San Francisco has a rich cinematic history and is a haven for avid cinema fanatics — from respected film schools to iconic shooting locations for films like The Maltese Falcon and Mrs.Doubtfire — there is always a gem waiting for the movie buffs to visit. And perhaps, without question, one of the greatest film makers of the 20th century treated San Francisco as his greatest muse and inspiration for scenery. Alfred Hitchcock filmed many of his greatest films like The Birds and Vertigo in here in the City and his his work are massive love letters of reel proportions. Although there are many cameos made by S.F. locations in his films, we'll be exploring a place that was pivotal in plot development and very much a character itself.
It's time to check into the Vertigo Hotel.
[jump] In 1958, Alfred Hitchcock filmed and released Vertigo, the psychological thriller starring James Stewart and Kim Novak. If for some reason you haven't seen this movie, it chronicles the lives of former police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson (Stewart), who is forced into early retirement because an incident in the line of duty caused him to develop acrophobia (an extreme fear of heights) and vertigo (a sensation of false, rotational movement). Scottie is hired by an acquaintance, Gavin Elster, as a private investigator to follow Gavin's wife Madeleine (Novak), who is behaving in an strange manner.
The film was shot on location in San Francisco with some interior shots done in Paramount Studios in Southern California. Toward the end of the film, one of the final scenes is of a confrontation between the two protagonists takes place in a San Francisco hotel room prior to the plot twist reveal. At the the time of filming, the property was called the Empire Hotel, and after a remodel in the mid-2000s it was renamed Vertigo Hotel in tribute to its cinematic past.
Located on 920 Sutter in the Nob Hill neighborhood, the hotel used to feature a massive marque sign with the name “Empire” before it was torn down during the remodel. Vertigo fans will remember seeing the sign as Scottie follows Madeline along Sutter until she enters the hotel building. Scottie stands outside on the other side of the street watching the windows and then Novak's character, wearing a long-sleeved green dress, opens her window, alongside the letter P in the vertical sign. Hitchcock's camera scans the building before Scottie goes in to confront Madeline. He knocks on room 401 and when she opens the door, the letter P is visible from the inside of the room. We don't want to provide any spoilers so we suggest watching the film in its entirety, which, fun fact, plays on a continuous loop in the hotel lobby today.
Vertigo is often featured on many top lists for best films, and according to the BBC, it is the best film of all time. And as much as it is about the intricate plot details and palpable dialogue, we locals truly believe that the movie's success and critical acclaim lies heavily in the fact it features a real star — San Francisco.