Basic Instinct | 1992
The Joe Esterhasz series of did-they/didn’t-they scripts (including Jagged Edge in 1985) peaked with Basic Instinct, originally called Love Hurts, relegated to becoming the title of one of ‘Catherine Woolf’s’ bestsellers.
Forget the endless debates as to whether this is a feminist role-reversal slasher or a piece of misogynist exploitation, sit back and enjoy the irresistible pleasure of its unapologetically brazen melodrama. And the terrific music score from Jerry Goldsmith.
The director sets the story in a Vertigo-esque San Francisco, with the sexually profligate Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) sporting the inappropriate Hitch uniform of sexual repression, all tightly-clenched hair and severe grey suit – though noticeably lacking in the lingerie department.
The mystery begins when retired rock star Johnny Boz (the late Bill Cable, sometime nude model under the name Stoner or Bigg John – showing even more of himself than star Stone) is found bloodily murdered with an ice pick in his smart Pacific Heights home, 2104 Broadway at Buchanan Street. Apart from the bedroom (probably too much fake blood splashing about for the homeowners), the film makes full use of the distinctive interior of this sort-of-art-nouveau mansion with its stained-glass windows.
The obvious suspect is Boz’s regular fun-buddy, thriller writer Tramell, who supposedly lives at ‘162 Divisadero’. In reality, her blindingly white, pillared townhouse is 2930 Vallejo Street at Baker Street, a few blocks to the west of Boz’s place.
This stretch of Vallejo seems to be quite the street for rich people with dubious motives – ambitious politician Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) lived at 2700 in Bullitt, and snivelly, penny-pinching son-in-law Simmons (Richard Chamberlain) at 2898 in The Towering Inferno.
Investigating detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), who has his own problems involving Internal Affairs, learns from Tramell’s surly live-in lover Roxy (Leilani Sarelle) that the writer has taken off for her beachfront getaway up the coast at ‘Seadrift 1402’ in Stinson Beach, about 20 miles north of San Francisco in Marin County.
In fact, Tramell’s swish ‘Stinson’ pad was filmed south of San Francisco at the beachfront estate of 157 Spindrift Road, off Cabrillo Highway (Hwy 1), Carmel-by-the-Sea (which is why it seems to be reached via the arched Bixby Creek Bridge on California’s Big Sur coastline).
Again, the interior is the real thing, as are the seafront deck and wooden steps leading down to the beach, but the one thing the property lacks is a spacious spread of sand.
The seafront supposedly below the house, where Curran questions Tramell, was filmed on Garrapata State Beach, about eight miles to the south.
But the interior of the cop station where Curran, insensitively dubbed Shooter by his colleagues on the force after accidentally taking out a couple of innocent bystanders in the heat of the moment, has to endure therapy sessions with shrink Dr Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn) is a huge set. It was built across two soundstages linked by that long corridor at Warner Bros Studio in Burbank, Los Angeles. The film uses the old but always effective trick of shifting the set around while elevator doors are closed to give the impression of multiple floors.
The exterior of the precinct, though, is the rear of the old Hall of Justice, 850 Bryant Street, South of Market. You’d immediately recognise its frontage as the station of another San Francisco shooter, Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry.
After grilling Tramell, the newly teetotal Curran gives her a lift home, but the writer’s relentless mind games push him into deserting the Evian for a Double Black Jack at Tosca, 242 Columbus Avenue, a smart bar/restaurant near the lively Broadway-Columbus entertainment district.
Curran tails Tramell as she drives out of the city to the small town of ‘Mill Valley’ where it turns out she’s visiting released multiple murderer Hazel Dobkins (Dorothy Malone) at ‘26 Albion Road’. This modest little home is 26 Liberty Street in Petaluma, the northern California town where George Lucas made his name filming American Graffiti back in the Seventies.
The house faces St Vincent Church, in a sequence deliberately referencing the scene in Vertigo where Scottie (James Stewart) follows Madeleine (Kim Novak) to McKittrick’s Hotel, opposite San Francisco’s (now-gone) St Paulus Lutheran Church.
Driving along Western Avenue, the main drag for the kids of American Graffiti, Tramell shakes off Curran at Petaluma Boulevard North.
Back in San Francisco, Curran’s apartment is 1158 Montgomery Street at Green Street, north of the downtown Financial District, with its fabulous view down Montgomery to the Transamerica Pyramid. In yet another Hitchcock reference, the studio-built interior features a staircase clearly modelled on that of Vertigo’s mission belltower.
The little side-street where Curran’s departmental nemesis Nilsen is found shot in the head is Gibb Street, which runs west from Columbus Avenue just a couple of blocks southeast of Tosca toward the Transamerica Pyramid.
Despite, or perhaps because of, Tramell’s manipulations, Curran unwisely agrees to meet up with the writer at Johnny Boz’s churchified rock club – another studio set at Burbank, based on New York’s Limelight Club, famously housed in a deconsecrated church on 6th Avenue at West 20th Street.
The ‘Stetson Bar’, in which Gus (George Dzundza) gives Nick a good talking to, was Raw Hide II, a now-closed lesbian C&W bar, which stood at 280 Seventh Street, South of Market.
That’s not the front of Raw Hide, though. The bar exterior and ‘Mac’s Diner’ next door, were false fronts constructed in an alleyway beneath the since-demolished Transbay Terminal Deck, Mission Street at First Street.
As he leaves ‘Mac’s’, there’s a deliberate attempt to run Curran down. Leaping into his car to follow the unseen assailant, Curran soon finds himself in true Bullitt fashion, roaring up and down the city’s hills.
The pedestrian steps up which he tests tests the limits of his car’s suspension are on the west side of Kearny Street, running from Broadway up to Vallejo Street. Coincidentally, or not, Enrico’s, on the corner of Broadway and Kearny, is the bar where Bullitt meets up with an informant.
In 2000, the stairs, which you can also see in 1947 film noir Dark Passage with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, were named the Peter Macchiarini Steps in 2000 to honour the Italian-American modernist sculpture and jeweller who owned a studio on Grant Avenue. Eddie Brock also races his Ducati Scrambler up this same stretch of Kearny Street in Venom.
The huge building site into which the car he’s tailing eventually swerves and crashes is in front of the San Francisco Marriott Marquis Hotel on Mission Street. It was the foundation for the huge Moscone Centre complex and is now occupied by Yerba Buena Gardens.
The increasingly befuddled Curran voices to Gus the suspicions he’s beginning to have about Beth as they stroll along the picturesque Pier 7, with the double-decker Oakland Bay Bridge looming in the background.
Curran has now been pushed far enough to investigate Beth’s past history at the ‘Salinas Medical Centre’, which is the St Joseph Urgent Care Canter (formerly Rohnert Park Healthcare Center), 1450 Medical Center Drive in Rohnert Park, a few miles north of Petaluma (Salinas is way to the south near Monterey).
The climax, with the unfortunate Beth manipulated into taking the bullet, was filmed in the art deco office block 2201 Broadway, Oakland, just over the Bay Bridge from San Francisco.