)

The three films Goldstein covers in this series are all immensely different from one other, linked only by the city. When I asked why he chose these particular movies to explore, Goldstein commented: “I’ve always loved these three films as being three of the greatest New York movies.” In his opinion, The Naked City’s “New York vignettes are the greatest,” and “you can’t top the feeling that Pelham has for the city.”

His high praise for the way the city is depicted onscreen in those two titles in particular make sense, as both were directed by New Yorkers with intimate knowledge of the metropolis, infusing “insider views” of New York as opposed to an outsider’s perspective. (Jules Dassin helmed The Naked City, while Joseph Sargent directed The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.) On the other hand, Harold Lloyd did not hail from New York, but he still represented the city well on film. It seems that Lloyd didn’t anticipate all the hurdles he’d face shooting in New York as opposed to his usual Los Angeles locales, though. “Originally, Harold Lloyd wanted to do everything on the streets of New York,” Goldstein said. But that proved impossible. Simply put, “He was too famous.” Once he donned those glasses, fans recognized him. So, while most of the movie filmed in New York City, some scenes were shot in Los Angeles, a city that was very used to local filmmaking even in the 1920s, which made it easier for Lloyd to get away with accomplishing such amazing stunts on the streets.

As someone who grew up near New York City and currently lives in Los Angeles, I was immediately taken with Goldstein’s exploration of Speedy. The film was so bi-coastal, in fact, that Goldstein explained one shot could be filmed in New York, while another part of the same scene might have been captured in Los Angeles! He breaks down some of those incidents frame by frame, which blew me away; parts of Los Angeles really did resemble New York in those days! It’s much harder to get away with that now, but one can still spot other cities standing in for the Big Apple. Goldstein pointed out that ironically, when The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was remade as a TV movie in 1998, it was shot in Toronto. Aside from the Canadian city bearing little resemblance to New York, “the subway platforms and trains are sparkling clean,” Goldstein bristled. “It’s totally wrong.”

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Robert Shaw taking control inThe Taking of Pelham One Two Three. (Photo courtesy TCM)

The action in both Pelham and The Naked City mostly transpires on the east side of Manhattan, near where Goldstein lives. “I walk out of my apartment building and see the Williamsburg Bridge, which is where the climax of The Naked City takes place,” Goldstein told me. And his Film Forum office sits close to Sheridan Square, which served as a filming location for Speedy. “So I pass these things constantly and I know them fairly intimately, and it kind of informs my storytelling,” he said.

Goldstein is truly a fount of knowledge when it comes to the city and cinema, and that passion and enthusiasm shines through each of his shorts. His process starts first and foremost with “the fact that I know the city so well,” he explained. That said, his deep dives into these subjects still uncover new information. For instance, his research into Speedy revealed that the last horse-drawn trolley in New York City was in Greenwich Village, and that stopped in 1918. “And that’s an important thing to realize about Speedy. It’s 1928, and it’s already a nostalgia piece about New York City; it’s already about things that didn’t exist anymore,” he remarked. “We had a different way of looking at time in those days. Ten years ago was the distant past. Now we’re surrounded by the past all the time. So that was a revelation.”

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Harold Lloyd in the middle of the action in a crowded subway car in Speedy. (Photo courtesy TCM)

Goldstein is good friends with Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne. She got a close-up of Goldstein’s extensive knowledge of this particular film about 15 or 20 years ago after an interview he moderated with her at a Tribeca Film Festival screening of Speedy. “At the end, I said, ‘We’re really close to where the chase is, let’s all go over there!’ and I took the whole audience to Battery Park.” Amazingly, the area still looks very much like the way it appeared on film in the late 1920s.

I’m guessing that spontaneous moment stayed with Suzanne, because when Criterion was releasing Speedy on DVD, she told them, “Bruce has got to the do the extra.” And that’s how the first of his trilogy came about. Goldstein dove in to the subject, examining it “well beyond what you can research using just the internet and what people do now,” he recalled. That included trips to the New York Public Library with an assistant, where he scrolled through microfilm and uncovered articles from newspapers that aren’t available online, like The New York Daily Mirror and The New York Journal. It was during his research that he discovered surprises like the existence of another horse inside the trolley during the film’s infamous chase sequence. “What that horse is doing there, we still don’t know,” Goldstein said. Though he may not have been able to solve all the questions that arose, his passion for uncovering and sharing such history is clear. “It was very satisfying to do that piece,” he divulged.

It impressed me that Harold Lloyd covered so much ground shooting Speedy: We see the end of that chase at the lower tip of Manhattan, we travel to Coney Island, and we get glimpses of the Brooklyn Bridge, just to name a few, all areas that have been featured in countless films. This led me to wonder what urban areas Goldstein thought were underrepresented on screen. One was Staten Island, which curiously was slated to make an appearance in The Naked City, but that didn’t manifest. Goldstein knows this because he’s read a first draft of The Naked City that Leonard Maltin shared with him after he won it in an auction a few years ago. 

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Ted de Corsia on the run in The Naked City. (Photo courtesy TCM)

Though many parts of Manhattan have been well covered on screen (as has Brooklyn and to a lesser extent, Queens), upper Manhattan, apart from Harlem, “has been fairly ignored in movies,” Goldstein said. “Lin Manuel Miranda, who lives in Washington Heights, has done a lot to promote that part of town.” He certainly has, but that doesn’t stop Miranda from filming in other parts of the city, too. Goldstein recently saw the star and crew shooting on location in the Lower East Side – on Rivington Street and Stanton Street – the exact same sidewalks on which Dassin filmed The Naked City. In particular, Goldstein noted the huge lights the crew used, which would have dwarfed the small lighting rigs Dassin and company worked with over 70 years ago, which he discussed in his short. “It was like a dream,” Goldstein commented. “I mean, they did it for me to show the contrast between moviemaking in 1947 and today!” Though the methods may change, it’s truly remarkable how the same city streets can tell so many diverse stories.

Don’t forget to catch all three of Bruce Goldstein’s New York shorts – and each of the features on which they are based – on HBO Max starting today.

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I See a Dark Theater is a website dedicated to classic movie-going—and loving—in the City of Angels. Whether it's coverage on screenings, special presentations, or Q&As around Los Angeles that you're looking for, or commentary on the wonderful and sometimes wacky world of classic cinema, you've come to the right place for a variety of pieces written with zeal, awe, and (occasionally) wit. Enjoy.

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