Sonoma County on film
Published: Friday, February 24, 2012 at 4:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 24, 2012 at 4:32 p.m.
When you settle down at 4 p.m. Sunday to watch the 84th annual Academy Awards, you'll see the ceremonies broadcast live on ABC from the Kodak Theatre.
That's in Hollywood, the fabled center of the moviemaking universe. But movies aren't always made in Hollywood. The people of Sonoma County have known that for a long time. For almost a century, the hills, forest, towns and vineyards of our region have served as popular locations for major film makers.
Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola all have brought their cameras and crews here. And while not every film made here was a classic, nobody's going to forget Hitchcock's “The Birds” or Wes Craven's “Scream.”
Press Democrat archives and Sonoma County Film Commission archives show some 100 feature films that co-star Sonoma County. Below are some of the most notable.
There are no Oscar winners for best picture on this list, but it might be surprising how many Academy Award nominees there are. You'll even find a few winners in lesser categories.
1914 — “Valley of the Moon.” Author Jack London played a bit part in this film version of his autobiographical novel, shot in Glen Ellen and at Wolf House, now part of Jack London State Park.
1943— “Shadow of a Doubt.” Director Alfred Hitchock froze Santa Rosa in time with his World War II era thriller about a young woman (Teresa Wright) who suspects her favorite uncle (Joseph Cotten) of being the infamous Merry Widow serial killer. It offers a look at Old Courthouse Square when the courthouse was still there, as well as the old ivy-covered library. Writer Gordon McDonell was nominated for an Oscar. (The movie was remade for TV in 1991 with Diane Ladd and Hark Harmon. Scenes were shot on McDonald Avenue in Santa Rosa and downtown Petaluma.)
1943 — “The Happy Land.” This wartime family drama, starring Don Ameche, is more or less forgotten, but there's an important footnote. The director discovered a new actress, a local five-year-old girl named Natasha Gurdin, who had come to watch the filming with a relative. She grew up to be Natalie Wood, and went on to star in “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and “West Side Story.” It also was the film debut of Harry Morgan, later a TV star on “Dragnet” and “M*A*S*H,” who liked Sonoma County so much he bought a ranch here.
1960 — “Pollyanna.” The Walt Disney Company took over Santa Rosa's historic McDonald Mansion for a family melodrama starring one of the hottest child stars of the era, Hayley Mills. She won not an Oscar but a juvenile award from the Academy for the most outstanding juvenile performance during 1960.
1963 — “The Birds.” Alfred Hitchcock came back, and he brought Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren and hundreds of feathered friends with him for a thriller about what would happen if birds ever got tired of tolerating humans. Great footage shot in Bodega and Bodega Bay. Nominated for an Oscar for special effects.
1972 — “The Candidate.” Director Michael Ritchie filmed a fake political rally at Santa Rosa's Howarth Park (identified as San Diego in the film) for his story about a young idealist (Robert Redford) running for the U.S. Senate. Other scenes were shot here, too. Writer Jeremy Larner won an Oscar for his screenplay; nominated for best sound.
1973 — “American Grafitti.” Before “Star Wars,” young director George Lucas turned Petaluma into a generic American small town where teenagers searched for something to do. Most of the young cast was still unknown then, but became famous later, most notably Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford. Young Ron Howard, known his childhood TV role as Opie on “The Andy Griffith Show,” was the best-known star in the film at the time. Nominated for five oscars, including best director.
1974 — “Smile.” Director Michael Ritchie of “The Candidate” returned to Santa Rosa to film a satire on teen-age beauty pageants, angering locals who took such things seriously.
1986 — “Howard the Duck.” George Lucas also returned to Petaluma, post-“Star Wars,” to make the biggest bomb of his career, an ill-fated adaptation of a cult comic book. Look for Howard in an ultralight aircraft, soaring over the Petaluma River turning basin.
1986 — “Peggy Sue Got Married.” Director Francis Ford Coppola came to Santa Rosa, long before he established his winery in Geyserville, to film Kathleen Turner and Nicolas Cage in a flashback fantasy about a woman who relives her teen years. Both Santa Rosa High School and Petaluma's D Street play prominent roles, along with other local sites. Nominated for three Oscars, including best actress for Turner.
1988 — “Tucker: The Man and His Dream.” Coppola returned to Sonoma County to film a true story about a visionary car designer, played by Jeff Bridges. Locations include a home in Sonoma and the Petaluma Speedway. Nominated for three Oscars, including best supporting actor for Martin Landau.
1995 — “A Walk in the Clouds.” The movie stars Keanu Reeves as a young soldier who comes home from World War II and befriends the pregnant, unwed granddaughter of a winery patriarch, played by Anthony Quinn. The story is set in Napa Valley, but scenes were shot at Sonoma County locations, including Haywood's Winery in Sonoma Valley.
1996 — “Phenomenon.” Look for a cameo by the venerable Wagon Wheel Inn in Santa Rosa, as well as other Sonoma County locales, in the story of a not-so-bright mechanic (John Travolta) who sees a very bright light in the sky, blacks out and becomes a genius.
1996 — “Scream.” Director Wes Craven, creator of “Nightmare on Elm Street,” wanted to film at Santa Rosa High School but the school board said no. Craven shot the film in town anyway, using alternate locations, and scored a big hit with a gory teen-slasher flick starring Neve Campbell.
1997 — “Flubber.” Robin Williams starred in the remake of Disney's “Absent-Minded Professor,” with some scenes shot in Petaluma.
2003 — “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Another remake, this time with Steve Martin playing a family patriarch in a new version of the Clifton Webb classic from 1950. The film includes scenes filmed at Railroad Square and in a Petaluma home.
2008 — “Bottle Shock.” Bill Pullman and Alan Rickman starred in a drama based on the true story of California wines' historic victory over French wines at a blind Paris tasting in 1976. The story focused on Chateau Montelena, a historic cabernet and chardonnay producer in Calistoga. Includes locales in Napa and Sonoma counties.
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Movie release dates source: Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB).
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