Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

The Laughing Policeman - Kay Butler's Apartment

  Jake has no idea why his partner Detective Dave Evans had been caught in the bus massacre.  He drives across town to ask Kay Butler, Evans' live-in girlfriend.

Then ...  The drive through Russian Hill gives us a glimpse of the passing neighborhood.

... and Now,  he was heading south on Leavenworth, passing this building at the northeast corner of Lombard.  But what are those tourists gawking at? (map).

... ah yes, by far the most visited street block in the city.  Or could it be they are all looking up at the apartment where Jack Palance's character lived in the 1952 noir movie Sudden Fear?   OK, that's highly unlikely but just in case, CitySleuth points it out for their benefit.

 

Then ...  Still on Leavenworth, this is three blocks further along, between Union and Green.

... and Now,  over 40 years have elapsed but the same block, where MacCondray Lane tees off to the left, hasn't changed.

 

Then ...  Again traveling south on Leavenworth but this cut jumps back to the northeast corner of Greenwich.

... and Now,  the same building today.  On the right Greenwich dips down to North Beach then swoops up to Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill.

 

Then ...  In her apartment Kay Butler (Cathy Lee Crosby) grieves over her boyfriend's death.  The north-facing view towards the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County was all CitySleuth needed to deduce the location.

... and Now,  this scene was filmed in the top floor apartment at 2768 Green Street near Baker in the Cow Hollow neighborhood (map).  CitySleuth has not been able to access that apartment for matching photos but he was able to take almost identical views from the one immediately below it.

 

    Here's a recent look at 2768 Green.  The top floor apartment is the upper structure at the rear of the building with the clapboard siding.

 

Then ...  Kay isn't able to shed any light on why Evans had called in sick at work or why he might have been on the bus.  In this shot the wider view includes the domed Palace Of Fine Arts.

... and Now,  the same view taken from the apartment downstairs - the Palace gleams even more after a 2009 seismic and cosmetic restoration.

 

    Talk about Rooms With A View!  This satellite image includes the apartment (arrowed), now with even bigger picture windows than those seen in the movie.  The large building on the right is the Russian Consulate on the corner of Baker Street.

 

The House Across The Bay - The House

    After watching her husband transported under guard across the bay to Alcatraz Brenda decides to stay in San Francisco and wait for his release.  She looks for a place with a view of the prison and comes across a promising ad.

 

Then ...  Don't be fooled by that address in the ad.  There's no such place.  Instead, let CitySleuth explain the trickery used by the moviemakers to represent this, 'The House Across The Bay'.  First, we get this glimpse of the top floor apartment in a later scene in the movie ...

... and Now,  this is 301 Lombard Street in Telegraph Hill where Telegraph Hill Boulevard begins winding its way up to the parking lot at the base of Coit Tower (map).  The house is still there today, hardly changed.

 

Then ...  The owner shows Brenda around the apartment.  The window view looks east towards Yerba Buena Island and part of the Bay Bridge roadway is seen to its right.  But the apartment interiors were filmed on a studio soundstage using a photograph or painted backdrop to represent the view.  Note too (as pointed out by an alert reader) that sunlight is pouring in from the north (duh!).  What's more, this isn't the view from the real 301 Lombard ...

... in 1950 ...  The movie Woman On The Run includes a scene filmed in 1950 at the circular perimeter of the Coit Tower parking lot which shows the same Yerba Buena Island view.  The image used for the apartment scene above was taken at this location to capitalize on the higher elevation.

... and Now,  Why show this view from the other movie?  Because, from the same spot now Yerba Buena Island and the surrounding panorama is completely hidden by tree growth.  City management doesn't seem to realize that an occasional arboreal haircut is all that's needed to completely restore the surrounding breathtaking vistas for the benefit of the 200,000 folks who visit here each year.

 

Then ...  The next room looks out to the north and Brenda is stopped in her tracks by the sight of Alcatraz ... this is the place for her!  For this studio view projected background footage filmed at the Coit Tower parking lot was used.  At far left is part of Belvedere island and the two piers down on the Embarcadero are Pier 41 at bottom left and next to it Pier 39 as it was long before being replaced by today's tourist complex.

... and Now,  here's a recent matching shot of that same view from the Coit Tower parking lot just visible, for now anyway, above the trees  (but only if you stand tippy-toes on the perimeter wall).  Absent those trees both piers, since demolished and rebuilt, would also be visible from here.

 

... from a vintage photo ...  This 1952 photo taken from the top of Coit Tower (210 feet higher than the parking lot) shows, from left to right, piers 41, 39, 37 and 35.  It happens to capture Brenda's window view in the top left quadrant and also 'The House Across The Bay' itself at 301 Lombard Street (arrowed at bottom left).  Clearly the views from the actual house would be far less impressive and the house opposite, built in the 1920s, would block its view of the piers anyway.

... and Now,  the same view today reveals changes on the waterfront.  Pier 41 at far left is smaller than it was, rebuilt as a ferry terminal.  Pier 39 has been developed into a tourist sprawl and Pier 37 disappeared to make way for the Pier 39 marina.  Only pier 35 remains as it was.  'The House' too is still there but out of sight just below the bottom of the frame - most of the houses around it are also there today.

 

The Conversation - A Breakthrough

Then ...  Back at his workshop Caul continues to tweak the recorded conversation.  He's particularly frustrated by one garbled comment that he can't quite make out but after running it through a customized filter, bingo! ... the words suddenly become coherent.

... and Now,  this location, Suite 360, 1616 16th Street in Potrero Hill, has been described in detail in an earlier post.  In the matching shot today at the back corner of the Dara Rosenfeld Design studio the two major alterations are the partitioning wall incongruously terminating mid-window and the earthquake-protecting steelwork.

 

    In his mind's eye he pictures the moment as he hears the words ... "He'll kill us if he got the chance".  His worst fears are realized; the lives of this young couple are in danger!  (Watch the scene here).

 

Then ...  What to do?  He's consumed with guilt and so, a practicing catholic, he seeks the confessional to tell the priest he has sinned, he has put lives at risk and what's more not for the first time.

... and Now,  this was filmed in St. Patrick Church at 757 Mission Street (map).  We see in this recent matching photo that Caul's confessional is still in the same spot but Saints Rita, Therese and Anne have reversed their positions after moving along one pillar to make way for the mounted loudspeakers.

 

    The English Gothic styled church faces Yerba Buena Gardens.  St. Patrick was founded in 1851 but this building dates to 1914.  Dwarfed as it is by the Art Deco styled 'Jukebox' Marriott Marquis Hotel and other high-rises the once-majestic exterior now looks at best forlorn and at worst completely incongruous.

 

The House Across The Bay - A Harsh Sentence

   Steve Larwitt (George Raft), known in the press as the King of Broadway, has clawed his way up from humble East Side New York origins to become the wealthy owner of nightclubs, gambling dens and more.  He has just married Brenda Bentley (Joan Bennett), one of his chorus girls; everything looks rosy until a fellow racketeer tries to bump him off.  It's a near miss and Brenda is convinced they will try again.

 

    She has a plan - she knows the IRS are investigating her husband's personal finances and she also knows he's been short-changing them.  She quizzes their crooked lawyer Slant Kolma (Lloyd Nolan) to find out what sort of sentence he might get if caught.  When he tells her "Some dough and one year in prison ... max",  she figures the trade-off is worth it to keep him safely out of harm's way.  So she quietly mails some incriminating evidence ...

 

   The New York footage was primarily interior scenes filmed at a Southern California studio but two exterior shots were used to set the location ...

Then ...  Larwitt's stomping ground was seen in this night-time view looking south down Broadway towards Times Square from W. 49th St (map).  The swanky Yoeng's Chinese-American dining and dancing place (formerly Churchill's) is at far right at 1609 Broadway and two blocks down, on the corner of W. 47th St. at 1579 Broadway, is the Strand Theatre.  Partially visible at upper left of center is the vertical Loew's State Theatre sign at 1540 Broadway.

... and Now,  it's no surprise that three quarters of a century later such an entertainment mecca would bear little resemblance to its former self.  Yoeng's, the Strand and Loew's State Theatres are long gone.

 

Then ...  Larwitt takes Brenda and Slant for a day out at the races.  While he's watching the action from the grandstand two G-men show up from the FBI to pull him in on tax evasion charges.

... and Now,  obviously the director just used some handy stock footage because this is the Santa Anita race track in Arcadia, California, the nation's first horse-racing track (it opened on Christmas Day, 1934).  In this recent photo taken at a summer concert the left end of the grandstand is the same section as in the Then image above.  The grandstand has over the years been significantly upgraded and extended to almost 300 yards in length.

... from a vintage postcard ...  this postcard image shows the grandstand as it was back in 1940 when the movie was released. A pedestrian footbridge (also visible in the Then image above) can just be seen linking the grandstand to the adjacent Clubhouse on the left.

 

   At the trial he is sentenced to ten years at Alcatraz and Brenda is furious when she realizes Slant had deliberately bungled the defense because he was in love with her and wanted Larwitt out of the way.

 

The Laughing Policeman - Jake Martin's Residence

Then ...  After spending all night investigating the crime scene Jake drives home to catch up on some sleep.  He lives at 156 Robinhood Drive in the city's Sherwood Forest, a tiny neighborhood gem of winding streets on undulating hills just south of Mt. Davidson (map).

... and Now,  in this view down the same street today it has changed very little, other than window upgrades and a lone home down the block with a second story.  The Alameda County shoreline is seen from here across San Francisco Bay.  CitySleuth almost got lost finding his way through the maze of streets but was relieved to find he was not alone - none other than Herb Caen had the same experience, as recounted by this article in which Robinhood Drive gets many a mention.

 

Then ...  The panning camera paints a view of the home's exterior as it follows him entering the enclosed garden that leads to the front door.

... and Now,  156 Robinhood Drive has been repainted, there are different garage doors and brick posts now flank a metal gate, but it's basically as it was more than 40 years ago.

 

Then ...  Jake isn't in much of a mood to talk to his wife (Shirley Ballard), in fact the viewer senses there's not a lot of communication between them, but he does share the news of his partner's murder. 

... and Now,  with the exception of the modern kitchen appliances the same cabinets and countertops take us on a 1970s time warp.

 

Then ...  His alarm awakens him the next morning and we see he doesn't share the same bed with his wife.  He may not be awake enough to appreciate the fine view through the window but we certainly do.

... and Now,  from the same room the view remains a constant.

 

Then ...  He carries his morning cup of joe out to the patio and contemplates the collapsed barbecue that he evidently has no interest in or no time for fixing.

... and Now,  several changes are evident here.  French doors have replaced the windows of the living room and the concrete patio has been covered with a redwood deck.  And, the home next door has been remodeled or replaced.

 

Then ...  A hot cup of coffee in hand, breezes from the Pacific Ocean off to the right, San Francisco Bay on the left, a panorama spread out before him ... his job may be unforgiving but he can be forgiven for enjoying these small pleasures.

... and Now,  the vista looks across San Francisco's southern neighborhoods towards San Bruno Mountain;  Daly City is over to the right.

 

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