The Sun Valley neighborhood of San Rafael, Ca. was the location of the California Motion Picture Company (CMPC), a pioneer of feature-length films specializing in films about the early history of California. The studio complex was built in 1912 by George E. Middleton, a prominent San Francisco automobile dealer for the purpose of shooting promotional footage of the automobiles he was selling. He determined that his pretty wife, actress/singer Beatriz Michelena could star in movies made by his company and Middleton starred Michelena in 11 features for the San Rafael studio between 1914 and 1917. Michelena was talented but her demands for star treatment brought heavy expense to productions that continued to lose money and in 1916 CMPC filed for bankruptcy. Middleton and Michelena bought out the company in 1917 and renamed it Michelena Studios, finally closing for good around 1920 due to lack of profits and the rise of Hollywood. Today, almost 100 years later, the studio site where there once were cowboys and stagecoaches is now a quiet residential neighborhood with houses and trees.
Blood Alley (1955) tells the story of Captain Tom Wilder (John Wayne) whom locals rescue from the Chinese Communists. He ends up attempting to take the people of the village to Hong Kong in a small, rotten paddle steamer.Most of the location filming was done at historic China Camp in Marin County, Ca. Artificial sets and buildings were added to create a small Chinese village.
The Godfather (1972) Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece. Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay. Ranked no. 2 in the AFI's top 100 films list of all time. The reconciliation scene between Kay Adams (Diane Keaton) and Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) was filmed in Ross, Ca. in early autumn to substitute for New Hampshire. Video Clip
Dirty Harry, 1971 classic movie. The first in the series of Clint Eastwood (as SFPD Inspector "Dirty" Harry Callahan) crime films that was shot on location in San Francisco and Marin County, Ca. The final action scene was shot in Larkspur, Ca. where Dirty Harry chases the bad guy to the old rock quarry after jumping on top of the school bus. The rock quarry and pond, that he throws his badge in at the end of the movie, have been developed over the last 40 years into commercial office, shopping and residential buildings. Video clip.
American Graffiti, (1973). George Lucas' classic about cruising in the early sixites that was nominated for 5 Academy Awards. The cruising scenes were originally planned to be shot in downtown San Rafael, Ca. but because of disruptions to local businesses the San Rafael City Council revoked permission after one night of shooting and the rest of the movie was shot in Petaluma, Ca. Nonetheless there are several classic scenes that were shot that first night on Fourth St., San Rafael. Fourth St. is actually a two-way street but for the movie it was made one-way going West, which make the scenes shot in San Rafael easy to distinguish from the ones shot in Petaluma.
© Joseph Greco