Sunday, June 14, 2015

San Francisco Crime Movies — The American City Made For The Movies

One of the great things about movies is that you get to visit so many places. As I become more and more rooted in one place, I appreciate the chance to go to Venice as I did the other evening. A trip to a tropical island on a cold, rainy day here in San Francisco is also welcomed.  I also enjoy seeing my own San Francisco itself through the eyes of others and particularly seeing the city during a time when I wasn’t around.  When Dark Passage was released in 1947, I was living around 30th Street and Park Avenue in Indianapolis. I had no idea then that some places had really steep hills, regular invasions of thick fog, an ocean, and a giant bay with massive ships making haunting sounds as they headed to harbor.  At four, I had yet to encounter a single Asian person or Latino.  And my food came from my German-Irish-Dutch and Norwegian heritage long intermingled and settled in America’s mostly flat, land-locked Midwest. If we wanted a ship, we’d have to find one in the clouds.

Fortunately, moviemakers found San Francisco particularly photogenic and there is a substantial list of films set in the City By the Bay. In fact there are too many to mention here. The following list focuses on the San Francisco films that meet this blog’s interest in crime-related cinema. This is not a “best” list.  It contains some clunkers. Viewers beware.  A few other caveats: This list doesn’t include some fine science fiction crime films, westerns or any films in which the city plays a fleeting or minor role.  

The star ratings are subjective, my personal rating.  They o not necessarily designate masterpieces, but I believe they are worth a look. 

Steve McQueen in Bullitt
After The Thin Man – One of the five sequels to the original film, The Thin Man, this holds up in the silly fashion the series is famous for.  Spend a light-hearted New Years with William Powell, Myrna Loy and Jimmy Stewart. (1936)
Another 48 Hours – Comedy Drama starring Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, sequel to 48 Hours. (1990)
Basic Instinct – Controversial thriller directed by Paul Verhoeven starring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone (1992)
Big Trouble in Little China – A martial arts film directed by John Carpenter, starring Kurt Russell and Kim Cattrail. (1986)
Black Bird – A feeble comedic attempt to cash in on The Maltese Falcon. (1975)
The Birds – Alfred Hitchcock directed this Evan Hunter adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier story.  Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Suzzane Pleshette and Jessica Tandy starred. (1963)
Born To Be Bad – Nicholas Ray directed Joan Fontaine, Robert Ryan, Zachary Scott and Mel Ferrer in this film noir. (1950)
Bullitt – Directed by Peter Yates, the film stars Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn and Jacqueline Bisset.  Especially famous for its car chase through S. F. nearly vertical streets.  Based on the book, Mute Witness, by Robert L. Fish. (1968)

Chan is Missing— This is not to be confused with the Charlie Chan movies.  This is a low-budget, high-quality independent film about a private eye in Chinatown. It was directed by Wayne Wang and released in 1982.
Charlie Chan at Treasure Island — Sidney Toler plays the internationally famous Chinese detective in a film directed by Norman Foster and co-starring Cesar Romero. (1939)
The Cheap Detective — An all-star cast gathered perhaps unnecessarily for this spoof written by Neil Simon. (1978)
Chinatown at Midnight – Noir, serial killer. (1949)
Confessions of an Opium Eater – The film stars Vincent Price about a tong war and an Englishman’s participation in it.  (1962)
The Conversation – This award-winning psychological thriller was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starred Gene Hackman, Harrison Ford and Robert Duvall. (1974)
Copycat – Serial killer is on the loose in this film starring Sigourney Weaver, Holly Hunter, Durmot Mulroney and Harry Connick, Jr. (1995)
Dangerous Ground – The action film stars Ice Cube and Elizabeth Hurley. (1997)
Dark Passage – This is a classic. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall star in this wonderfully dark film exploiting the tough and mysterious side of San Francisco Based on the novel by David Goodis, it was directed by Delmer Daves.  (1947)
Humphrey Bogart in Dark Passage
The Dead Pool — The fifth and last of the Dirty Harry films, all of them starring Clint Eastwood as the tough cop.
Dirty Harry — Eastwood’s portrayal of Dirty Harry Callahan, a remorseless and relentless cop set the standard for many cop films to follow.  This first one was directed by Don Siegel, and the story, though not the cop, was inspired by the real-life serial killer, nicknamed “The Zodiac.”  (1971)
D.O.A. – Included on most “Best” lists of noir films, this is about a man who goes to the police to report a murder. His own.  Edmund O’Brien stars in this irregular entry. Rudolph Maté directs.  (1950)
Doomed To Die – A Mr. Wong mystery starring Boris Karloff as a Chinese American spy/detective. (1940
The Enforcer – The third in the “Dirty Harry” films starring Clint Eastwood, directed by James Fargo. (1976)
Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry
Escape From Alcatraz – Inspired by a true story, the film stars Clint Eastwood and introduces Danny Glover. It was directed by Don Siegel. (1979)
Experiment in Terror – Directed by Blake Edwards, this thriller stars Glenn Ford, Stefanie Powers and Lee Remick.  (1962)
Eye For An Eye —Not rated highly, this John Schlesinger directed film starred Kiefer Sutherland, Sally Field and Ed Harris. (1996)
Eye of the Beholder — Based on the novel by Marc Behm, the film was directed by Stephan Elliott.  It stars Ewan McGregor, Ashley Judd, Geneviève Bujold, Jason Priestly and k. d. Lang. (1999)
The Falcon in San Francisco — One of a series of mystery films with changing locales, starring Tom Conway as “Falcon,” a “Saint”-like character, and Rita Corday. (1945)
The Fan — The book by Peter Abrahams was probably more popular than the movie.  However, The Fan, directed by Tony Scott boasts a talented cast: Robert DeNiro, Wesley Snipes, Benicio Del Toro, John Leguizamo and Ellen Barkin. (1996)
The Fatal Hour — The First of the Mr. Wong mysteries was directed by William Nigh and starred Boris Karloff. (1940)
Final Analysis — The expensive cast includes Richard Gere, Kim Bassinger, Uma Thurman and Eric Roberts. Critics disagree about how worthwhile the film is. (1992)
The House on Telegraph Hill
Fog Over Frisco — Bette Davis is the drawing card for this crime film. (1934)
48 Hours – A highly popular and critically welcomed action comedy starring Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy.  Walter Hill directed what many consider the first of the buddy cop films. (1982)
Foul Play — Goldie Hawn, Chevy Chase, Dudley Moore lead the cast in a comedy-thriller. (1978)
Frisco Jenny – Set against the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, this pre-code film stars Ruth Chatterton and Louis Calhern (1932)
The Game – David Fincher directs a taut thriller starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn.  (1997)
Lee Marvin in Point Blank
Half Past Dead — A Steven Seagal vehicle. (2002). I didn’t see it.  Don’t plan to see it.  But I do love the title.
Hardcore — George C. Scott takes the lead, searching for his daughter in all of the city’s low-life places. The film was written and directed by Paul Schrader. (1979)
The Hatchet Man – Based on the book, The Honorable Mr. Wong, Edward G. Robinson plays Wong Low Get, an assassin for a Chinatown tong.  Few if any Chinese actors are employed in this Chinatown film.  Loretta Young stars as well in this pre-code film. (1932)
High Crimes — Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd star in this film based on the novel by Joseph Finder. Thriller.  (2002)
The House On Telegraph Hill — A likely underrated film noir directed by Robert Wise with Richard Basehart and William Lundigan.  The film was based on the novel, The Frightened Child, by Dana Lyon. (1951)
Incident In San Francisco — Richard Kiley, Dean Jagger and Leslie Nielsen appear in this thriller. (1971)
Jade — William Friedkin directed what is described as an “erotic thriller” starring David Caruso, Linda Fiorentino and Richard Crenna. (1995)
The Jagged Edge – This is a legal thriller with Glenn Close, Jeff Bridges, Robert Loggia and Peter Coyote (1985)
Kuffs – Crime comedy stars Christian Slater, Milo Jovovich, and Ashley Judd. (1992)
La Mission – Not an action film, but a smart and well-done movie about an ex-con trying to get his life in order by Benjamin Bratt who also stars. A loving, yet realistic view of the city’s vital Mission District. (2009)
The Laughing Policeman — An American film version of a Martin Beck novel starring Walter Matthau, Bruce Dern and Louis Gossett, Jr.  (1973)
The Line-up — Based on both a radio and TV series, this film starred Eli Wallach. The screenplay was written by Stirling Silliphant.  (1958)
Magnum Force – Another Dirty Harry Callahan film. In addition to Clint Eastwood, we see David Soul, Robert Ulrich and Hal Holbrook. (1973)
The Maltese Falcon — The classic, starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor, is directed by John Huston.  My pick as the best P.I film of all time.  Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet are also featured in the film based on the Dashiell Hammett novel. (1941)
The Maltese Falcon – Precode film and first adaptation of this Hammett work. It stars Bebe Daniels and Ricardo Cortez.  (1931)
The Man Who Cheated Himself – Lee J. Cobb and Jane Wyatt are featured in this noir film directed by Felix E. Feist. (1950)
The Man Who Wouldn’t Die — Initially made for TV, Roger Moore, Nancy Allen and Malcolm McDowell star in a mystery directed by Bill Condon. (1995)
Milk – Tough call.  The award winning film is a biography strong on social commentary, but it is also a powerful crime film starring Sean Penn. Directed by Gus Van Sant, the movie also features Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin and James Franco.  (2008)
The Monk – Made for TV suspense film with George Maharis and Janet Leigh. (1969)
Mr. Wong in Chinatown – Boris Karloff as crimesolver. (1939)
Mr. Wong, Detective — Continuation of Mr. Wong crime series. (1938)
The Mystery of Mr. Wong — Another in the Mr. Wong series, starring Boris Karloff. (1939)
No Escape – Lew Ayres and Sonny Tufts in noir film. (1953)
Once A Thief — Alain Delon, Jack Palance, Ann-Margaret and Van Heflin star in a film where going straight isn’t easy. (1965)
The Organization — the last of a trilogy that began with In The Heat of the Night featuring Sidney Pointier as Mr. Tibbs.  (1971)
Out Of The Past — directed by James Tourneur, this often regarded cinema noir masterpiece is based on the novel, Build My Gallows High by Daniel Mainwaring, the film boasts perfect performances by Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Jane Greer and Rhonda Fleming. (1947)
Pacific Heights – Directed by Arthur Schlesinger, the dark film stars Melanie Griffith, Michael Keaton, Mathew Modine.  Every landlord’s worst nightmare. Scary even if you aren’t a landlord. (1990)
Phantom of Chinatown — The last of the Mr. Wong series and the only one with a Chinese actor (Keye Luke) a Mr. Wong.  (1940)
Point Blank — Based on The Hunter by Donald E. Westlake, this stylish noir was directed by John Boorman and stars Lee Marvin, Angie Dickenson, Carroll O’Conner and Keenan Wynn. (1967)
Portrait in Black – Described as neo-noir, the film stars Lana Turner, Anthony Quinn, Richard Basehart, Sandra Dee, John Saxon, Ray Walston, Anna May Wong and Lloyd Nolan.  (1960)
Shadow of the Thin Man
The Presidio – A solid mystery with a solid cast: Sean Connery, Mark Harmon, Meg Ryan and Jack Warden (1968)
The Rock – Producer Jerry Bruckheimer takes on Alcatraz with the help of Sean Connery, Nicholas Cage and Ed Harris.  Quentin Tarantino and Aaron Sorkin were among those who wrote the screenplay.  (1996)
Shadow of the Thin Man — One of the great sequels to the original  (The Thin Man) Barry Nelson and Donna Reed join William Powell and Myrna Loy as they cross the other San Francisco (Eastbay) bridge and are off to the races.  (1941)
Shadows Over Chinatown – Charlie Chan again, starring Sydney Toler. (1946)
The Sniper (1952) – In a situation where politics and Hollywood make strange bedfellows, “Hollywood Ten” (read communist) Edward Dmytryk directed the anti-communist film starring virulently anti-communist actor, Adolphe Menjou. (1952)
Sudden Fear — Melodramatic but interesting noir starring Jack Palance, Joan Crawford and Gloria Grahame. The noir film was based on the novel of the same name by Edna Sherry. Apparently no one thought about changing the title. How about a sequel? Gradual fear. (1952)
Sudden Impact — Fourth in the Dirty Harry series, this was the only one Clint Eastwood also directed. (1983)
They Call Me Mr. Tibbs – Sidney Pointier makes the second of what would be three Mr. Tibbs’ films.  This one co-stars Barbara McNair and Martin Landau. (1970)
The Woman On Pier 3 – Originally titled I Married A Communist, the film starred Lorraine Day and Robert Ryan. (1949)
 Woman on the Run — Based on the short story by Sylvia Tate, “Man on the Run,” the film stars Ann Sheridan and Dennis O’Keefe.  Apparently something happened between the story and the film. (1948)
Vertigo – One of Alfred Hitchcock’s best, this suspense-mystery stars Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart. (1958)
View To A Kill – James Bond with Roger Moore in the title role. Performances by Grace Jones and Christopher Walken add to the usual interest in the franchise.  (1985)
You Kill Me – Ben Kingsley, Téa Leoni, Luke Wilson, Dennis Farina and Bill Pullman star in this action comedy directed by John Dahl. (2007)
Zodiac – David Fincher directed this hybrid of biography, journalism and speculation.  It is nonetheless well worth watching. Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Brian Cox and other formidable actors reconstruct the scenes of San Francisco’s most infamous serial killer. (2007)

I’ve no doubt missed a few and made a few errors.  Corrections, additions and opinions welcomed. Please feel free to comment.

For a comprehensive list of crime fiction novels set in the San Francisco Bay Area, visit the incomparable Golden Gate Mysteries

For a comprehensive look at Private Eye fiction (books and film), check out The Thrilling Detective Website

While there are several “best” lists on The Internet with regard to crime films and novels in general, I’m not aware of a master file of all crime fiction and or films, Please let me know if I’m mistaken.