When San Mateo County Was Home to “Lights, Camera, Action!”

When San Mateo County was home to ‘Lights, Camera, Action!’

in A&E

It’s a sheer coincidence that the bust of Soledad de Ortega Arguello, whose Spanish land grant is now home to thousands of Peninsula residents, bears a striking resemblance to Mrs. Doubtfire, the character played by Robin Williams in the 1993 movie of the same name. The stern-faced bust of “Mrs. Arguello,” which is on a pedestal on Broadway, near the Redwood City Caltrain crossing, is not very far from San Mateo County’s old courthouse, the location of a key scene in the film, where Williams—as the dad in the film—lost custody of his children.  The dad takes on the persona of Mrs. Doubtfire, the children’s nanny, because he misses them and wants to remain in their lives.

Redwood City is no stranger to movie settings, according to filminamerica.com, a web resource on movie and television locations. Another Williams film, “Bicentennial Man,” included scenes at Oracle Corp. in Redwood Shores, as well as a scene at a home in Woodside. Redwood City is where Maude of “Harold and Maude” swiped a potted tree in front of the San Mateo County Government Center.  The 1971 movie was filmed in locales all over the county. Among the venues was a now defunct auto wrecking yard adjacent to the San Carlos Airport.

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The Peninsula is a popular location for movies. Half Moon Bay is a favored setting. The coastal city’s credits include “Swiss Army Man,” a 2016 movie starring Daniel Radcliffe of “Harry Potter” fame. At the time of that filming, Brena Bailey of the San Mateo-Silicon Valley Film Commission, was quoted as saying the Peninsula has a “tremendous diversity of breathtaking bay and coastal views. Best of all, the area is easily accessible. San Francisco International Airport is in our backyard.” Half Moon Bay was the locale for “House of Sand and Fog,” which was filmed in 2003, a big year for Half Moon Bay movies.  “American Wedding” and “The Law and Mr. Lee” were also products of the coast in that year.

Heavenly Filoli

The filminamerica website lists 23 San Mateo County cities as locations for films. Woodside’s FIloli estate has seen its share of screen time, including “Heaven Can Wait” and “Joy Luck Club.” The estate off Canada Road was also the setting for the television hit “Dynasty.”

The film commission also brings in crews which do television commercials. It’s the movies, however, that have longer shelf life. The recent movie menu includes “Chasing Mavericks,” “The Master,” “The Internship,” and “Jobs.” Earlier offerings with Peninsula locales boast “Sweet November” in 2001, which had a scene filmed in Daly City, and “The Right Stuff,” made in 1983, which featured a scene at an inn in Millbrae.

One classic scene is the car chase in 1968’s “Bullitt” starring Steve McQueen. The real stars are the Mustang and Charger racing on the Guadalupe Canyon Parkway, roaring through Daly City and Brisbane, and ending with the Charger crashing into a gas station where it bursts in flames. There’s also a shootout at San Francisco International Airport, which, despite its name, is in San Mateo County.

The Top Locale

The movie which featured the most San Mateo County settings? The envelope, please. The winner is “Harold and Maude,” which starred Ruth Gordan as Maude, a very senior citizen. One source lists at least a dozen San Mateo County cities as sites in that film. The locales range from the Southern Pacific railroad yard in Brisbane to a shot on Highway 1 near Pescadero. There are also scenes of Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma and the Dumbarton Bridge.

My favorite Peninsula scene is in the 1941 black-and-white film classic “The Maltese Falcon,” starring Humphrey Bogart as San Francisco private eye Sam Spade. Spade asks a cabbie if he has enough gas to “get to Burlingame.” When he arrives he finds he was given “a bum steer.” The Burlingame scene, a grocery store, was probably a Hollywood set. But you just got to love the lingo.