Another reel of mystery film from the National Archives. Shot over at least two nights in downtown Chicago, it shows stores, cars, people and the lights of the theatre district. Then there’s the shots of a man walking along a sidewalk, which are very similar to (though not the same as) a scene in Pare Lorentz’s 1940 film THE FIGHT FOR LIFE (
Regardless of its original purpose, it seemed to cry out for the film-noir treatment. So, some period titles, and bluesy music track and voila. Of course, there’s no plot, and the continuity is bad, but it’s just waiting for an hard-bitten private-eye voiceover.
Some shot notes:
0:00 The opening (and closing) shot is taken on Michigan Avenue looking north to the brilliantly-lit Wrigley Building. A scrolling sign advertising the Union Pacific Railroad touts their six streamliners to the San Francisco world’s fair.
0:19 Our well-dressed cigarette-smoking hero appears, walking past shop windows. At 0:39, he passes a Walgreen’s. At 0:54, he passes a Capehart radio showroom. If you were rich in the 1930’s, you owned a Capehart. These are the shots that are like THE FIGHT FOR LIFE. (Thanks to YouTuber Adam Ali for spotting this!)
1:11 We’re in the theatre district now. Our hero is forgotten, never to reappear.
1:24 The Balaban-Katz Apollo theatre is showing THE GORILLA, a mostly-forgotten comedy-thriller with the Ritz Brothers. It came out in May 1939. The theatre, on Randolph street, was demolished in 1949. (Thanks to YouTuber WayOutWardell for the theatre information!)
1:36 A Chicago native should be able to identify this location easily.
1:48 Another unknown location.
1:57 Marshall Field’s.
2:18 Looking north to the Wrigley Building again.
2:59 Bonus shot (after the credits): More Marshall Field’s.
If you see some additional period detail, leave a comment and I’ll include it in this description.
The Miles Davis music is from Louis Malle’s 1958 film L’ASCENSEUR POUR L’ECHAFAUD (variously titled ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS, LIFT TO THE SCAFFOLD and FRANTIC in English). You can see the music in its original context here:

More info on Chicago at Night, 1939

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