Bodega, Stockton and Sonora

There were some scenes that Francis Ford Coppola and Howard Kazanjian captured on their trips around the Bay area that did stay in Finian’s Rainbow. And they were clearly not those done by Carroll Ballard because the presence of Fred Astaire and Petula Clark are unmistakable.  (Ballard was sent out after principal photography with some doubles for the stars – in which he covered the likes of Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty and scenic parks in Utah and Montana).

There is a gorgeous shot, with Fred and Petula, as they walk along a fence line with a small village in the background. Only seven buildings are visible, two are notable, one a church and the other I thought might be a courthouse.  I asked Howard if he recalled the location. (Howard – I believe it was the same town in which Hitchcock filmed The Birds). I looked again. Face-palm! No wonder I thought there was something very familiar about that “courthouse.” It was indeed the building used by Hitchcock. It was the schoolhouse, that set the locale for one of the attacks by the birds. In real life it is the former Potter Schoolhouse, now a private residence in Bodega, CA.

Fred and Petula at one time are viewed from shore traveling up a river on the deck of a boat. I took it to be along the Mississippi River, somewhere in the south. Actually, Francis and Howard had been driving through Stockton, CA when the director spotted the boat and seized another opportunity.

It may have been on the same trip that they ended up in Sonora where they had scheduled to shoot some footage of their romantic lead Don Francks as he is returning home to Rainbow Valley on a train. Coppola caught a lot of coverage with the actor in various parts of the train – inside, outside, and atop.

On the spur of the moment, Francis decided to add a new element to the sequence. He had seen an effect in another film and wanted to replicate it. (The film was a short by Charles Eames called “Toccata for a Toy Train” – see below). The effect gave the sense that the train was hurtling toward the camera, enveloping it and passing on – from the front, right through the back.  No one on the crew could figure out how it had been done without losing a camera. So Phil Lathrop, the DP, made some calls to ask around – this is what they found out – it was done with a mirror.  Howard was sent out to find the biggest one available.  He came back with a huge 6’ by 6’ one which they mounted at a forty-five degree angle across the tracks. Then from the side the operator framed the shot to take in the full size of the reflected image as the train moved towards it. The mirror, however was not of the best quality and consequently there was a bit of a vibration as the train moved down the tracks. There was only one take, for the train smashed into the mirror. And so it was done, the broken mirror edited out of course.

With this the location shoot was finished, and they returned to the studio for a couple weeks of rehearsal prior to beginning production in the sound stages and on the backlot.

[To view the first four minutes of Finian’s Rainbow to see the Bodega and Stockton footage try this link:

and select the clip Look to the Rainbow]

[Below is the Eames film mentioned above – the effect Coppola wanted begins around the 8:47 mark]



Rebel Treasure

I thought that after my last post (Seeing the [Upper] USA in a Chevrolet), it would be appropriate to drop this little item into the blog. I had not seen Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” back then, it came much later. And when I did see it, I loved it, especially the sequence on Mount Rushmore. So when I had an idea around which to write a sequel to National Treasure, I came up with this opening. A tribute to Hitch, mainly for his tongue-in-cheek title for NbyNW – The Man in Abraham Lincoln’s Nose.



The athletic figure of BENJAMIN FRANKLIN GATES dashes from tree to tree, casting hurried glances over his shoulder to check for pursuers. Though his sure-footedness over the broken ground is a great asset, his most dangerous weapon is his keen mind.
Breaking into the open, Ben drops his lanky frame beside the last of the scrub pines, taking care not to jar his pack. His chest heaving with the exertion, he peers into the darkness behind him.

He’s turned this way. Fan out.

The beams of a dozen flashlights advance towards him. They bob and weave in a criss-cross pattern, as frenzied as a pack of hounds sniffing a scent.
By Ben’s calm and confident demeanor you would think that he had them just where he wanted them, rather than the reverse. He heaves himself to his feet and continues his flight. The sound of his footfalls morph from a SOFT PATTER to a RESOUNDING SLAP, as the soft earth gives place to flinty rock.
Ahead the silvery moonlight traces the rocky edge of a cliff. Ben drops down into a trench that runs straight as an arrow for the precipice.

There he goes!

Ben hauls to a stop at the edge to gain his bearings. A gravelly path winds away to the right. Without a second thought he makes a break for it.


Keeping his back to the wall, Ben rapidly traverses the cliff face on the descending trail. As he reaches the bottom of the path, his PURSUERS appear at the top.

He’s getting away!

No, he isn’t. He’s trapped. It’s surrender or die.

The trail opens out onto a low dome. Ben continues to skirt around to the right, and descends into a crevass that defines the right side of the dome. Ben comes to the end of the crevass which overlooks a sixty-foot drop.
In a snap decision he sizes up the situation. Securing his pack to his chest, he wedges his shoulders against one wall and brings his feet up against the other and crabwalks to a point above the drop. Then, utilizes this chimney maneuver to descend the sixty feet to the ledge below.


On the ledge between Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, Ben casts about for a way down. First, he checks out the area by Teddy, then shimmies over to the area under Lincoln’s beard.

Where’d he go?

Look! A body!

That’s only a rock. Get out of my way, I’m going down.

Ben stands frozen and still. All of a sudden, he clamps his hands over his face to stifle a sneeze. But it’s too late.


Cue Final Jeopardy music.

[This was in the first draft only. I removed it in favor of telling a story in the past which parallels the contemporary one.]


Seeing the [Upper) USA in a Chevrolet

Seeing the Upper USA in a Chevrolet

It was early in 1968. We were still running the Sound of Music in Cinema 2 and my father was called to the box office to help the cashier with a difficult customer. It seems that he did not like “his” seats for the Julie Andrews movie. My dad gladly refunded his money, all the while the complainer continued to whine. After the disgruntled customer departed, a VP from GCC came in. He had been watching the whole encounter from the outside. He came up to my dad and told him that he could soon say goodbye to such treatment, for on the West Coast the customers were all a lot nicer. The company was offering him a new theater that was going to open in Renton, Washington that fall.
We were on the move again. Though not until summer. Dad didn’t want us to miss any school. Time to say goodbye to all my friends in Brockton – Dave D, John M, Jimmy S, and Joe G. I recently discovered the oversized card that they sent me off with. The envelope was decorated with unusual grafitti – song ditties or doggerel either in Russian or Latin – stuff we had gleaned from the classes we had taken together.
My dad bought a new car for the trip, a four door canary yellow 1968 Chevy Impala. And he made sure it had air conditioning. So come July we were all set to see the USA in a Chevrolet. Or the northern part anyway.
We must have travelled fairly fast. I can remember the NY Turnpike where it paralleled the old canal. But after that it was all a blur until we reached South Dakota. There we hit the Badlands. Why they call it the Badlands struck me as strange. It was beautiful, in an eerie sort of way. Though I suppose in the early days it would have been a terror to traverse. Those jagged hills and rocks, though pretty to look at, would have been daunting on horseback or in a horse drawn wagon or carriage.
Emerging from the Badlands, we made our way to the nearby monument, Mount Rushmore. I think that our expectations always suffer a set back when it meets reality, especially as regards visiting someplace you’ve only read about or seen pictures of. It’s a time like this when you realize that the writing or the picture was taken from a better perspective than what you experience at first sight. Old George, Tom, Teddy and Abe seemed small and distant. My Dad’s binoculars helped, but they also revealed the long grooves in the rock face, the “brush strokes” as it were of those that sculpted their visages from the rock.
The next memorable stop was at the site of Custer’s Last Stand in Montana. But probably most memorable because there wasn’t much to see – a small monument and a hill covered in sagebrush. We were all a little disappointed, and maybe us kids moreso. We had visions of marauding Indians dancing in our heads.
We were able to hasten on our way aided by the “reasonable and proper” [i.e. no] speed limit in Montana. We came into Washington through Spokane, crossed the state, traversed the Cascades and descended into the promised land of the Puget Sound area – the promised land of “nicer customers.”