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Sunday September 27th 2020

What's Up, Doc? | 1972

What's Up, Doc? film location: Hilton San Francisco, O'Farrell Street, San Francisco
What's Up, Doc? film location: the 'Hotel Bristol': Hilton San Francisco, O'Farrell Street, San Francisco

Peter Bogdanovich followed the success of the Oscar-winning The Last Picture Show with this homage to the great screwball comedies of the Thirties, which was filmed around San Francisco.

Hotel corridors and rooms, along with most interiors, were filmed at Warner Bros Burbank Studio in Los Angeles, but exterior locations really are the Bay City.

The convoluted plot revolves around four identical plaid overnight cases, a fortune in jewellery, top secrets and a collection of igneous rocks.

Engaged but mismatched couple Howard and Eunice (Ryan O'Neal and Madeline Kahn) arrive at San Francisco International Airport and there’s a nostalgic reminder of what major terminals looked like in the Seventies. You’d be hard pressed to recognize much today.

The ’Hotel Bristol’, where they – and the owners of the other three bags – are staying, is the Hilton San Francisco Union Square, 333 O'Farrell Street. The exterior is still recognisable though, like the airport lounge, the lobby looks very little like it did in 1972. Oh and, despite the name, it’s a couple of blocks southwest of Union Square.

What's Up, Doc? film location: Bush Street, San Francisco
What's Up, Doc? film location: Judy watches pizza dough being tossed: Bush Street, San Francisco

Howard gets entangled with the kooky and accident-prone Judy (Barbra Streisand) whom we first see, oblivious to the chaos she leaves in her wake, at the junction of Bush and Jones Streets, Lower Nob Hill. The restaurant where she watches through the window as pizza dough is tossed, was 1000 Bush Street at Jones. That particular establishment is gone, but Italian restaurant Gusto Pinsa Romana at the same spot, is still serving up pizza.

In classic farce style, much of the film is confined to the hotel, but it breaks free for the famous, no-holds-barred road chase.

Howard is in town for a musicologists’ convention, hoping to win a research grant from foundation owner Mr Larrabee (Austin Pendleton). As the successful applicant, he's treated to a lunch invitation from Larrabee himself.

What's Up, Doc? film location: California Street, Pacific Heights, San Francisco
What's Up, Doc? film location: Larrabee's Italianate home: California Street, Pacific Heights, San Francisco

Larrabee’s Italianate Victorian home, supposedly ‘888 Russian Hill’, is 2018 California Street, south of Lafayette Park in Pacific Heights.

The house's elaborate style is known as Stick-Eastlake: 'stick' form the 'stickwork' exterior, wooden boards imitating Tudor -half-timbering, and 'Eastlake' from British architect Charles Eastlake.

The unfeasibly spacious interior is a studio set, of course.

As various parties descend on the house to claim their respective bags, chaos ensues, and Howard and Judy make their escape by stealing a delivery boy’s bicycle. If you noticed a resemblance, the delivery boy is a cameo by Ryan O'Neal’s younger brother Kevin.

With everyone in pursuit, the film’s choice of the most photogenically chase-friendly of American cities pays dividends.

The mayhem begins with a little nod to Bullitt’s classic chase as the vehicles bounce down Filbert Street from Hyde to Leavenworth Streets (though the Steve McQueen classic used Taylor Street).

What's Up, Doc? film location: Balboa Street, Central Richmond, San Francisco
What's Up, Doc? film location: the endangered pane of glass: Balboa Street, Central Richmond, San Francisco

There’s an extended sight gag involving one of those giant panes of glass which are always being carefully transported whenever motor vehicles run out of control.

It’s staged at the junction of Balboa Street and 23rd Avenue, way west in the quieter Central Richmond district.

Nevertheless, we’re soon back in town for the almost obligatory detour through Chinatown, with the bike careering down Jackson Street from Stockton Street to Grant AvenueChinatown’s main artery – where it races off trapped inside a trailing dragon costume.

What's Up, Doc? film location: Chelsea Place, Bush Street, San Francisco
What's Up, Doc? film location: the 'Shangri La costume hire store': Chelsea Place, Bush Street, San Francisco

The dragon finally ploughs into ‘Shangri La’ costume hire, which is 641 Bush Street at Stockton Street, about six blocks to the south. The premises now house popular dive bar / restaurant Chelsea Place.

Howard and Judy emerge on foot, in preposterously irrelevant costumes, and disappear into Timothy Pflueger Place, the little alleyway alongside the bar.

What's Up, Doc? film location: Church of St Peter and St Paul, Filbert Street, San Francisco
What's Up, Doc? film location: Howard and Judy commandeer the blue VW: Church of St Peter and St Paul, Filbert Street, San Francisco

They’re not on foot for long, after commandeering a blue VW emblazoned with ‘Just Married’ from a flummoxed wedding party exiting St Peter and St Paul’s Church, 650 Filbert Street. That’s the twin-spired church overlooking Washington Square Park where, the previous year, crazed sniper Scorpio had threatened to shoot a priest in Don Siegel's classic Dirty Harry, with Clint Eastwood.

What's Up, Doc? film location: Lombard Street, Russian Hill, San Francisco
What's Up, Doc? film location: the Crookedest Street in the World: Lombard Street, Russian Hill, San Francisco

And what comedy chase through San Francisco can resist the chance to zigzag down the eight hairpin turns of the 1000 block of Lombard Street running down from Hyde Street in Russian Hill, the self-styled Crookedest Street in the World. It’s a popular tourist spot so you may have to jockey for position to get a good photo.

By the way, if you're a visiting location spotter, don't forget that on the next block east, 900 Lombard Street was the home of James Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 Vertigo.

What's Up, Doc? film location: Sacramento Street, Pacific Heights, San Francisco
What's Up, Doc? film location: the VW on the car transporter: Sacramento Street, Pacific Heights, San Francisco

They momentarily shake of the pursuers zooming up onto the top deck of a car transporter on Sacramento Street at Van Ness Avenue, Pacific Heights, before coming to the film’s most notorious scene.

What's Up, Doc? film location: Alta Plaza Park Steps, Steiner Street, San Francisco
What's Up, Doc? film location: the cars race down the steps: Alta Plaza Park Steps, Steiner Street, San Francisco

As the cars bang and clank down the main steps of Alta Plaza Park on Steiner Street in Pacific Heights, notice the amount of damage being caused to the steps.

No, this wasn’t a set of steps about to be replaced. This was a case of filming without a permit, and it caused a helluva row. Locals demanded the damage be sensitively and unnoticeably repaired. If you visit the steps today, you’ll see how that turned out.

Still, the passage of time has turned the damage to a bit of history in its own right.

Alta Plaza Park was also the site of Gene Hackman’s strange dream in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 paranoid thriller The Conversation. This time it was the overenthusiastic use of a smoke machine which (literally) got up the noses of locals

The whole convoy inevitably ends up careering into the waters of San Francisco Bay.

Incidentally, after all those complicated stunts, by far the funniest scene comes with the final courtroom scene, largely down to the magnificent scene-stealing of Liam Dunn – who went on to become a Mel Brooks regular) as the Judge.