Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

I Remember Mama - Uncle Chris Comes To Town

   Uncle Chris, The de facto head of the family,  drives down from his ranch a couple of times a year to visit Mama and family.

Then ...  A closeup of the Ferry Building clock tower announces his arrival in the city.

... and Now,  a sense of survival prompted CitySleuth not to stand in the identical spot to duplicate this shot;  the docking slip from whence it was filmed has been demolished.  From the nearest dry spot behind the Ferry Building this is close enough (map).  Note that in the movie there's some sort of temporary cover shrouding the topmost cupola.


Then ...  The camera makes a rapid pan from the tower to the incoming ferry where we see Uncle Chris's car at the head of the line.  But note the dreadful lack of historical accuracy - no effort has been made to hide the Bay Bridge, completed in 1936, even though the story is set in 1910.  There are more accuracy faux pas here; the ferryboat is the Sierra Nevada, not built until 1913; what's more it wasn't converted to an auto ferry until 1947.

... and Now,  the docking slip above has been demolished since the bridge opened.  In this recent photo the ferry Mendocino is berthed at the adjacent Golden Gate Ferry Terminal.


Then ...  Uncle Chris and his traveling companion roll off the ferry in his horseless carriage ahead of the horse-drawn cart, already a dying breed.

... a vintage photo ...  here's the Sierra Nevada at the Ports Of Call Village in San Pedro where it spent its final years as a tourist attraction before succumbing to its worst fear, sinking in a 1978 storm.


Then ...  The Embarcadero bustles with activity as Uncle Chris drives past the Ferry Building and through the throng .  This time history is respected - either the Bay Bridge has been painted out in the center background, replaced by ships' masts, or a pre-bridge skyline was used.

... and Now,  the bridge's roadway span can clearly be seen in the background from here.  The building with the gabled red roof structure sitting atop it is the Embarcadero YMCA.  It's visible in the movie view above but the gabled part is missing. 


Then ...  But in the next shot where Uncle Chris spooks a passing horse we do see the gabled structure on the Y. This time the moviemakers used a contemporaneous 1940s skyline but, in deference to the story, painted out the bridge. 

... in 1945 ... and in case you were wondering what the unretouched skyline looked like when the movie was filmed, here it is - bridge, YMCA, and all - brought closer by telephoto lens in a scene from the 1945 movie The Falcon In San Francisco.


I Remember Mama - First and Foremost

    Mama and Papa Hanson (Irene Dunne and Philip Dorn) are Norwegian immigrants bringing up their family in 1910 San Francisco.  Every week they sit down in their modest home with their four children and Mama carefully divides the meager family income between the household expenses.  "Is good", she would then say ... "we do not have to go to the bank", greeted all around by smiles; once again they have scraped by.


    The eldest daughter Katrin (Barbara Bel Geddes) had always dreamed of becoming a successful writer.  In a flashforward she has just completed her first manuscript, a story about her own family.  She reads aloud ... "For as long as I could remember, the house on the Larkin Street hill had been home"...  then she describes each family member, concluding with... "But first and foremost, I remember Mama".   (On a trivia note the original book 'Mama's Bank Account' had the house on Castro Street and in the play it was on Steiner Street).


Then ...  The view from her attic window, above, looks out through the fog to the Ferry building and waterfront but was it taken from Larkin Street?  No way.

Then ...  more of the same view is seen later as Mama hangs out the washing on her balcony.

Then ...  and the part of the view obscured by the washing on the right hand side, above, is revealed  from inside the house, below.

... a vintage photo ...  So where was the window view taken from?  This vintage postcard photo (pre Bay Bridge) reveals the answer ... this is the view to the east from Nob Hill's Fairmont Hotel at California and Mason.  Even the shadows cast across California Street, right of center below, are identical.  We conclude then that the house scenes were filmed on a studio set using this view as a background to imply the location.

... and Now,  more than eighty years later from the Fairmont's Tower annex the same view is unrecognizable because of the vast transformation of the Financial District.  The Bay Bridge has since 1936 reached over to Oakland via Yerba Buena Island and the Ferry Building is still there but hidden from view.  One structure visible Then and Now is the Old Cathedral of Saint Mary (arrowed).


    Old Saint Mary dates from 1854 and has functioned as a church on California at Grant since 1891 after its cathedral status was transferred to a site at Van Ness and O'Farrell (a glimpse of that was seen in this post from The Conversation).


The Conversation - Meltdown

    Back at his apartment at 700 Laguna Street (described in an earlier post) Caul turns to his saxophone to distract his churning mind.  While playing along to a Gerry Mulligan track his unlisted phone interrupts ...


    It's Stett.  By now it's clear he was part of the plot to kill the Director.  "We know that you know, Mr. Caul ...  For your own sake don't get involved any further ... we'll be listening to you."


Then ...  The bugger is now the bugged.  The very thought drives him nuts and sends him scouring his apartment for the bug.  Behind drapes, inside lamps, the phone, everywhere.

... and Now,  the window view looks west across Laguna along Birch towards distant apartments on Buchanan Street.  Viewed at street level, below, the matching top story of those apartments can be seen above a newer building (map, red marker on the apartments, blue marker at Caul's place).  The building across Laguna has since been built on the newly cleared empty lot visible above.


    Caul is rapidly losing it.  Everything in sight is ripped apart, even the floorboards.


       His meltdown leaves the apartment demolished without revealing the bug.  Perhaps it exists only in his imagination.  He seeks solace the only way he knows how and as the movie's end credits slowly pass on by to the plaintive sound of his sax it is left to us to unravel the unanswered questions.


The Laughing Policeman - Nurse Monica

Then ...  Still following leads to the murder of Jakes partner Evans, Larsen interviews Monica (Joanna Cassidy), the roommate of one of the victims of the bus massacre, a nurse.

    Monica is a nurse, too.  Larsen flashes his badge to her at the San Francisco General Hospital ward where she works and asks if there's a place they can talk.

... and Now,  this has since 1981 been the famous Ward 86, the world's first in-patient HIV/AIDS ward; a reception desk now occupies the space where they stood.  The window view looks to the west where Sutro Tower (nearing completion when the movie was filmed but not visible in the haze above) soars over the Twin Peaks skyline below.

    Ward 86 is on the 6th floor of San Francisco General's Building 80 on Potrero Avenue at 22nd Street (map).  The arrow points to that particular window.


Then ...  She takes him across the corridor to a room that faces Potrero Hill to the east.  He wants to know if she or her roommate knew Evans.  They didn't but Monica's overt sex appeal catches him by surprise.  When she tells him her roommate " didn't go out with ... men " he can't help but wonder about her too ...

... and Now,  this room has since become an office - the window view is much the same, but that elevated water tower on top of Potrero Hill is no longer there.


Then ...  She tells him to mind his own business but her departing over-the-shoulder come-hither look speaks volumes.

... and Now,  the same corridor today.  The reception desk, shuttered for lunch, is on the left.


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