Posted by Richard Harland Smith on January 25, 2013
I pulled my copy of Peter Bogdanovich’s TARGETS (1968) the other day as part of a job I was finishing on an upcoming Boris Karloff box set. I’ve seen the movie countless times since I first clapped eyes on it in the mid-80s, having first heard about it a decade earlier in the pages of Denis Gifford’s Karloff: The Man, the Monster, the Movies. I wanted only to check one scene, very quickly, in and out… but I got sucked in. It’s that kind of movie. As I followed the story, set in Hollywood and various points of the San Fernando Valley on the other side of the Hollywood Hills, I started to recognize some landmarks from my day to day travels.
If you know TARGETS, you’ll remember that it’s the story of an aging horror movie actor (Boris Karloff) confronting the horrors of the real world, namely a disturbed young man (Tim O’Kelly) who, driven by some intangible rage, kills his wife and mother and then trains a hunting rifle on a number of passers by, first from atop an oil tank alongside the freeway and then from the screen of a drive-in movie theater. The tale is inspired in part by the killings committed in 1966 by ex-Marine Charles Whitman from atop a clock tower on the campus of the University of Texas. (There had been an incident involving a freeway sniper a year earlier, near Orcutt, California, wounding ten and killing three. The 16 year-old gunman committed suicide before he could be apprehended by the California Highway Patrol.) The two characters cross paths twice in the film, at the beginning and at the end.
At the top of TARGETS, seemingly happy-go-lucky Bobby Thompson (O’Kelly is such a straight arrow type that he was a shoo-in to play Danno in the pilot for HAWAII FIVE-O, though he was replaced by James McArthur when the series went weekly) spots veteran Hollywood boogeyman Byron Orlock (Karloff, in his last good role) from the show room of a Sunset Strip gunshop. He gets the older man in the crosshairs of the hunting rifle he is buying and dry fires. “I’ll take it!” he announces to the shopkeeper, whipping out the family checkbook and exiting the store with his purchase — which he adds to what turns out to be a comprehensive arsenal in the trunk of his Ford Mustang. Then he hits the road. It’s here where I get a little weird.
I can get a little obsessive about movie locations, especially if I know the topography. At a glance, I know that Bobby buys his new rifle at the old Brass Rail gun shop on Sunset Boulevard, just west of La Cienega (near where I lived when I first moved to Los Angeles in 2004). When we next see him, he is on the 405 northbound, meaning he likely followed Sunset all the way to Brentwood and hopped on the freeway there. It’s far from a straight shot, requiring Bobby to head south by southwest in order to go north by northwest; I would have gone over the hills at Coldwater Canyon or Beverly Glen but, hey, we all know Bobby ain’t right and he does seem to have a lot of free time. He then drives north on the 405 through the Sepulveda Pass, with the San Fernando Valley coming into view through his windshield. That dark office building off to the right marks Sherman Oaks and the intersection of Sepulveda and Ventura Boulevards. In 1980, the Sherman Oaks Galleria would open on that spot and be a location for such films as FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982), NIGHT OF THE COMET (1984), CHOPPING MALL (1986), INNER SPACE (1987), and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991).
Bobby gets off the freeway in Van Nuys, the Sherman Way West exit. This happens to be the exit I use to bring my son to gymnastics on Saturday mornings. It was interesting to note how unchanged the offramp looks…
Just over Bobby’s right shoulder you can see the old Sepulveda Drive-In, which is not (IMDb be damned) the drive-in seen in the movie (even Bogdanovich makes this mistake in his audio commentary for the TARGETS disc). The Sepulveda Drive-In opened for business in 1955 and closed for good in 1989. It’s a parking lot now.
Hanging a right off the freeway exit, Bobby should be on Sherman Way West, pointed towards Reseda but…
… when we cut to inside the car he is somewhere else entirely. The narrowness of the street and the absence of palm trees tells me it’s not the supersized Sherman Way and that we have made an unexpected time jump to a point slightly later in Bobby’s trajectory. I don’t count this wrinkle as a “goof,” I just note this discrepancy as a resident of the Valley and offer it for the amusement of anyone else who might love TARGETS as much as I do appreciate the distinction.
Bobby rounds another corner and magically he is on Reseda Boulevard, about four miles from the Sherman Way West offramp. Again, this is an odd choice for a local, as the right thing would have been to follow the 101 West at its intersection with the 405 and to get off on Reseda Boulevard. But. You know. I know you know and you know I know. I am, as the kids will tell you, just sayin.’ The Reseda Drive-In is long gone, too. Opened in 1949, it was demolished at some point in the mid-70s.
Passing the drive-in on his left (at the northwest corner of Reseda and Vanowen), Bobby hangs another right…
… and ends up I don’t know where. It’s a cute little neighborhood, could be anywhere in the San Fernando Valley (where Bogdanovich remembers it being). Ultimately, Bobby pulls up in front of his house…
… gets out of the car and goes inside. Man oh man, I want to know where this is. All we know is that the street number is 6309. The movie tells us Bobby and his family live in Reseda. In fact, they even provide us with an actual street address …
… 824 Linda Flora, Reseda. Trouble is, there’s no such address. There is a Linda Flora Drive in Los Angeles, but it’s a curvy street coiled up in the Hollywood Hills, in Bel Air, not down in the Valley. I’d love to know where this was, and if it’s still standing. [ADDENDUM: I've since put put on the scent of a house that very well may be the one we see here. Though Bogdanovich refers it in his audio commentary as "a house out in the Valley," it seems it may have been owned by none other than Boris Karloff himself. Because the structure is a private residence, I won't print the actual address; I will say that it's in Van Nuys, off Sepulveda, and not so far from another of the film's locations.]
It sure seems like a nice house. Okay, so… after Bobby kills his wife and mother, he sets off to shoot some “pigs.” That task takes him…
… back through the heart of the Valley. I don’t know where this is, in particular, except that he’s headed south — you can see the San Gabriel Mountains in the smoggy distance behind him. It could be Reseda Boulevard still but also any north-south boulevards in that vicinity. The billboard behind him (presumably for a development of some kind) instructs travelers to take a left on Devonshire, which is several miles north of where Bobby ought to be, realistically. In this neck of the woods, he buys more ammo and heads for…
… the tanks. We had seen these Chevron gasoline storage tanks earlier in the film, just something Bobby looked at as he drove himself home from Hollywood. Arguably TARGETS’ most easily recognized location, the tanks sit off the 405 at Oxnard Street. They’re still there, though you’d scarcely notice them. They look 200 feet tall in the film, like the top o’the world Cody Jarret is screaming about at the end of WHITE HEAT (1949) — though that was filmed at the Shell Oil Plant in San Pedro.
It is from this vantage point (looking back up the 405, southward, with the Sepulveda Pass visible in the center) that Bobby’s short-lived reign of terror begins. Actually, branding it “short-lived” makes what occurs sound insignificant but, again, if you’ve seen TARGETS you can appreciate how absolutely devastating these events are, in the lives of people we have come to meet and in the lives of people we don’t meet at all, whom we just see die.
The undeveloped land you see on the far side of the freeway is part of the Sepulveda Basin, a wildlife preserve and flood control facility that is mostly unchanged to this day. The end credit sequence for THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE EIGHT DIMENSION (1984) was filmed at the actual dam down the road a piece and to the west.
Chased away from his perch by the attention of the police (or, it could be argued, his mounting paranoia), Bobby leaves the tanks, crossing through a very interesting area of what seem to be discarded theme park pieces or movie set components. It’s an odd hodgepodge of structures with a vaguely Tex-Mex feel. In his audio commentary for TARGETS, Bogdanovich maintained these things were already there, clustered in the lot below the tanks. I did some research into Van Nuys area theme parks and came up empty-handed. If any longtime residents can shed any light on this particular mystery, make yourself heard!
Bobby wheels through the Valley one last time, keeping an eye on his rear view mirror, picking up a squad car tail and ducking out inside the Reseda Drive-In, which has almost been beckoning to him since the movie started.
TARGETS ends here, for all intents and purposes, though not before a long night of violence, horror, and heartache. It rarely is included in assessments of that watershed movie year of 1968 but TARGETS is no less devastating (I keep using that word but I can think of none other that so aptly sums up the gutpunch effect) than PLANET OF THE APES, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, ROSEMARY’S BABY or NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and its tale of terror slots entirely within the realm of the possible. The film works as a time capsule, preserving as it does the last truly great Karloff performance and showing us a view of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley that is both different and strangely the same. It also preserves (as if we were afraid we might run out) a portrait of humanity at its loneliest and hopeless, personified in the character of Bobby, a nice boy from the suburbs who seemed to have everything going for him.
The final shot says it all.
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