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Lights! Camera! San Francisco!

Lights! Camera! San Francisco!

 

Due to the city’s bay views and ocean vistas, majestic bridges and rich history, many visitors have left their hearts in San Francisco, and just as many filmmakers have come here looking for them. The Golden Gate Bridge alone has drawn some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, everyone from George of the Jungle to the Hulk; and San Francisco’s City Hall has entertained visits from both Dirty Harry and James Bond. You’ll hear about The Rock, its Birdman, and even how to Escape From Alcatraz if you tour this world-famous former prison. Recent visitors have looked for the hidden rooms seen on the hit television series named for the site, but those exist only in the imagination of the show’s producers. One of the most fun things to do in San Francisco is to act like a movie scout, and track down the famous film locations for your camera. Here’s a start.

Night and Fog

Thanks to its use in pulp fiction and film noir, San Francisco has often been the setting of shadowy scenes such as in the 1941 film adaptation of The Maltese Falcon. Though mostly shot in Hollywood, the location of Brigid O’Shaughnessy’s fateful encounter with Sam Spade’s partner Miles Archer is commemorated with a plaque at the entrance to Burritt Alley at Bush Street, just a half-block from the street named for the original novel’s author, Dashiell Hammett.

 

Undoubtedly, the film most famously associated with San Francisco is Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo.  Atop Nob Hill sits the Brocco Bank building at 555 California St., Kim Novak’s posh residence in the film; the nearby address of the seedy SRO hotel where James Stewart later finds her is now the stylish Hotel Vertigo, renamed in honor of the film. Vertigo even inspired a parody in High Anxiety by director and star Mel Brooks. Guests at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco will recognize the hotel’s glass elevators from a key scene in the movie, but hopefully will have a less terrifying experience with them than the film’s protagonist. At the very least they won’t encounter Jack the Ripper staying there, as H. G. Welles did in Time After Time.

Dangerous Dialogue

Generally the most innocuous of settings, San Francisco’s Union Square could seem sinister if one is inclined to eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations and then overhears a murder plot, as Gene Hackman does in The Conversation. Even after undergoing a major redesign at the millennium, the square is still easily recognizable from the film. Union Square seems an unlikely locale to inspire fear, although Tippi Hedren does pass through on her way to Bodega Bay in Hitchcock’s The Birds. The birds in San Francisco are generally much better behaved, as seen in The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. Stroll down the Filbert Street stairs leading down from Coit Tower, and you might spot them. Of course, even such an idyllic spot is not so serene if you’re being chased by aliens, like Donald Sutherland and company were in 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

 

For an upscale neighborhood, Pacific Heights has more than its share of dangerous goings-on, lending its name to the title of the 1989 thriller, starring Michael Keaton, Matthew Modine, and Melanie Griffith, but not, however, the address of the house the three occupy, which is actually at 1243 19th St. in Potrero Hill. The neighborhood is better represented by 2800 Scott St., where Joan Crawford lives with her murderous husband Jack Palance in Sudden Fear, and by 2930 Vallejo St., Sharon Stone’s home in Basic Instinct. 

The Streets of San Francisco

Stone’s co-star in Basic Instinct, Michael Douglas did his drinking at North Beach’s Tosca and had a more modest apartment at 1158 Montgomery St., not his first fictional residence in the city by the Bay; he occupied 287 Union St. in the iconic 1970s TV series, Streets of San Francisco, which co-starred Karl Malden. The city has been home to numerous TV series, including Checkmate, Phyllis, Full House, and Monk, all of which used recognizable San Francisco landmarks in their opening title sequences, but were largely filmed elsewhere. That didn’t stop millions of viewers from becoming visitors after seeing Alamo Square’s famous row of Painted Ladies, where Ted Knight and his family lived in Too Close for Comfort.

 

Some series, like Midnight Caller, Nash Bridges, and Trauma, filmed in and around San Francisco, the latter two making special use of Treasure Island. But no other show ever made as extensive a use of a San Francisco address as Season 3 of MTV’s The Real World, the cast of which lived for several weeks on the block of Lombard Street that’s known as the crookedest street in the world. The choice of San Francisco as one of the early locales in this forerunner of reality TV was probably a good indicator of the direction the burgeoning TV genre would take.

 

—By J. Eric Miller
A long-time resident of San Francisco, J. Eric Miller continues to seek out the unusual, delicious, bargain-priced, and terrific things the city has to offer.

 

 


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