Richard Neutra’s client for this project, Dr Lovell, a medical professional who promoted healthy living and exercise as a means to wellbeing, would probably be horrified to see his ‘Health House’ turned into a den for dapper drug baron and porn king Pierce Patchett in 1997’s feature film LA Confidential.
For the most part the scenes filmed at the house could have been replicated on a sound stage. We do get to see the Ford automobile headlights Neutra famously recessed into the stair balustrade, but the interior scenes don’t take advantage of the interesting interplay of spaces however the exterior of the house is used to great advantage. The unusual street frontage, with white linear concrete where Patchett (David Strathairn) is questioned by rouge police officer Bud White, (Russell Crowe) is the first clue we have of Patchett’s madate – he is embracing of new technology and with slightly subversive taste, he considers himself outside the normal rules of convention. Later in the film we find out how he applies a more sinister application of these principles to his professional dealings.
The unusualness of this house at the time it was built cannot be understated. The use of structural steel frame and sprayed concrete was a first in the United States and brought Neutra international acclaim.
Patchett’s house is only described very briefly in James Ellroys book on which the film is based. The stream of consciousness describes the house as ‘a big Spanish mansion: all pink, lots of tile’ and is actually the kind of house that Neutra’s designs were competing with at the time the Lovell House was built. The production team’s use of this edgier building is a clever device used to bring the complex interwoven novel to a 138 min timeframe. It is like shorthand to Ellroys monologue. When we see Patchett retreating behind his motorized garage door we are also told more about him than the dialogue has revealed. We can also be thankful that the screenwriters deviated from the book when it came to the building’s fate - Ellroy has Patchets house burning to the ground.
The house was also featured (although not half so nicely) in Beginners, starring Ewan McGregor.
The Lovell House is a private residence on Dundee Dr, Los Feliz