Vertigo San Francisco locations 55 and a half years on

Last week Helen and I hired Jesse Warr to give us a private tour of key, in-city locations used in the filming of Vertigo, the Hitchcock classic starring Kim Novak and James Stewart. It was a great tour, and we took plenty of photos.

When I next screen the film, no doubt I'll keep an eye out for screenshots I can pull to do some side by side comparisons. but I'll share some notes now on the pictures we took last week. If you don't recall the names of the main characters, just remember that Madeline was played by Kim Novak, and Scottie by James Stewart.

Madeline apartment

This first picture is of Madeline's apartment on the northeast corner of Sacramento and Mason Streets. This looks pretty much just like it did in the movie. I took some shots that are clear of the car's window frame, but decided to use this one, with the shadow of the frame intruding, because it suggests a Scottie-like point of view.

Mission Dolores facade

And here's the facade of Mission Dolores, which I understand to be the oldest structure in San Francisco, spared the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. It also look very recognizable from the movie, though the light on the day of our tour was very different. I'd attribute that to the difference between the spring, April light of our tour from the fall, September or October light from the location filming in 1957, but, I've read that Hitchcock used some pretty heavy duty filters in shooting around Mission Dolores, so, maybe Hitchock bent the same light to get the mood he wanted.

Door in chapel

Speaking of contorting light, I used one of those silly, in-app "effects" to manipulate this shot from inside the chapel, to show the door from which Madeline leaves to go into the graveyard.

Mission Dolores graveyard

The graveyard, you can convince yourself is the same location, but it's very hard to reconstruct any of the sight lines from the graveyard scenes in the movie. Note the redwood in the center. Unless I'm mistaken, that tree was not in the graveyard when the scene was shot in 1957. That means that big tree is less than 55 years old.

Palace of the Legion of Honor

Next is the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. The facade here seems the same but there's the reminder, too, of course, that laws and security protocols have changed. You can't quite casually sidle your car up to the curb at major landmarks anymore (as I think Madeline and/or Scottie do before we follow Madeline inside; this is where she views the portrait of Carlotta).

Fort Point location

Now here's the money shot: the spot at Fort Point where Madeline goes into where the San Francisco Bay meets the Golden Gait Strait and Scottie dives in to fish her out. To come to this location is to commune with a place that is unmistakeable, gorgeous, and timeless. The light must in some sense be always the same here. I don't think you can see the Golden Gate Bridge without thinking of Vertigo, and vice versa.

Scotty home on Lombard

I'll sign off for now with an anti-climatic picture and the disappointing news that Scottie's apartment on Lombard Street has been grossly defaced. It is almost unrecognizable. "Although the door has been repainted, the entrance is easily recognizable save for a few small changes to the patio," Wikipedia reports in notes on Vertigo locations. "The doorbell and the mailbox, which Madeleine uses to deliver a note to Scottie, are exactly the same as they were in the film." But that is no longer true. If I remember correctly, our guide Jesse told us the defacement has occured within the last 6 months or so.


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