Alfred Hitchcock definitely had an affinity for Northern California. He and his wife, Alma, purchased a home in Scots Valley, just south of San Francisco, in 1940. Part of this attraction had to do with Hitchcock’s fondness for wine: in fact, he acquired a vineyard that was adjacent to his property, a vineyard which he put to good use. Soon thereafter, he began scouting the area for locations for various movies.
Within two years, Hitchcock began filming in Santa Rosa, California what some considered to be his best American work, Shadow of a Doubt. Located 55 miles north of San Francisco, Santa Rosa was then a sleepy village of 13,000 (today just slightly less than 200,000 people reside there).
Surprisingly, a number of the locations Hitchcock used still exist in recognizable forms.
The house shown above played a critical role in the movie – it looks much the same as it did when Hitchcock was there. The only noticeable difference is the critical back staircase which does not exist: those gripping shots were all done on a Hollywood sound stage.
A number of buildings look much the same as they did in those days, and the train station is still very much intact. See photo below.
An interesting side note to this film is that Hitchcock decided to cast a local girl, Edna May Wonacott, in a key role: he felt that the film needed the authenticity of someone from the area. Wonacott steals several scenes and is today one of the few cast members still alive, residing in Yuma, Arizona.
Shadow of a Doubt is structured by one of Hitchcock’s tautest scripts. Including Thornton Wilder, a total of six writers made contributions.
It is difficult to go to San Francisco and not bump into location after location that Hitchcock used in his powerhouse Vertigo. Filmed in 1957, some of the locations appear exactly as they did in the movie. Above are the arches at Mission San Juan Bautista (91 miles south of San Francisco) as well as Fort Point, both key sites in the film. James Stewart’s apartment at 900 Lombard Street is pictured below.
Mission Dolores, which is located at the corner of 16th and Dolores, still has the haunting cemetery next door; the Presidio Boulevard entrance gate and the Brocklebank apartment building are virtually identical to what is in the film.
The film community’s regard for Vertigo has only multiplied since its release: in 2012, the publication Sight and Sound named it the best movie of all time.
The Birds, Hitchcock’s 1963 thriller, put Bodega Bay on movie history’s map. Many locations in the area were used, but much of the film is the result of studio work. Above are two different views, taken two decades apart, of the infamous school house, the sight of a horrific bird attack. Very little of the downtown appears today as it did in the movie.
If you have any interest in visiting these locations, we strongly recommend Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal’s work, Footsteps in the Fog, featuring a Forward by Hitchcock’s daughter, Pat. The book is a wonderful piece of scholarship that details exactly where the master filmed in the bay area.
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