Hey, let’s play hooky and go see a movie! Wanna? I found this the other day in the rabbit warren that led on from Paul’s San Francisco cable car footage. Today’s picture—also set in the City—is a movie version of the same-named police procedural series which ran on CBS as a radio show from 1950 until 1953, then as a television program from 1954 until 1960.
It’s not a deepie (3D)—matter o’ fact, it’s pretty one-dimensional; MST3K could’ve made a hearty meal of this. But that doesn’t make any difference, because the carwatching is A-number-1! The image is surprisingly sharp and clear, too, maybe in part because black-and-white rather than colour. And the audio’s good, too; we get to hear the clicks when someone operates transmission pushbuttons. Grab snacks and let’s find good seats.
Cars-cars-cars right from the start down at the docks to the end on the unfinished Embarcadero Freeway. There’s an early-’50s Plymouth taxicab as a would-be getaway car, and the fuzz in a ’57 Dodge chase the bad guys in a ’57 Plymouth all day. There’s a big lot of rolling iron to spot. Not just the feautre cars but the incidental ones, too, and the trucks and that school bus(!). That hosey accent out of the big cop, the call boxes, the police procedures, the manners, the billboards, the ample parking and sparse traffic and lack of visual clutter…the past is a foreign country, alright. What do you see?
This will supplant Rockford Files for this evenings viewing pleasure!
What do I see? (other than some of the worst acting I’ve seen in a long while – is there anyone that doesn’t sound like they’re reading a script?) Well, I’ll never be able to imagine ’57 Chevys being police cars. All my life they’ve been car show fodder, favorite of customizers, iconic 1950s totem. Not black and white police cars.
I have this movie on my hard drive and load it up once on a while for light viewing. I grew up in San Francisco and recognize many of the locations…and get a big dose of cognitive dissonance in the last chase when the location jumps about six miles in one swell foop. I can’t recall whether SFPD squads were Chevrolets in 1957 but by 1959 they were all Ford’s, sold to The City that year and for over a decade afterwards by S&C Ford, a dealership on Upper Market St. San Francisco had an Auto Row but a few dealers including S&C Ford eschewed that area…Les Vogel Chevrolet at Mission and South Van Ness, B&H Chrysler-Plymouth on Broadway at Sansome. Ford was represented on Auto Row by Hughson Ford.
This movie was directed by Don Siegel, who had directed the original Invasion of The Body Snatchers and would later go on to direct Dirty Harry, among other films. It prominently features the Sutro Baths, once the world’s largest indoor swimming place, which burned down in 1966.
I remember seeing Lineup episodes on TV in the 60s under the “San Francisco Beat” name the series acquired when it was syndicated.
Those ’56 Fords had no chance to catch the ’57 Plymouth. Love the sped up car chase scenes at the 1:19 mark. This is a worthwhile watch. Narrowly avoided the ’58 Cadillac and the ’57 Chevy.
Had they included Telly Savalas, or Leslie Nielsen, it could have improved the acting. Or Leslie could have cracked a few jokes maybe.
Great find down that rabbit hole!
This was on TCM’s Noir Alley a couple of weeks ago and I enjoyed it on several levels. For instance, seeing Mr. Drysdale from “Beverly Hillbillies” in a supporting role, sans toupee, and Bob Bailey from radio’s “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar” as a hoodlum. Eddie Muller, the host of Noir Alley, noted that the film was loosely based on a CBS TV series of the same name, which had been intended as a Dragnet ripoff set in San Francisco. The show was considered such a good advertisement for the city that the SFPD rolled out the red carpet for the film crew, and it shows in all the location filming.
The stunt driver for the climactic scene at the end – the VERY end – of the Embarcadero Freeway had his wife in the car as a double for an actress, and he had misled her about what the scene would require. She had hysterics. I probably would have, too.
Some then-and-now comparisons of some of the locations here (scroll down):
Mrs. JPC and I watched this on Noir Alley a few weeks ago and loved it. There is very much a “television” quality to some of the shooting, and the car scenes (which were most of them) could not be beat.
I always admired Eli Wallach. Born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrants and a graduate of the University of Texas in the ’30’s. Maybe that’s where he learned to ride horses.
At least the vehicle descriptions are realistic. In most ’50s cop shows all cars are either “A Gray Sedan” or “A Late-Model Convertible Of A Popular Make.”
Please make this a regular feature of CC!
Now about the Dodge and Plymouth sedans that featured prominently throughout the movie: Both are missing something during the closeup filming, especially in the chase scenes. Take a good look at the scenes when the camera is only a couple of feet from the right side of the windshield, with the red police light flashing on the dashboard.
Now focus in to the left of the picture, where the top of the vent window meets the windshield post. Notice the windshield rubber is wrinkled badly. That’s because there is no windshield. It’s been removed so there is no reflection in the glass surface. Same on the Plymouth close-up scenes during the chase.
It’s been commonplace for filmmakers to remove windshields for filming, the easiest one to see is the 1953 Mercury Convertible in the Lucile Ball and Desi Arnaz movie “The Long Trailer”. Bonus fact: During filming, the 1953 Mercury was found to be sorely lacking in the power needed for the very heavy trailer, so on the scenes in the mountains, a more powerful Lincoln was swapped in.
I used to supply vintage cars for movies shot in and around Washington DC and Baltimore. In the late 1980s I supplied several cars for a never released spy movie staring Harry Dean Stanton, where I had several 1950s era limousines and big sedans. One scene called for a close up in a 1955 Cadillac I supplied.
Without getting my permission first, in taking the windshield out, it broke. I had to sue the production company in Maryland small claims court to force the state film commission to provide the liability insurance bond info so I could file a claim. It was the last time I rented film cars out unless they also paid me to oversee the cars. The good news was the production company had to post a bond, and my bills for everything topped $6,000, all of it coming out of the bond.
That’s a terrific point about windshield removal in tv show and movie cars. It was more difficult to tell in earlier years when the rearview mirror was attached via the windshield header and was still there. Sometimes, they’d just remove the mirror and leave the post.
In later years, the rearview mirror started being attached to the windshield itself via a bracket and adhesive. So, if you didn’t see the bracket, you knew the windshield had been taken out. I think the last holdout was good old Chrysler who (I think) finally began changing over in the mid-seventies.
It’s another one of those great CC questions: which car was the last one to have a header-mounted rearview mirror?
“It’s another one of those great CC questions: which car was the last one to have a header-mounted rearview mirror?”
If we are talking about American production cars, I’m placing my bets on the 1981 Checker. I’ve checked [pun intended] photos online, and all the 1981 Checker cars still had a center rear view mirror hanging on a stalk from the windshield frame.
Now to throw a question back to all of you, what was the last production American car to have a dashboard mounted rear view mirror?
1963 Dodge Custom 880?
Very good guess and quite close. It was the full 1961 MoPaR family line
I think the ’63 880 wins since the interior was kept from the ’61 car.
What do you mean “good guess and quite close”? That’s the correct answer and your “1961 MoPaR line” is incorrect.
Here’s a pic of the ’63 880 interior.
No biggie. The Custom 880 was a stop-gap measure to try and salvage the 1962 downsizing debacle, cobbled together from ’61 and ’62 cars. It’s easily forgotten.
My mistake, I assumed that my Chrysler 300, New Yorker and Imperials I had from 1962, all having a top mounted mirror, would logically mean MoPaR would have changed over the entire line.
But nope, seems the cheaper cars hung on to the dash mounted mirrors thru 1963.
The Imperial that kept the old wraparound windshield through 1966 was actually my first thought.
The Dodge Custom 880 was really an odd duck borne entirely of panic. If there was a contest to name a non-badge-engineered, regular production car that sold in a significant volume for the most years, yet is the least remembered model of any manufacturer, it would get my vote.
In fact, I’m not completely sure that even the 1963 Custom 880 got the last dash-mounted rearview mirror. There’s a change that the 1964 station wagon version might have kept it since a lot of that car was a carryover. OTOH, all 1964 880s did get a new instrument cluster so, who knows?
I checked all my 1964 Dodge brochures, looked at the wagon, and it’s a top loaded mirror, not on dash, same as the car.
Mr. Drysdale, Jed’s banker in Beverly Hills
Did anyone notice the 1957 Ford in the opening waterfront (The Embarcadero) scenes, with an odd door badge, not the regular blue SFPD star? San Francisco Police at the time had a special Accident Investigation unit. Its cars were specially assigned and had their unique green door badge.
THANK YOU ! .
I have added this to my must watch file ~ I don’t often get the time to watch movies but I do enjoy them when I can .
I miss those wonderful CBS radio network serials they replayed in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
That film has been a guilty pleasure of mine for a couple of years now – a real window into a lost world. In a similar vein is this video about gas station life in the 1950s and 60s.
But perhaps ‘nostalgia for the future’ is possible too, and can be equally seductive. 🙂
Can they just stop reminiscing about old gas stations long enough to put out the house fire in the background? (1:39)
For fun, find ‘A Slight Case Of Larceny’ 1953, starring Micky Rooney running a gas station, lots and lots of eye candy .
I couldn’t find the entire movie on you tube but it’s out there .
That was excellent. Really interesting to see the half-built freeways and I loved the Sanders’ house – I wonder what colour it was – it looked so dark.
+1 for making movies a regular feature.
Looks like the detectives scored a D-500 equipped Dodge. With whitewalls, no less.