It's the 1940s. Let's take a drive!

You've seen the special effect in countless old movies. A couple, riding in a car that's obviously a studio prop while background footage is projected behind them as in this still from the 1945 feature film "Detour."

Historians treasure these so-called process plates. They are time capsules, preserving the past as unintended documentaries.

The footage below appears in "Shockproof", a 1949 film noir classic directed by Douglas Sirk for Columbia as Cornel Wilde drives off with Patricia Knight from her crib at 507 Second Street. They turn down Grand Avenue, up Fifth, then east on Flower Street to First.

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The setting is L.A.'s Bunker Hill, once a neighborhood of spectacular Victorian mansions perched on a rise above downtown Los Angeles, demolished for urban renewal beginning in the 1950s. Once the city's grandest neighborhood, Bunker Hill's decline into decay inspired countless film noir dramas and literary works by Raymond Chandler, John Fonte, Charles Bukowski and others. Here's a taste of that rich legacy in a short segment I produced for KUSC's "Arts Alive" program.

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Bunker Hill, photograph by George Mann

Bunker Hill, photograph by George Mann

Check out the Los Angeles Visisionaries Association for more on photographer George Mann's Bunker Hill, and thanks to film historian John Bengston for documenting the route of this clip, and to the Internet Archive for rescuing this snapshot of 1940s street life in the City of Angels.