1. Vertigo (1958) Hitchcock's dark, mesmerizing masterpiece has been called a valentine to the city, and it's my favorite of any film set in, shot in or that even mentions San Francisco. I could probably write more than anyone would ever want to read on the subject of why Vertigo is irresistible to me and how gloriously I feel it portrays SF in the late 1950's. But...to be brief and to the point, this is one of those rare films that pulls me entirely into its magnetic field and sweeps me along to its devastating conclusion: Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) gazing, vacant and in shock, down upon the body of his idealized dead love...a love he's just lost for the second time. To quote Martin Scorsese, Vertigo is "like being drawn into a very, very beautiful, comfortable almost nightmarish obsession." As for its depiction of San Francisco, Vertigo shows the city off to its very best advantage...a stunning city to begin with, Hitchcock renders it flawlessly with his extensive Technicolor/VistaVision location shots: cityscapes, landmarks (the Golden Gate Bridge, the Mission Dolores, Nob Hill, Coit Tower) and street scenes. Hitchcock also does a meticulous job of recreating some classic local interiors: Ernies Restaurant, Ransohoff's dept. store, Podesta Baldocchi's florist shop.
2. The Maltese Falcon (1941) This is the first film directed by John Huston...on top of being Huston's remarkable debut (which he adapted from Dashiell Hammett's novel), it boasts an inspired cast (Greenstreet and Lorre's first of many pairings), an intriguing noir mood (it's been called the first major work of film noir), is tight and taut and delivers the goods, as Sam Spade might've remarked. Many years ago I took the "Dashiell Hammett Tour" of San Francisco (led by Don Herron who continues to conduct tours). I don't remember that much about it now other than our stop at one of Spade's haunts, John's Grille on Ellis St. (a steak/seafood joint in business since 1908 and visited by many a celebrity), and our pause at Burritt Alley, near the corner of Bush and Stockton, where a plaque proclaims: "On approximately this spot, Miles Archer, partner of Sam Spade, was done in by Brigid O'Shaughnessy." The Maltese Falcon was mostly shot at Warner Bros. studios in Burbank with some stock footage of SF, but it conveys a strong sense of San Francisco in the late 30's/early 40's...it's also one of Humphrey Bogart's early star turns which leads nicely to...
3. Play it Again, Sam (1972) Adapted from his Broadway hit and starring Woody Allen but directed by Herb Ross, the film also stars Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts and Jerry Lacy as an imaginary "Bogart". This is a Woody Allen classic that hasn't been getting it's due lately. It's an outrageously funny take on bouncing back from rejection and re-entering the "dating pool," circa the early 70's. It also happens to include a great panorama of Bay Area locales that reflect the city and the general scene at the time. Allen's character, Allan Felix, a film critic/classic film buff, lives in North Beach and makes his way around the city and area in pursuit of romance - as far north as Sausalito, Stinson Beach and Bolinas. He tries desperately and hilariously (often on Bogart's advice) to connect with women after being unceremoniously dumped by his wife. TCM viewers and other classic film fans will appreciate the amusing homage to Casablanca and many references to classic film.
4. Days of Wine and Roses (1962) An Oscar winner for Henry Mancini's original song and nominated for four others, this film addressed a difficult subject for the time: alcoholism. Directed by Blake Edwards, Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick portray a young couple on the brink of what could be an exciting life together, he's a PR dynamo, she's beautiful and sweet, they adore each other...and their swank, modern apt. features a panoramic view of the Golden Gate Bridge. But their life takes a dark turn. All in all, the beauty of San Francisco seems a perfect backdrop and metaphor for the couple's lost dreams.
5. I Remember Mama (1948) Directed by George Stevens and starring the sublime Irene Dunne, this is a sentimental favorite of mine. But first, will someone please explain why Irene Dunne never won an Oscar?!? This film was nominated for five, including Dunne's fifth and final nomination for Best Actress. Set in San Francisco around 1910, it's the story of the trials and triumphs of a family of Norwegian immigrants who have settled in the Cow Hollow district (today an upscale neighborhood, but around that time...well...cows). It's a warm family drama with Dunne as the very practical yet caring matriarch. I especially enjoy the exterior scenes that depict San Francisco 100 years ago.
Those are my five. I may have more to say about some of them and other aspects of Bay Area films, but that's it for now. Look forward to comments about these and other films set in San Francisco.