Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

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.


The Conversation - Take The Money or Run?

    Caul has succeeded in extracting and cleaning up his surreptitious recording of the young couple's Union Square conversation but having listened to them over and over he is increasingly concerned that some harm may come to them.  With a certain amount of trepidation he heads to the Director's office to deliver the tapes.

Then ...  A striking sculpture and imposing office building faces him at the far end of a pedestrian bridge.

... and Now,  this bridge spans Clay Street in the Financial District - it links Maritime Plaza with One Embarcadero Center, the 45 story high-rise office in the background which was completed in 1971 shortly before the movie was filmed (map).  A Landmark Theatre cinema has since been built here and the sculpture, by Swiss sculptor Willi Gutmann, is still there, one of many works of art permanently gracing the four office buildings that, together with the Hyatt Regency Hotel, now comprise the Embarcadero Center.


Then ...  He checks in with security at the desk and is asked to wait for the Director's assistant.

... and Now,  this spiral staircase is at the west end of the lobby level of One Embarcadero Center - with the low walls removed it's now a more open space.  The mosaic tiled floor pattern as an architectural feature carries through the public spaces of the entire Embarcadero Center complex, even on the footbridge above.


Then ...  The assistant, Martin Stett (Harrison Ford) escorts him along a corridor high up on the south side of the building.  Over to the left is the art deco Shell Building at 100 Bush Street and beyond it, south of Market, is the outline of the art deco PacBell Building at 140 New Montgomery Street.  A glimpse west to the even taller 555 California (the former Bank of America building) is seen through the windows at far right.

... and Now,  thanks to Google Earth, from a vantage point just above One Embarcadero (in the left foreground below), we can see how that view has changed.  Many newer structures now surround those three buildings but they are still there.


   As it turns out, the Director is out of town and Stett takes the tapes and hands over the agreed-on $15,000 fee.  Caul, realizing the personal, bordering on dangerous, nature of the contents and reminding Stett that he was instructed to deliver them only to the Director, hands back the cash and, after a brief tug-of-war, reclaims the tapes.  As he leaves, Stett pointedly warns him not to get involved ... "Someone may get hurt".

Watch this scene play out here.


Born To Kill - Snares and Nets

    The next morning Helen visits Mrs Kraft at the Felton Hotel to warn her against telling the police about witnessing the murder in the dunes, otherwise she too will be killed.  Frazzled and finally beaten down, she agrees and calls off the private detective Arnett.

    For his part Arnett calls Helen and tells her he will call the police unless she gets him the $15,000 payoff he had earlier demanded.  But meantime Helen's rich fiancĂ© has walked out on her, citing her behavior since Sam arrived on the scene.  Realizing her only hope of financial security is gone, and blaming Sam, she tells Arnett to go right ahead.  He can't resist a biblical quote, borrowing from Ecclesiastes 7:26 ...

    "I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets ... and he who falls beneath her spell has need of God's mercy."


    Sam finds out the police are on the way and assumes Helen had shopped him.  He corners her in a bedroom and blasts away through the door, doing her in, moments before the police burst in and do the same to him.


Then ...  In the movie's final scene Arnett buys a newspaper on the Embarcadero street corner where Market and Sacramento merge.  Steuart Street tees in at far left and a streetcar passes by on one of four sets of tracks serving Market Street.

... and Now,  this corner was swallowed up when the Embarcadero was widened in the 1990s.  Across Market we see that the 1916 Southern Pacific Building has survived the Financial District transformation all around it.  CitySleuth took this recent matching photo from amongst the street vendors who congregate at this spot each weekend.


Then ...  As he reads about the sensational deaths of Sam Wild and Helen Brent, he waxes biblical once again, this time from Proverbs 13:15 ...

    "The way of the transgressor is hard ... " and adds an afterthought, "more's the pity, more's the pity".

    The view behind him looks west along Sacramento Street.  The business at right on the corner with the Embarcadero is the Henry Cowell Lime and Cement Co (interestingly its address was 2 Market Street) and a short way up the street is the projecting sign of the Loop Cafe at 6 Sacramento.  In the distance past Arnett's fedora is the faint silhouette of the Mark Hopkins hotel atop Nob Hill.

... and Now,  you would never guess this view down Sacramento Street is from the same spot.  The first part of the original block is now part of the expanded plaza and what remained has been usurped by modern structures including the Hyatt Regency Hotel on the left.

... in 1953 ...  Six years after the movie was filmed this vintage photo looking across the Embarcadero and along Market Street was taken from the Ferry Building.  It shows (arrowed) the corner where Arnett bought his newspaper.  Sacramento angles off to the right of the arrow.  By then the streetcars had been replaced by trolleybuses but the streetcar tracks were yet to be removed.


Then ...  The movie ends as he strides across the Embarcadero towards the ferry building to catch Southern Pacific's 'Berkeley' ferryboat on the first leg of his return to Reno.

... and Now,  the same view today.  The historic Ferry Building continues to dominate this prime waterfront spot even though its early days as the world's second-busiest transit terminal (London's Charing Cross station being the first) have long since passed.  Since 2003, following a four year 75 million dollar restoration, the building has thrived as a mixed-use property with a world class food market on the entire ground floor and premier office space above.


The Laughing Policeman - Carnage

Then ...  The 14-Mission bus approaches, heading north on Mission Street; it has just crossed  Army Street and is about to overtake the sedan in the foreground whose driver is lying in wait (map).  At far right is a corner Doggie Diner at 3100 Mission and beyond that a Sears Roebuck store at 3120 Mission.  On the left at 3101 Mission the corner building housed the Sears Catalog Department.

... and Now,  Army Street was renamed Cesar Chavez Street in 1990. The Sears building is still there on Mission, that's its grey tower at far right, but the store has closed. The Doggie Diner has since been replaced by another building as has the Sears Catalog building opposite.

... in 1964 ...  here's a vintage photo with a good view of the Sears Roebuck store.  It now houses a career development office on the ground floor and various businesses populate the offices above. Back then the auto used car lot on the corner preceded the Doggie Diner.


Then ...  In the next shot - it's just a bock from the previous one - we see the bus being overtaken by the sedan.  It pulls over and the driver gets out and boards the bus when it stops at the curb on the left.

... and Now,  what's interesting about this location is that the bus is off route because this is 26th Street with Mission crossing in the background (map) - the real 14-Mission bus of course would cross 26th as it passes along Mission.  There is indeed a bus stop here but it's for the 27-Bryant.  The Auto-Torium parts store, above at 2999 Mission, is now one of four local Casa Guadalupe restaurants, riotously muraled at right.


Then ...  The bus continues on; you will be forgiven if the store signs in Chinese and oriental-styled street lamps make you think this is Chinatown ...

... and Now,  ... because that's exactly where this is, facing east on Clay Street approaching Grant Avenue (map).  Typical of Chinatown, it's essentially unchanged.  This by the way is way off the real 14-Mission route.


    As the bus proceeds down Clay the mystery passenger methodically assembles an automatic weapon.  He suddenly stands up and with a hail of bullets methodically and mercilessly shoots everybody on board including the driver.  Total, shocking carnage.


Then ...  With the driver slumped over the wheel the bus swerves and comes to a halt after taking out the  Brenham Place street sign on the corner of Portsmouth Square (map).  The gunman calmly alights and walks away.

... and Now,  Brenham Place ran along the west side of Portsmouth Square and is now Walter U Lum Place, renamed in 1985 in honor of a local advocate for Chinese-American rights.


    The first responders to the massacre include Sgt Jake Martin of the SFPD (Walter Matthau).  He is shocked to find his partner Dave Evans, who had called in sick a few days earlier, amongst the victims.  He and Inspector Leo Larsen (Bruce Dern) sit down at the scene and try to make sense of it all.


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