Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

The Penalty - Barbara's Studio

    Dr. Ferris's daughter Barbara is an artist, seen here working on a sculpture in her studio.  The nude model raised few eyebrows in 1920, more than a decade before the industry's Production Code censors would react otherwise, especially (gasp!) when she steps off the dais and walks offscreen.

 

Then ...  The interior above was a movie set but the exterior was real, seen below as Ferris drops off his assistant Wilmot Allen, who has taken a fancy to Barbara, in front of her studio.

... and Now,  in the movie the address was 32 Institute Place, but this is actually 32 Orben Place (map), a narrow street running between California and Pine in the Western Addition's Japantown.

 

Then ...  Judging by the sign, the house was available for rent when the filming took place (the British term 'To Let' was still in use back then).  Dr. Ferris's fine limousine is a symbol of his elevated social status.

... and Now,  Despite changes the entrance of 32 Orben Place has managed to retain a somewhat similar appearance.

   Tangential trivia 1 ... In the 'To Let' sign in the Then image above, the renting company was Madison and Burke at 80 Post Street.  This was a real company, listed in San Francisco's 1920 city directory.

   Tangential trivia 2 ... this restored example of the same limousine model as Dr. Ferris's, a 1917 Packard Twin Six 2-35 All-Weather Landaulet, sold at the 2011 Pebble Beach auction for $192,500.  Compare it to the Then image above - it's identical.  It was powered by a V-12 424 cubic inch engine producing nearly 90 horsepower.  Remember, this was 1917; it hadn't taken the auto industry's engineers long to get into their stride.

 

Then ...  When the limousine pulls away from the studio we see the other half of Orben Place (the cable car heading down California Street helped CitySleuth track down this location).  Another prominent Madison and Burke sign on the right makes CitySleuth wonder if this was an early example of a subliminal ad in a movie?

... and Now,  hard to see from here, but the partially obscured house facing us beyond the stop sign is an example of one that has changed very little over the past century.  On the other hand, cable cars no longer traverse California Street west of Van Ness Avenue.

 

    In the studio, Wilmot (Kenneth Harlan) urges Barbara (Claire Adams), portrayed here at her winsome best, to give up her bohemian ways.  She tells him she will but only after she takes on one last challenge: "...I'm going to do 'Satan - After the fall'... if I fail, I'll marry you".  But if she succeeds? ... it's left unsaid but in the male-centric 1920s this is one lady who won't be pushed around.

   She posts an ad; Blizzard sees it and realizes this is his chance to use her in his revenge plot against Ferris.  He applies, making sure his henchmen scare away the other applicants.

Then ...  When he arrives at the studio Orben Place reminds us that this was the overlap period between horse and horseless transportation.  Despite Barbara's trepidation over his appearance, or perhaps because of it, or even that he was the only applicant, he gets the job.

... and Now,  many but not all of the houses in this neighborhood  have modernized exteriors today.

 

    Who better to pose as Satan than Lon Chaney?  But as fierce as he is while posing he turns on the smiles in the breaks between, gradually charming his way into her good graces.

 

Harold And Maude - "What Have You Done?!"

    Director Hal Ashby must have identified with Alfred Hitchcock's occasional penchant to slip an event into his movies that completely defied logical explanation, what Hitchcock termed a MacGuffin, because he did the same in this scene where Harold and Maude carry out a plan to dissuade Uncle Victor from taking him into the Army.  (Check out this classic MacGuffin in Vertigo)

Then ... "Rat-tat-tat" ... to convey the excitement of battle to Harold, Uncle Victor takes him to the ruins of Sutro Baths where he fervently re-enacts the firefight that cost him his right arm.

... and Now,  this was filmed next to Shipwreck Point, the plateaued area at Point Lobos (map) whence over the decades the curious looked out to many a doomed ship.  The rock face constantly weathers and erodes but its cracks and contours can still be matched up with the image above.

 

 ... circa 1937 ...  Here's a vintage aerial of such a shipwreck, the Ohioan - an arrow points to the plateau.  City history buffs will appreciate the excellent perspective of Sutro Baths as it was and Cliff House at bottom center as it still is.  Note too at left the rip-rapped masonry wall bridging out to Fishermans Rock.  It was removed in the 1980s after one too many fishermen was swept to his death by errant waves.  

... and Now,  the only reminder of the magnificent Baths complex - it burned down in 1966 - are the skeletal foundations, still looking much as Harold and Maude experienced them.

 

Then ... Harold becomes uncontrollably animated, savoring (paraphrasing his words),  "the thrill of the kill, the bayonet, the slitting of throats!" - Uncle Victor is growing increasingly alarmed - "souvenirs of privates, of scalps!"  ...  Just then Harold spots a war-protester waving a peace sign (Maude) and rushes over, loudly berating her as a traitor and a commie pig.

... and Now,  Shipwreck Point still looks the same.  The pedestal and embedded metal anchors at left are remnants of the terminus of the short-lived sky tram that ran from here to the Cliff House from 1955 to 1965.

    This vintage photo shows the Sky Tram approaching the Shipwreck Point terminus.  The waterfall flowing beneath it, pumped from the ocean below, was an added attraction for the tourists.

 

Then ... Harold grabs the sign, brandishing it over his head while he chases Maude across the plateau and down a set of steps (there they are in the image above), closely followed by Uncle Victor waving his good arm in a futile attempt to calm the lad down.

... and Now,  the steps have slowly deteriorated into a dangerous state, now off-limits to visitors.

 

Then ... There's a terrace at the bottom of the steps.

... and Now,  CitySleuth risked life and limb to get the matching shot.  Note that the hole penetrating the rocks at left has been filled in for safety's sake.

 

Then ... A scuffle ensues in a walled corner of the terrace.  That open drain by their feet is about to play its part in the MacGuffin.

... and Now,  this part of the lower deck has crumbled away; click or tap the image to superimpose it, showing exactly where it was.

 

    With a whoosh and a splash Maude suddenly plummets down the drain.  Uncle Victor, horrified, peers into the dark hole...

    ... but all he can see is his reflection rippling within the surface of the water.  "What Have You Done?!", he screams.  Maude is gone; how she ever survived is left to our imagination, and the ruse has worked ... Harold is off the hook.

 

Fog Over Frisco - A Tale Of Two Sisters

    There are two leading ladies in Fog Over Frisco, opposites in every way.  Val Bradford (Margaret Lindsay), daughter of a rich banker, is naive, do-good, eager to please.  Her stepsister Arlene (the young and vivacious Bette Davisis headstrong, rash, a fun-loving risk-taker who thinks only of herself.  As the story unfolds it's interesting to note how the movie's costume and set designers repeatedly reinforce the contrast.

First, through the use of fashion - Val is always well-dressed but sensibly and conservatively.  Arlene prefers trendy outfits that stand out in a crowd.

    In this hilarious juxtaposition Val's propriety is represented by a puritan-style dress whereas Arlene (dare we say it, no bra?) is boldly accented with strips of plaid.

 

    The way each decorates her bedroom is equally telling.  Val's is conventionally old-fashioned with frilly drapes and traditional Asian art touches...

    ... while Arlene's is starkly Art Deco, all the rage in the 1930s, with geometric waves patterned on the closet doors.

 

    The butler brings Arlene a radiogram from a mystery friend about to arrive by ship; she rushes to her bedroom window with binoculars to check out the Embarcadero.

   Such radio-transmitted telegrams were often sent from ship to shore in the 1930s. The header on Arlene's tells us that hers came via the Mackay Radio and Telegraph Company; it would have been delivered in an envelope like this one, an example from 1935.

 

Then ...  she anxiously scans the piers on the waterfront. From right to left are Piers 33, 35, 37 and 39 with Alcatraz and Angel Island in the distance.  This north-facing panorama (part of which was used behind the movie's opening credits) was filmed from the base of Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill (map) but directorial license prevails because, as we will discover in the next post, Arlene Bradford's home was 2 miles away from here.

... and Now,  the matching view below as seen from the top of Coit Tower reveals that only Piers 33 and 35 have survived.  Pier 37 burned down in 1975 and the original Pier 39 was replaced in 1978 by a tacky tourist mall.

 

Fog Over Frisco - Arlene's Secret

Then ... During the movie's opening credits the background shot of waterfront piers with fog-shrouded Angel Island looming in the distance establishes San Francisco as the setting.  It shows Pier 35 (on the right) and Pier 37 as seen from from Telegraph Hill from the base of Coit Tower which had its grand opening on Aug 3, 1933, six months before Fog Over Frisco was filmed (map).

... and Now,  the view from the same spot today is obscured by trees (when will the city trim them?!) but an elevator ride to the top of the tower reveals the view (is that why the trees are never trimmed?).  Pier 35 is still there but Pier 37 has been removed, clearing space for a marina, part of the mishmash retail repurpose of Pier 39 in 1978.

... a vintage photo ...  here's a 1952 photo of the same piers.  This too was taken from the top of Coit Tower. 

 

    And so the movie begins ... Arlene Bradford (Bette Davis) loves and lives the good life.  She introduces her doting fiancé Spencer Carleton (Lyle Talbot) and her stepsister Val Bradford (Margaret Lindsay) to Bello's, her favorite dance club, lighting up the screen when she sweeps in, reveling in the attention.

 

    But she has a secret; she's in on a scheme with club owner Jake Bello to fence stolen bonds.  Not that she needs the money - the very thrill of it all is what turns her on.  While she's in the club Bello slips more bonds into the glove box of her parked car.  (Look at that array of dials!  CitySleuth misses those long-gone days when the world was analog and autos were easy to fix.  Don't you just love the clock in the glove box's door?).

 

    Her fiancé works at her stepfather's bank.  She is using him to illicitly convert the bonds to cash.  Appalled that she's brought another batch, he protests, but melts under a smoldering 10 second cluster of kisses that would never have gotten past the censor but for the movie's release shortly before the 1930s production code was enforced.  Spencer has no chance - how are the smitten fallen!

 

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