Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

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.


The House Across The Bay - Bittersweet Revenge

    Once Slant finally realizes that Brenda won't string along with him he carries out his threat and tells Larwitt that it was she who tipped off the IRS and caused his arrest.  Driven by  a fit of vengeful rage Larwitt escapes from the penitentiary and tracks her down.  Just in time, Tim Nolan intercedes and explains the real truth - Brenda has stuck by her husband all along and it was Slant's deliberately botched defense that sent him to prison.


    Now Larwitt directs his fury towards Slant, catching up with him at his hotel.  Slant's expression speaks volumes - he knows his number is up.  Sure enough, a couple of bullets seal his fate.


    Larwitt has no intention of serving out the rest of his life in prison.  He arranges to meet Brenda at Union Square then returns to the bay where the police are still out in boats searching for him following the breakout.  Purposefully, he swims towards them  - two more bullets are fired, this time sealing his fate.  Still waiting for him, Brenda hears the news from the cries of a passing street vendor.


Then ...  She decides to leave San Francisco and we see her taking off in an American Airlines Flagship Skysleeper DC-3.  But this isn't San Francisco, it's Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale, one of Southern California's two busiest commercial airports at that time (Burbank being the other).

... a vintage photo ...  CitySleuth was able to identify the airport from this contemporaneous photo taken at Grand Central Air Terminal of another Skysleeper, the Flagship New York, showing the same mountain range in the background.

... and Now,  the airport, long since shut down, has become a business park. (The 1929 terminal building has survived however; it is owned by the Disney Corporation).  The runway became Grand Central Avenue, in Glendale (map) - this recent photo was taken from therelooking southwest down Grandview Avenue to the same skyline.


Then ...  Brenda glimpses Alcatraz from the air and we can only begin to imagine what conflicting thoughts must be running through her mind.

... and Now,  it's no longer a prison but the extant buildings are an imposing reminder of its grim past.


    In true Hollywood "All's Well That Ends Well' fashion who should be sitting right behind her but the determined Tim Nolan.  When she rests her hand on his the movie fades out to our collective nods of approval.  Aaaahh!


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