Article appeared in the Los Angeles Times
May 8, 2003
Hey, Batman, This Cave
An old Griffith Park rock quarry has been a favorite movie and TV backdrop for 80 years. Not everyone can find it. But everybody's probably seen it. That's
Bronson Canyon for you, the hidden Hollywood landmark that has a rock-solid
reputation as one of the city's most reliable movie backdrops. For generations
everything from blockbuster hits to lead-bottomed duds have been filmed there.
Old-fashioned Saturday matinee serials, high-tech sci-fi adventures and
rough-and-tumble westerns all have unfolded against its jagged backdrop.
Only a few acres in size, the canyon is actually an old
rock quarry that sits at the southern edge of Griffith Park within sight of the
What distinguishes it from other abandoned rock pits in the
foothills around Los Angeles is the tunnel-like cave that has been carved into
one of its granite outcroppings.
And what a cave it is.
For 80 years the cave's four entrances have crawled with giant spiders, glacial
monsters and space aliens, cowboys and Indians, futuristic crime-fighters and
cavemen, and medieval knights, pioneer settlers and swashbuckling pirates.
The quarry is a short trip up Canyon Drive from most
Hollywood studios. Since filming permits are easy to come by from the Los
Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, the place is irresistible to movie
and television producers.
Unknown western using
the entrance to the Bronson Canyon cave.
The finale to director John Ford's 1956 masterpiece western
Searchers," where John Wayne pursues Natalie Wood to the entrance of a
cave, was filmed in Bronson Canyon. So were parts of 1962's "Ride the High
Country," Frank Capra's 1937 epic "Lost
Horizon" and "The
Sword and the Sorcerer," released in 1982. The Batmobile roared out of
one of the cave's openings in the title scene of the 1960s "Batman"
TV series. Episodes of "Gunsmoke,"
Lone Ranger," "Rawhide,"
House on the Prairie," "Have
Gun, Will Travel," "Bat
Masterson," "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin,"
Trek Voyager" and "Wonder
Woman" were shot there.
The classic 1956 "Invasion
of the Body Snatchers" owes part of its look to Bronson Canyon. So does
Adventures of Captain Marvel," 1938's "Dick
Tracy Returns" and the 1933 version of "The
Some contend that the "B" in B-movies stands for
Creatures from 1957's "Attack
of the Crab Monsters" roamed the cave. It was turned into a mine shaft
for 1958's "Return
of Dracula." A diving-bell-hooded gorilla stomped through the tunnel in
Monster" - a film shot in 3-D entirely in the quarry over a four-day
period in 1953 for $16,000.
|Cast & crew on
unknown western in Bronson Canyon, with the Hollywood sign in the
If Bronson Canyon welcomes low-budget filmmakers, it
embraces those with no budget too.
That's the category that "The Mummy's Breath"
falls into. It was being filmed last week at the cave by fledgling director
Michael Schmitt of Pasadena and a volunteer cast and crew.
Pith-helmeted Kenneth Gould of Thousand Oaks, Eric Bender
of Newbury Park and fez-topped David Springhorn of Lake Balboa were being
pursued from the cave by gauze-wrapped Mark Sellin of Mount Washington.
Except for Springhorn, none of the khaki-costumed actors
were experienced performers. Instead, each had taken the day off work as systems
analysts and engineers to help Schmitt, a telephone company technician. They are
part of a hobbyist movie-maker cooperative called Group 101 Films that hopes to
produce mini-digital video shorts that will air at Halloween on cable TV's
American Movie Classics.
Bronson Canyon is reached by a short walk over a bridge and
up a gated driveway on the east side of Canyon Drive's dead-end.
Griffith Park visitors who happened upon "The Mummy's
Breath" crew stood out of camera range when filming took place. One
onlooker was recruited to hold the sun reflector that helped light the scene.
Movie-makers always restore Bronson Canyon and the cave to
its original appearance whenthey leave. That means fake gold-mine doors or snow
made from soap suds are cleaned up and carted away.
"I was up here the other day and they'd built a wooden
structure at one cave entrance that resembled a spider web," said visitor
Frank Kysor who, with his father, Jack, often walks his dogs in Bronson Canyon.
"Twenty years ago I helped build a set at the entrance
to one of the caves for a movie called 'Commando Squad.' We put up a
headquarters and a bunch of huts and guard towers. This place has a lot of
texture," said Kysor, now a Hollywood insurance man.
Bronson Canyon is usually closed when professional film
crews are working. But not always.
Glenn Erickson, a Larchmont Village video editor and
Internet video reviewer who writes under the name "DVD Savant,"
recalls the time in 1991 when a guard invited him and his family into the tunnel
after it was converted into a mock ice cave for a "Star Trek" movie.
"The place is so generic looking. And it has the
ability to look big when it's really small," Erickson said. "The
tunnel is short but goes into three branches, and each has a different
Erickson played detective to find Bronson Canyon the first
time. He matched the terrain beneath the Hollywood sign with some old movie
still photos from the remake of "Lost Horizon" to figure out its
"Finding it was very exciting. As I walked up, I
recognized movie after movie," he said. "I'm a filmmaker - I pay
attention to detail."
Although the quarry was operated by the Union Rock Co. from
about 1903 into the 1920s, there are differences of opinion about the origin of
the cave. Erickson suspects it may have been constructed for the 1922 movie
Hood," starring Douglas Fairbanks.
"You don't drill a 200-foot tunnel when it takes a
half a minute to walk around the hill to get to the tunnel's other side,"
he said. "The tunnel doesn't really go anywhere."
But Griffith Park Ranger Mark Renteria said the cave was
left behind from the rock-mining. And the tunnel's insides went everywhere.
"The rocks were used for everything from roads to
railroad tracks to the breakwater at San Pedro," he said.
Copyright 2003 Los
Most recently Bronson Canyon was used for the made for TV
movie, 'Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam & Burt'