Aunt Trina, Mama's youngest sister and as meek as they come, surprises the family by announcing she wants to marry and has found her man, Mr. Thorkelson. He is as timid as she and the fact that he is the local undertaker causes no small amount of mirth amongst some in the family. But first in accordance with Norwegian tradition Aunt Trina needs the approval of the head of the family, Uncle Chris.
Then ... Trina and her two other sisters take a cable car to Mama's house to meet Uncle Chris. On the way they are joined by Mr. Thorkelson.
... and Now, this is Hyde Street looking north from Chestnut with Alcatraz and Angel Island in the distance (map). In 1950, two years after the movie was released, half of the city's cable car lines were discontinued but this one survived, albeit with a revised route. Then in the 1980s all tracks and cables citywide were dug up and replaced but that manhole cover in the foreground is still there. Other than changes at Hyde Street Pier on the waterfront this cable car cresting the hill creates a deja vu moment almost 70 years later.
On the cable car Aunt Sigrid (Edith Evanson), on the left, and Aunt Jenny (Hope Landin) urge Mr. Thorkelson (Ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, the father of Candice Bergen) to be firm and ask Uncle Chris for a dowry for Aunt Trina (Ellen Corby) , far right. This closeup and others in the movie were filmed at RKO's studio using a cable car leased from San Francisco's California Street Cable Railroad.
... on the set ... The car that Cal Cable sent to RKO Studios was a short Jones Street shuttle car, number 61. RKO repainted it and retained its destination sign "O'Farrell, Jones & Hyde Streets" but renumbered it 62 to match the real cable car in the movie (the one in the Then image above). Here's a promo still of Irene Dunne (Mama) on the cable car speaking with director George Stevens during a break in filming.
... and Now, after San Francisco's Muni took over Cal Cable in 1954 they motorized this car, retained the number 62 and re-signed it "Van Ness Ave, California & Market Streets". It's used for special events and bell-ringing competitions and so is still occasionally seen roaming the city streets; here it is on Mason crossing Green.
Trivia time - what happened to Muni's original car number 62? In 1959 it was renumbered 61, motorized and shipped to Osaka, Japan where it has been on display ever since in its Transportation Museum (below, with a photo behind it of San Francisco with Alcatraz and Angel Island in the distance).
Then ... They all march up Mama's street with the oldest, Aunt Jenny, setting the pace. Note the hitching post, a common sidewalk sight in 1910 when horse-drawn carts shared the streets with early automobiles.
... and Now, this location shot was filmed on Liberty Street, also seen earlier in the movie. These three houses are, from left to right, numbers 521, 525 and 529. All three homes were built in 1900 but 529, on the right, has remained closest to the original.
When they arrive at Mama's house (filmed on the RKO studio backlot) they are shocked to see that Uncle Chris has brought along his 'housekeeper', who everyone knows he has been living with for years.
It's good news, bad news for Aunt Trina when Uncle Chris (Oscar Homolka, the only cast member of the earlier Broadway play to appear in the movie) consents to the marriage but loudly assails the hapless suitor at the very mention of a dowry.