During last year’s TCM Classic Film Festival I was supposed to take the TCM On Locations Tour of Los Angeles. Unfortunately a flat tire left the rest of the group and myself from taking the tour. So, during my recent vacation to Los Angeles I figured it would be the perfect time to finally take the TCM tour. I hop on the bus to give you everything you need to know to make a decision about whether the TCM On Locations Tour in Los Angeles is for you.
Operated by Starline Tours, the TCM On-Locations Tour is about what you should expect from a big tour company that has classic film sponsorship. There is an awareness of classic cinema; Ben Mankiewicz has several filmed intros that play at certain points. You can expect to see clips from classic films like The Miracle Woman (1931), The Music Box (1932), and A Muddy Romance (1913), but the emphasis is on more modern films, by the standards of TCM fans. So you should equally expect to hear more about Blade Runner (1982), Pretty Woman (1991), and The Fast and the Furious (2001). The modern movies didn’t necessarily bother me, though it is funny that TCM has filmed segments only for the classics despite the inclusion of movies that would never air on the channel. I certainly understood the need to make this as relatable to fans of films from all walks of life.
I took my tour on a Wednesday afternoon. For an additional fee the Starline folks will pick you up from your hotel and drop you off which is great for those who aren’t experts in the area and/or don’t want to use Uber or Lyft. I was actually dropped off at my hotel in the big TCM bus, pretty cool. The tour ordinarily meets at the TCL Chinese forecourt but any events will force people to meet at the Starline offices near the Pantages Theatre, which is where I met the group. If this is the case, expect a bit of a hike from the offices to the Boulevard proper. Our group was only four people – myself, my mom, and a couple, so if you can strike it right you might just have the whole bus to yourself. Because Hollywood Blvd was closed we also didn’t get to see the TCL Chinese Theater or the Roosevelt, so if those are stops you enjoy you might want to plan around scheduled events.
But I do believe this small group did equate to a downturn in service. Our tour guide – whose name was only said once the entire time and I didn’t catch, possibly as a means of covering for any errors – loudly revealed to our driver that he was a last-minute replacement for the regular guide. He made no attempt to hide the fact he “hadn’t done this in awhile,” leading to an inability to play clips at the right time and a focus on reading trivia from a printed sheet. I found myself correcting him several times before I eventually just stopped. Want an example of his lack of knowledge? He referred to the Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman film “Eight.” Pretty sure they haven’t added a deadly sin after the initial seven. All of this I could kinda understand, even though this is, again, meant to be a tour for classic film buffs. Our guide also had a tendency to bring up politics, something I doubt he would have done had the group been larger. He also felt the need to bring up Harvey Weinstein while talking about Fattie Arbuckle, dropping in a brief show of support for Weinstein that made me just want to flee the bus entirely.
As I mentioned before, I doubt these issues would have happened with a larger group. It’s unfortunate that I probably chose the wrong day to visit. But there are some fun things to see, especially during the tour’s two scheduled stops. We got a brief moment to see the Bradbury Building, utilized in the likes of Blade Runner and 2011’s The Artist. I’ve been to Los Angeles a lot, but never downtown L.A. so it was wonderful to be awestruck by the ornate, wrought-iron elevators and the seemingly endless staircases. We also took a turn around Union Station, used in the likes of Gangster Squad (2013) and 1950’s Union Station, although there it stood in for a different location. You get a chance to look at the central area where filming takes place, as well as grab a quick snack and hit the bathrooms. Outside of that it often felt like we were driving a lot, more so because our guide wasn’t very personable than anything else.
Despite the tour being great for the handicapped – wheelchair users can stay in their chairs and get onto both the hotel shuttles, the tour bus, as well as the two pit stops – I never felt it justified the cost I paid. Maybe had we come with a bigger group and been given the original guide things would have been better. Classic film buffs will be disappointed by this, and they’ll easily know more about what they’re seeing. Another tour I took the next day, which a review is coming for soon, ended up satiating me better than this one did. Hopefully the folks at TCM can call up Starline and make some changes.
Learn more about the TCM On Locations Tour at the official website.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.