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Set in San Francisco

People who've never set foot in San Francisco are still familiar with its famous cable cars, Victorian houses and Golden Gate Bridge. These landmarks are universally recognizable thanks to Hollywood.

"San Francisco is a city with a romance about it that has always played well on film," said P.J. Johnston, executive director of the city's Film and Video Arts Commission.

As a result, the city is usually humming with production crews for documentaries, commercials and music videos. About 12 features from major studios are filmed in San Francisco each year, Johnston said. Pier 39, Alamo Square and Chinatown are among the most popular backdrops.

Action film producers find the city's landscape suitable for car chases and fiery explosions. Before a shoot begins, the commission must warn people in the neighborhood, "so if they hear exploding glass and gun shots, they are prepared for it," he said.

Traffic congestion is a common side effect of film shoots. Columbus Avenue, a major thoroughfare in North Beach, was closed to film an elaborate car crash for "Bedazzled." The film starred Brendan Fraser and Elizabeth Hurley.

Despite their love of San Francisco, directors often incorrectly portray its geography on screen. "Filmmakers need to piece together a movie for cinematic reasons, and it does not always match the physical layout of the city," Johnston said.




Consequently, the famous chase scene in 1968's "Bullitt" had Steve McQueen and his green Mustang bouncing around the city's neighborhoods. Only the city's natives noticed the incongruity of jumping from Potrero Hill to North Beach.

"San Francisco has a rich cinematic history stretching back to the 1920s," Johnston said. Here are some classic films in which the city is an important character. For a complete list of films made in San Francisco, see Northern California Movies.

Vertigo (1958)

This classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller features James Stewart following Kim Novak around the city. The apartment of Stewart's character is at 900 Lombard Street, known as the most crooked street in the world. The Mission Dolores and the Palace of the Legion of Honor are important backdrops in the film. Novak's character leaps into the bay from Fort Point, beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. For photos and a complete list of locations, see Widescreen Cinema's Vertigo tour. The Vertigo Movie Tour of San Francisco offers driving directions to all locations.

Bullitt (1968)

Steve McQueen is a tough-as-nails detective who races around San Francisco in a now-classic car chase. That sequence highlights the Golden Gate Bridge, Potrero Hill and San Mateo County. Images from the chase are available at Northern California Movies. Read a review of the movie at Leisuresuit.net and partake in one fan's love of the film's signature Ford Mustang at The Bullitt Page.

Dirty Harry (1971)

Another rogue San Francisco cop is on the loose in this action movie classic. While tracking a serial killer, Clint Eastwood cruises by North Beach and Washington Square. The East Harbor's Marina Green is the first stop in a chase that has Eastwood racing to telephone booths across the city. The rivals have a final meeting at Larkspur Landing. Northern California Movies has film stills.

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Dressing as English nanny is not the average man's idea of a great job. But in this film, Robin Williams plays a father desperate to spend time with his children, who are in his ex-wife's custody. Mrs. Doubtfire rides San Francisco's buses and famed cable cars. The family house is a white Victorian located at 2640 Steiner Street. At his apartment (1200 Washington Street), Williams' character has a panoramic view of the city. The film also features the Transamerica Pyramid as a background shot. Photos from the movie are at Northern California Movies. Other Williams' comedies filmed in San Francisco include "Flubber," "Patch Adams" and "What Dreams May Come."

The Rock (1996)

Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage do in "The Rock" what few have ever thought about doing - break into Alcatraz. The former federal prison isolated in the freezing San Francisco Bay is the main setting for this action flick. The historic Fairmont Hotel played a small part, as did Russian Hill, the site of a cable car explosion. Northern California Movies has a lot of film stills.

City Guides

For more information about San Francisco and its landmarks, visit these sites:


   --- J. Britten

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