Reel SF

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

San Francisco movie locations from classic films

Fog Over Frisco - A Tale Of Two Sisters

    There are two leading ladies in Fog Over Frisco, opposites in every way.  Val Bradford (Margaret Lindsay), daughter of a rich banker, is naive, do-good, eager to please.  Her stepsister Arlene (the young and vivacious Bette Davisis headstrong, rash, a fun-loving risk-taker who thinks only of herself.  As the story unfolds it's interesting to note how the movie's costume and set designers repeatedly reinforce the contrast.

First, through the use of fashion - Val is always well-dressed but sensibly and conservatively.  Arlene prefers trendy outfits that stand out in a crowd.

    In this hilarious juxtaposition Val's propriety is represented by a puritan-style dress whereas Arlene (dare we say it, no bra?) is boldly accented with strips of plaid.


    The way each decorates her bedroom is equally telling.  Val's is conventionally old-fashioned with frilly drapes and traditional Asian art touches...

    ... while Arlene's is starkly Art Deco, all the rage in the 1930s, with a zig-zag mirror frame and geometric waves patterned on the closet doors.


    The butler brings Arlene a radiogram from a mystery friend about to arrive by ship; she rushes to her bedroom window with binoculars to check out the Embarcadero.

   Such radio-transmitted telegrams were often sent from ship to shore in the 1930s. The header on Arlene's tells us that hers came via the Mackay Radio and Telegraph Company; it would have been delivered in an envelope like this one, an example from 1935.


Then ...  she anxiously scans the piers on the waterfront. From right to left are Piers 33, 35, 37 and 39 with Alcatraz and Angel Island in the distance.  This north-facing panorama (part of which was used behind the movie's opening credits) was filmed from the base of Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill (map) but directorial license prevails because, as we will discover in the next post, Arlene Bradford's home was 2 miles away from here.

... and Now,  the matching view below as seen from the top of Coit Tower reveals that only Piers 33 and 35 have survived.  Pier 37 burned down in 1975 and the original Pier 39 was replaced in 1978 by a tacky tourist mall.


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. 


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