Monday, May 21 , 2018, 4:49 am | Fair 52º


Cliff Redding: A Reel Connection to the Streets of San Francisco

Although yesterday marked my fifth trip to San Francisco, I couldn't help but think about films, television shows and commercials that have touched me in some way, and how some had a connection to The City by the Bay, more substantial now that I've been doing background work in Los Angeles.

There are quite a few films either made or set in San Francisco, according to the IMDb database, so I won't even attempt to open up any "intellectual" discussion on this topic. I'm just touching on some of my impressions. Click here to check out what the experts are saying.

And back to my story.

The other night, or rather early morning, I was flipping through the channels on TV and saw that Crazy in Alabama was about to start. The film stars Melanie Griffith, who plays an abused Southern mother of seven children and housewife. She poisons and decapitates her husband, then travels from Alabama to Hollywood to become a movie star. Along the way, she looks for a bridge that is tall enough from which to dispose of her husband's head, which she has been carrying in a Tupperware container inside a high-end hatbox. She comes upon the Golden Gate Bridge, where she decides to do the deed. I chuckled to myself yesterday, thinking about Griffith's scene on the reel Golden Gate Bridge as I walked across the real one and into Sausalito.

"Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat ..." — not far from Fisherman's Wharf (and, in my opinion, where the best fish sandwich ever conceived can be enjoyed) is the beginning of the city's famous cable car line. Not that Rice-A-Roni is or has ever been the official "San Francisco treat" to my knowledge, but each time I see the cable cars, I think of that commercial. And I can't remember eating a plate of Rice-A-Roni in ... years.

Growing in up in Gary, Ind., each time I mention my hometown, most people ask me or say something about Michael Jackson, The Jackson Five or any of the other members of the Jackson family which — to many non-Hoosiers — may be Gary's only claim to fame. I end up, in some cases, taking them to school: NASA astronaut Frank Borman is from Gary, Ind. Grammy Award-winning singer Deniece Williams is from Gary. Author Donna Britt is from Gary.

Alex Karras, the late NFL star who played for the Detroit Lions and later played the role of "Mongo" in the Mel Brooks classic Blazing Saddles, grew up in Gary. Karras also played the role of the father on the hit TV show Webster back in the day. Casting director Jeff Olan was born in Gary, Ind. William Marshall, who starred in the film Blacula, is from Gary. Fred Williamson, who played in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs and starred in Hammer and From Dusk Till Dawn ... and has a long list of IMDd credits, is from Gary.

And then there's Karl Malden. Malden, who grew up in Gary and even worked in the steel mills (as did many of Gary's residents, including yours truly), won an Academy Award for his role in the classic A Streetcar Named Desire. The film is No. 42 on IMDd's "Top 100 Greatest Movies of All Time" (The Ultimate List). Malden also played "Lt. Mike Stone" in the hit TV show The Streets of San Francisco.

My all-time favorite cinematic connection to San Francisco, however, is Bullitt ... the car chase.

Make that the car chase! What are you talking about?

I mean, Steve McQueen (who, was not from Gary, but was born and raised in Indiana and the epitome of "cool") drove his you-know-what off in that movie, at least his character did — but McQueen did do a good deal of the driving. I will never forget it. I believe I stayed to watch that movie at the State theater on Broadway in downtown Gary like two or three times in a row (on the price of one ticket ... you could do that back before the days of the multiplex) just to see the car chase, which has been deemed by people much more informed than I "one of the screen's all-time best." Actually, the editing of the car chase in Bullitt garnered the film an Academy Award for editing in 1968.

For a long time after watching that movie, whenever there was a hint of a hill back home and I was driving, I would "gun it" and my younger brother and I would would say "Bullitt"!!! Now, that was some piece of driving — in the movie, not my youthful attempt to take my Pontiac Tempest airborne — back when seatbelts were optional, when cars were cars and it took real skill to drive them. No computer assists, no GPS, no power windows. Just driving. Real driving.

Watching McQueen navigate the hilly streets of The City by the Bay was one of the reasons I wanted to visit San Francisco, and now my "Hollywood" connection — with its perception of reality — makes me feel even more connected.

Stay tuned ...

— Former Noozhawk copy editor Cliff Redding blogs at ReddMeat. Click here for previous columns. Follow Cliff on Twitter: @CliffRedd. The opinions expressed are his own.

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