In celebration of Alfred Hitchcock’s birthday this weekend, here are photos and scenes from his San Francisco Bay Area films. Born in England on August 13, 1899, he became a successful film director in British cinema, then came to the U.S. in 1939.
After buying a 200-acre Bay Area ranch in 1940, the “Master of Suspense” spent many years living and working in northern California. Three of his films were set here, and many scenes from other movies as well–Rebecca, Suspicion, Psycho, Marnie, Topaz, and Family Plot.
The three Bay Area films span a 150-mile radius of San Francisco. Over a half century later, film buffs, tourists, and Bay Area residents still enjoy visiting these sites.
1 – “Shadow of a Doubt” was set in Santa Rosa, California, about a 1.5 hour drive north of San Francisco. Hitchcock considered this film his finest.
Filmed during the early 1940s, it was heavily impacted by WWII. There were blackout orders restricting nighttime filming. Also, the War Production Office required Hitchcock to limit his set construction budget to $3,000 (from “Footsteps in the Fog”).
Therefore, in order to curtail set costs, Hitchcock resolved to use the town as the movie set. At the time, this was a new innovation, filming in the town square and other public places.
He chose Santa Rosa, a quaint and quiet town, for the backdrop of his dark psychological thriller.
Released in 1943 and starring Joseph Cotton and Teresa Wright, the screenplay was written by Thornton Wilder.
Much of Santa Rosa, and many local residents too, appear in the film. Santa Rosa’s downtown, railroad depot, Courthouse Square, public library, church, bank, and spacious tree-lined neighborhoods take center stage.
The railroad depot, the “Newton House,” and other buildings can still be seen today in Santa Rosa.
2 – “The Birds”, a 1963 horror-thriller, is set primarily in and around Bodega Bay; approximately a two-hour drive north of San Francisco. There are also scenes in San Francisco, including his cameo appearance at the pet store with his true-life pets, a pair of Sealyham terriers.
Starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, and Suzanne Pleshette, the story is loosely based on a 1961 bird incident in nearby Capitola, California; and a novel with the same title written by Daphne du Maurier.
Around the time of “The Birds” filming, Capitola experienced a brief scare when birds called Sooty Shearwaters slammed into, and died, on rooftops. Shearwaters are birds of the sea, on land only during nesting, and ill-suited for landing. Because they cannot land properly, they do actually slam into whatever is in their way.
I once went birding on an island covered with nesting shearwaters, and one of my birding mates was slammed in the back really hard by a shearwater.
It is a bizarre thing to witness…and who else but Hitchcock would create a thriller out of this?
Today you can still visit The Tides Restaurant and Wharf, where the film was largely set; they proudly display old film posters.
In Hitchcock humor, there are stuffed crows in the rafters.
“Potter School” and the general store called Diekmann’s also still exist.
When I was on the Bodega Bay pier of the Tides Restaurant last fall, an unusually large flock of marbled godwits flew over us; Hitchcock’s story immediately shot to my mind as I looked tentatively at the bird-darkened sky.
3 – “Vertigo”, released in 1958, was filmed all over San Francisco and in outlying Bay Area venues. Starring Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak, and Barbara Bel Geddes, this story is a haunting one, highlighted by a brilliant musical score by Bernard Herrmann.
Movie buffs soak up San Francisco Vertigo tours, re-living the fictional story of this psychological thriller. Vertigo captures the charm and romance of 1950s San Francisco; featuring the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, panoramic skylines, winding streets, redwood trees, and rocky cliffs.
Scenes include visits to the Palace of Fine Arts and the Legion of Honor.
Two local California missions, which look the same as when Hitchcock filmed here, are also embraced in this story. The crew filmed at Mission Dolores in San Francisco, where I have also set a scene from my own novel.
And the second mission, Mission San Juan Bautiste, is in the town of the same name, about 90 miles south of San Francisco. The famous bell tower, where several shocking scenes take place, was added via special effects.
Hitchcock films have a way of grabbing hold of our human frailties, and exploring our deepest fears.
Enjoy a toast this weekend to Sir Alfred’s mastery.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified. Thanks to Kraft and Leventhal’s book “Footsteps in the Fog” (2002).
Another mystery of suspense based in San Francisco written by Yours Truly.