Kansas City landmarks, past and present, on the silver screen.
Ever since George Curtiss aimed his lens at the corner of 9th and Main in 1897, Kansas City locations have appeared in the movies.
These days, filmmakers seeking the Midwestern vibe typified by Kansas or Missouri head for Michigan, Louisiana or Canada due to aggressive tax incentives.
“Capote” used Manitoba for western Kansas, and a recent movie about Kansas City’s “lost boys of Sudan” is faking Cowtown in Atlanta.
The recent reinstatement of the Kansas City Film Commission and a push for tax incentives in the Kansas and Missouri legislatures aim to bring movie-making business back to both states, which will never happen without tax breaks.
Until then, here’s a sampling of movies that featured the metro area.
“The Delinquents” (1957)
Robert Altman’s first film features pre-“Billy Jack” Tom Laughlin as a youth under pressure by delinquent peers. Existing locations include the Loose Park rose garden, the neighborhood at Huntington Road and Summit and the Jackson Square police headquarters.
Two great locations that no longer exist are Allen’s Drive-In restaurant at 89th and State Line and the expansive Crest Drive-In Theater at 11400 South 71 Highway in Hickman Mills.
“In Cold Blood” (1967)
This adaptation of Truman Capote’s account of the Clutter murders in Holcomb, Kan., mixes stark police procedural with florid, overwrought psycho-drama, realized in stunning black and white by Conrad Hall.
Dick and Perry’s pre-crime rendezvous in Kansas City begins at the old downtown bus station and later features the corner of Ridgeview and Santa Fe, where the Hotel Olathe stood.
Both structures are long gone.
“Prime Cut” (1972)
The West Bottoms and stockyards are featured in this wonderfully sleazy tale of a Chicago mob enforcer (Lee Marvin) tangling with a Kansas meat-packing crime lord (Gene Hackman).
Its scenes of human trafficking (nude women doped and captive in cattle pens) still pack a punch, and a chase through the Douglas County Fair climaxes with Marvin and Sissy Spacek being pursued through a wheat field by a malevolent combine.
This movie is a total time capsule featuring a long-gone strip of business in downtown KC. Fred Williamson, Pam Grier and Carl Weathers form “The Black Attack Pack” against corrupt white cops. Exteriors show the explosion of neon that was old 12th and Wyandotte featuring the Rasbach Hotel (with the New Orleans Room) and bar fronts of The Pal Joey, Pink Door, Speak Easy and The Can Can. If I only had a time machine.
“Mr. and Mrs. Bridge” (1990)
Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward lead an exceptional cast in Merchant-Ivory’s icy pageant of repression among the Mission Hills elite. The film’s beauty is undercut by it glacial pace and emotional hopelessness. The Bridges' house can be off Swope Park on 54th Street, and other locations include Drexel Hall at 33rd and Baltimore, the sleek, modern mansion at 65th and State Line as well as the Jackson County Courthouse. A bank in the film has become the downtown public library, and its vault is now a screening room.
“Article 99” (1992)
Filmed almost entirely at the now-demolished St. Mary’s Hospital, Howard Deutsch’s well-intentioned story of a V.A. hospital in crisis plays more like a leaden TV movie, despite a cast featuring Ray Liotta, Kiefer Sutherland and Forest Whitaker.
The most impressive visual features the Liberty Memorial, its grounds transformed into a military cemetery with perfectly arranged grave markers.
“Kansas City” (1994)
Dismissed by audiences and critics upon its release, Robert Altman’s love letter to Kansas City jazz during the Pendergast era deserves to be seen again and taken on its own slice-of-life terms.
Much of the exterior art direction remains in the 18th and Vine district, and the work in the then-shuttered Union Station arguably played a role in starting the movement to renovate and reopen the historic landmark. Interiors at the Kansas City, Kan., Granada Theater (now a church) and the now-gone Ship cocktail lounge create memorable impressions of bygone days.
Mitch Brian teaches screenwriting and film studies at UMKC and appears with Jason Heck as THE DVD GURUS on KCUR’s “Up To Date” with Steve Kraske. Archived shows can be found at KCUR/UpToDate.org