The Rock | 1996
High-octane actioner, with embittered Marine Brigadier General Hummel (Ed Harris) and his crack troops taking over Alcatraz Island and pointing some very nasty chemical warheads at the City by the Bay. Only ex-inmate and political prisoner John Mason (Sean Connery) can sort the problem out, along with nervous scientist Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage).
The studio, as ever, was keen on making the movie economically in the studio but – credit to him – director Bay saw that the peeling paint and crumbling texture of the facility were vital to the feel of the piece.
So the film uses the real Alcatraz Prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. As a national park, it wasn’t possible to close Alcatraz down, and much of the filming had to accommodate tour parties milling around.
Now world-famous for its time as a federal penitentiary, the island was originally the site of the first lighthouse on the West Coast, as well as serving as a defence fort during the Civil War. For nearly 30 years – from 1934 to 1963 – it gained notoriety as the maximum security prison.
Following the closing of the penitentiary, Alcatraz made history once more when it became the site of a American Indian protest movement at the end of the Sixties.
You can of course, visit the island. Tours can sometimes be sold out, so best to book well in advance with Alcatraz Cruises, the official source for tickets.
Goodspeed's apartment, for instance. Supposedly in 'Washington DC', the view from the window clearly shows the World Interstate Centre in downtown Los Angeles, while the sign on the roof, where he cavorts with his girlfriend, identifies it as the Hotel Rosslyn, 112 West 5th Street, (previously featured in Sam Raimi's Darkman).
While the FBI agents set up mobile command HQ on Pier 39 on San Francisco Bay, Goodspeed is summoned to FBI offices in San Fran's City Hall, Van Ness Avenue at McAllister Street in the Civic Center.
Now holding al the cards, Mason demands, and gets, a penthouse suite at the the Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason Street. The San Francisco landmark has also been seen in Richard Lester’s little-seen Petulia and in Alfred Hitchcock’s final film, Family Plot.
It's from here that Mason escapes after leaving the FBI boss dangling from the roof. But look again. The hotel from which Goodspeed chases the fleeing Mason is the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, 506 South Grand Avenue, on Pershing Square, downtown Los Angeles, previously seen in Beverly Hills Cop and Ghostbusters, among many others.
As Goodspeed gives chase, and we get the inevitable San Fran ritual of a bouncy car chase down the city's hills, once again there’s a glimpse of Los Angeles. The multiple car smash-up and Goodspeed taking an unconventional shortcut through the garage was filmed at the intersection of Seventh Street and Centre Street down in San Pedro.
It’s back to San Francisco for the spectacular smash as a cable car is launched into the air by laws of physics comprehended only by Michael Bay. Who knew the damn things were so inflammable? The car careers north down Jones Street before exploding in a ball of flames at Pacific Avenue.
Mason is apprehended when he meets up with his estranged daughter at the Palace of Fine Arts, 3601 Lyon Street, between Jefferson and Bay Streets in the Marina district, a backdrop seen in both Vertigo and inventive time-travel thriller Time After Time, which saw writer HG Wells tracking Jack the Ripper through modern-day California.
Built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, the grandiose Romanesque buildings of the Palace were retained and – in the Sixties – rebuilt in poured concrete.