Highlander | 1986
A confusing jumble of accents, with staunchly Scottish Sean Connery playing Spanish/Egyptian nobleman Ramirez, as Frenchman Christopher Lambert becomes the immortal Scot Connor Macleod, in this flashy fantasy made by a director of music videos (and does it show).
The opening wrestling match (the hockey match of the original script made a little more sense, with the swinging sticks conjuring up memories of brandished broadswords) is set up as Madison Square Garden in New York, but the interior was filmed in the Meadowlands Arena – which became the Izod Center, 50 State Route 20 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The stadium was home to the NBA’s New Jersey Nets basketball team, but closed down in 2015 and is likely to be demolished.
The battle between the warring Scots tribes was staged before the striking conical peak of Buachaille Etive Beag in the breathtaking landscape of Glencoe, on the A82 in Argylleshire, Scotland (though the shot of the Kurgan on horseback was filmed later, in Wales). See more of Glencoe in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart and, of course, Skyfall.
The village from which Macleod is banished after miraculously recovering from his apparently fatal wounds is the 13th century Eilean Donan Castle on an islet in Dornie, eight miles east of Kyle of Lochalsh on the A87, Wester Ross. The islet, situated at the point where three great sea lochs meet, and surrounded by majestic scenery, is now one of the most visited attractions in the Scottish highlands.
The first fortified castle was built in the mid 13th century, and since then, at least four different versions of the castle have been built and re-built. Partially destroyed in a Jacobite uprising in 1719, Eilean Donan lay in ruins until it was bought in 1911, restored, and opened to visitors in 1932.
No stranger to the screen Eilean Donan has also been seen in Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948) with David Niven, The Master of Ballantrae (1953) with Errol Flynn, Loch Ness (1996), 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, as the setting for a fantasy number in 1998 Hindi romance Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, romantic comedy Made of Honor and Shekhar Kapur’s epic Elizabeth, The Golden Age.
The beach, where Macleod experiences the Quickening, is Refuge Bay, Curtaig near Morar, while the spectacular jagged peak where Ramirez (Connery) teaches swordplay is Cioch in the Cuillin Hills on the Isle of Skye.
The bar to which Macleod follows Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart) from Madison Square Garden (which was apparently specified as PJ Clarke’s Saloon in the script), is Peter McManus Cafe, 152 Seventh Avenue, between 19th and 20th Streets in Chelsea. PJ Clarke’s did get its moment of screen glory in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend.
It’s at Prospect Park Zoo, 450 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, that the Kurgan spies on Macleod and Brenda as they watch the lions.
The elegant bridge on which Macleod meets Kastagir (Hugh Quarshie) is Bow Bridge, Mid-Park at 74th Street, west of Bethesda Terrace, in Central Park.
There’s not as much Manhattan as you might think, though. The film was based in the Jacob Street Studios – an old dog biscuit factory – on Mill Street alongside St Saviour’s Dock in Bermondsey, London SE1, so that many of the present-day interiors, though set in ‘New York’, were filmed in the UK.
The ‘New York library’, in which Brenda figures out the secret of Russell Nash’s deathless signature, is the National Liberal Club, 1 Whitehall Court at Whitehall Place, SW1, now incorporated into the Royal Horseguards Hotel. The club was revisited by director Russell Mulcahy for 1992 thriller Blue Ice, with Michael Caine, and is seen in films including Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, David Lynch’s The Elephant Man and The Constant Gardener.
The duel on ‘Boston Common’, in which Macleod proves unkillable, uses the estate of Brocket Hall just west of Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire. A cinematic regular, the hall’s most memorable screen appearance is in the classic 1957 chiller Night of the Demon. Once a private house, it's now a corporate events-wedding space.
The scuzzy ‘American’ alleyway, in which a spectacular showdown with the Kurgan (Clancy Brown) finally blows out the neighbourhood windows, is Shad Thames, just west of the studios near to Tower Bridge. The area of dockside warehouses can also be seen in The Elephant Man, The French Lieutenant’s Woman and – since its radical gentrification – in Bridget Jones’s Diary.
The ensuing car chase, though, roars out onto Canal Street alongside Broadway in the real Lower Manhattan.
The ‘New York’ Church, in which Connor MacLeod meets the insinuatingly blasphemous Kurgan, is the huge, rather severe, red-brick St Augustine’s Kilburn, Kilburn Park Road, opposite Rudolph Road. The church is open to visitors on Saturday mornings between 10 and 12, and Tuesdays between 9 and 12.
The final confrontation with Kurgan was written to take place on the rollercoaster at Coney island, but the director eventually settled on the striking neon sign atop a rooftop alongside the Queens side of the Queensboro Bridge.
Coincidentally, the Silvercup sign happens to be atop a film studio – the Silvercup Studios, 42-25 21st Street in Queens. The studio has hosted many productions, including The Godfather Part III, When Harry Met Sally, Do The Right Thing, Romancing the Stone, The Purple Rose of Cairo and Broadway Danny Rose.
The sign is still there – a third-scale reproduction was built and destroyed in the studio in London.