Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

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 fiancĂ© 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 fiancĂ© 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!


The Penalty - Dr. Ferris, Famous Surgeon

Then ...  Dr. Ferris has moved on from the shameful malpractice and cover-up of his early days - Blizzard's double amputation - and has become the most famous surgeon in his field.  He works at a hospital whose elevated entrance accessed by symmetrical curved stairways is seen here through elaborately wrought metal gates.

    This was St. Mary's Hospital on the Hayes Street block between Stanyan and Shrader Streets in the Northern Panhandle neighborhood (map).  Here's a contemporary image of  the hospital as it looked when the movie was filmed.  The U-shaped building bordered a manicured garden.

... and Now,  the original is gone but a hospital still occupies the site - the rebuilt St. Mary's Medical Center.  This part of the new hospital viewed from the same spot was built within the garden area in the 1960s.


    Ferris, resplendently sartorial, descends the curved stairway with his assistant, Dr. Wilmot Allen (Kenneth Harlan).  Note the building's fine craftsmanship: ornate masonry work around the entrance, arched windows, elegant marble steps.  By comparison the current hospital buildings may best be described as functional but architecturally blah.

    The front gates and the curved stairways are clearly visible in this vintage image.  The hospital opened in 1911 but its Sisters Of Mercy origins date back to the 1850s.

    By 1940 St. Mary's still looked the same but the entrance stairways had been reworked.

... and Now,  viewed from street level across Hayes, the only surviving feature is the ramped side road paralleling Shrader Street on the right.  The main building at the rear was completed in 1974.


   Ferris climbs into his waiting car little suspecting that his every move is being monitored for Blizzard by one of his spies, the chauffeur.  Blizzard wants revenge.


Harold And Maude - Uncle Victor

Mother has had enough and announces to Harold that he is to be inducted into the Army.  She dispatches his Uncle Victor (Charles Tyner), a rabidly patriotic, one-armed career General, to take him under his wing.

Then ...  To make a good impression on Harold Uncle Victor picks him up in his personal chauffeured limousine.  At a veterans' convalescent center they stroll around the grounds while he extols the virtues of military life.  This was filmed in San Francisco's Sutro Heights Park at Land's End on the edge of the Pacific Ocean (map), the former estate of silver baron Adolph Sutro.

... and Now,  they were approaching the only surviving structure from the estate.  No, it's not a gazebo ...

... a vintage photo ...  this was in fact the estate's well house, captured here circa 1890 (note too the horse hitching posts, essential back then).  The bases of the decorative finials on the roof can still be seen, above.

    The estate did have a gazebo but it's long gone.  Here it was in 1890.


Then ...  They walk on past the well house, an opportunity for director Hal Ashby to include a sight gag behind them - a doddering vet slowly keels over and does a face plant in the scattered leaves.  Irreverent, if not irrelevant.  Oblivious, Uncle Victor patters fervently on with his sales pitch.

... and Now,  with the help of facelifts the structure is in remarkable condition given its age of 130 years.


    Local history buffs will know that Sutro's mansion was the crown atop the estate.  Complemented as it was by extensive gardens, statuary, a carriage house, a conservatory, an observatory and a crenellated parapet with spectacular views of the ocean and along the Great Highway, it delivered the highest quality of life for Adolph and his family.  Built in the 1880s, the home was demolished in 1939, by then in a state of deterioration, following the death of its last resident, Sutro's daughter Emma.

   The mansion enjoyed a westward view down past the parapet to Seal Rocks and the Cliff House, a  Victorian-style dining, dancing and entertainment chateau built by Adolph in 1894 (the photo above was taken from the Cliff House).  The mammoth structure was destined to be very short-lived; it remarkably survived the 1906 earthquake but, like the original Cliff House before it, burned to the ground a year later.  By this time Adolph had died but daughter Emma kept the Cliff House tradition going by replacing it with the third incarnation, a more modest structure sensibly built of concrete.

... and Now,  Three's a charm as Emma's Cliff House underwent a number of remodels over the years but is still going strong 110 years on.

    To the north was Sutro's Baths, built by Adolph in 1896, viewed here from the estate across Point Lobos Avenue in a 1950s photo.

... and Now,  the 70-year-old public bath complex succumbed in 1966 to an arson fire (but not before it was fortuitously used for scenes in the 1958 movie The Lineup).  The ruins today are a nostalgic reminder of its grandeur and caught the eye of director Ashby who chose the sprawling, crumbling site for Uncle Victor's next stop. 


The Laughing Policeman - Showdown

Then ...  Several folks at a bus stop on the Embarcadero await the oncoming bus carrying Jake and the suspect.  Piers 16 and 18 are over to the right and the Ferry Building is visible in the distance.  The abrupt termination of the Embarcadero Freeway left of center suggests there was a southern extension planned.

... and Now,  the same view from the same spot, now part of Rincon Park and close to the whimsical Cupid's Span, a head-turning sculpture installed in 2002.  The two piers and the double-decker freeway are no longer there.

    Citysleuth zeroed in on the camera location by overlaying a vintage (1955) and a recent aerial shot.  In the 1955 aerial the arrow shows where the bus stop location was, close to the junction with Folsom.  Click or tap the image or thumbnail to toggle to the aerial view today; all of those piers have since been removed.  Gone too is the entire block of buildings opposite Pier 18, clearing the way for the Embarcadero to be rerouted to make room for the new two acre Rincon Park, straddling where the bus stop used to be.  The Bay Bridge crosses diagonally in the lower right corner.


Then ...  As the bus slows down we see the Bay Bridge straight ahead and Folsom Street on the right.  In the center is the Hills Brothers Coffee plant whose tower and rooftop sign were a familiar Rincon Hill sight for decades.

... and Now,  the tower has survived; so too has the sign.  The building is now a designated City Landmark but it has since been converted to gentrified upscale offices (Google being one of the tenants) and condominiums with a view.


    As Camerero stands to aim his gun at the passengers Larsen, who had pulled up behind the bus, and Jake both let him have it.

    After so many false leads and blind alleys they finally get their hands on the elusive 'grease gun'.


Then ...  The movie ends with a lingering shot of the scene of the showdown.  Pier 18 can't be seen - it's just off to the left of this view, but the adjacent Piers 20, 22 and 23 (seen in the 1955 aerial near the top of this post) had already been removed, opening up an unobstructed view of the bay and the bridge.

.. and Now,  today's view looks through Cupid's Span and across Rincon Park.


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