Northern California has no shortage of unique, iconic film locations, as evidenced in critically acclaimed films like Harold and Maude and Bullitt, as well as the long-running television show, Dynasty. Historian, Jim Clifford, looks back at the scenic legacy of the Californian Peninsula setting, as the upcoming film, Swiss Army Man, begins production in the area.
From The Daily Journal, September 7, 2015, Clifford had the following to say in his article, “Hollywood on The Peninsula”, part of his bi-monthly column, The Rear View Mirror:
The news that another movie was being shot on the Peninsula brought a flashback of famous films that had scenes in the area, cinema classics that included Bullitt and Harold and Maude.
Half Moon Bay is the locale of the latest film, Swiss Army Man starring Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame, which should pump big bucks in to the area economy, said Brena Bailey, film commissioner for the San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau. For example, the new movie resulted in 800 hotel rooms occupied by cast and crew.
The Peninsula has a “tremendous diversity of breathtaking bay and coastal views,” Bailey said. “Best of all, the area is easily accessible” for movie people. “San Francisco International is in our backyard.”
Swiss Army Man will be added to a long list of movies filmed, at least partly, in the region, a list that would be too long for a newspaper article, she continued. Half Moon Bay is no stranger to movie making. It was the locale for House of Sand and Fog, filmed in 2003, a big year for Half Moon Bay movies. American Wedding and The Law and Mr. Lee were also products of the coast in that year.
Other Half Moon Bay credits list scenes in the 1971 hit Harold and Maude, which was set in several San Mateo County cities. The “Film in America” website lists 23 San Mateo County cities as locations for films. The Filoli estate has seen its share of screen time, including Heaven Can Wait and Joy Luck Club. The estate off Canada Road in Woodside was also the setting for the television hit Dynasty.
The film commission, which has been in operation for 15 years, also brings in crews that do television commercials, said Bailey. It’s the movies, however, that have longer runs with the public. The recent movies include Chasing Mavericks, The Master, The Internship, and Jobs. Earlier offerings with Peninsula locales boast Sweet November in 2001, which had a scene in Daly City, The Right Stuff in 1983 that used the El Rancho Inn in Millbrae, and the Robin Williams’ 1993 Mrs. Doubtfire, that featured the historic 1910 courthouse in Redwood City.
What really sticks to the ribs, however, is the car chase scene in the 1968 San Francisco police classic Bullitt starring Steve McQueen. The race on the Guadalupe Canyon Parkway between a Mustang and Charger roars through Daly City and Brisbane, ending with the Charger crashing into a gas station and bursting into flames. There’s also a shootout at San Francisco International Airport, which, despite its name, is in San Mateo County.
The movie that featured the most San Mateo County settings? The envelope, please. The winner is Harold and Maude, the 1971 movie that featured Ruth Gordon as Maude, a very senior citizen. One source lists at least a dozen San Mateo County cities as sites. The locales range from the Southern Pacific railroad yard in Brisbane to a shot on Highway 1 near Pescadero. In between is Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, the San Mateo County office building on Marshall Street in Redwood City and the Dumbarton Bridge.
Movie making in the area goes back to the silent screen days when the county hosted a few studios that eventually failed. My favorite Peninsula scene was a talkie, but an old one in black and white — 1941’s Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart as San Francisco private eye Sam Spade. Spade asks a cabbie if he has enough gas to “get to Burlingame.” When he arrives he finds he was given “a bum steer.” The Burlingame scene, a grocery store, was probably a Hollywood set. But you just got to love the lingo.
Keep checking back on Film Works, as we continue to highlight some of the triumphant film productions returning to the Golden State.