Thursday, August 20, 1998
Want to impress your friends with your newfound knowledge of Monterey County? Its spectacular beauty, and proximity to Hollywood, means that lots of films--183, according to the Monterey County Film Commission--have been shot here over the years. They range from the arcane 1897 Surf at Monterey, which should be a gas if a copy still exists, to recent hits such as the 1992 thriller Basic Instinct, a film known more for its views of Sharon Stone than the Monterey shoreline.
Here''s our pick of 15 films shot hereabouts that you can watch with your friends while shouting, "Hey, I was there!" Our criteria? Good or great films, with high historic and/or entertainment value, that are available in local video rental stores.
First, there are the Steinbeck classics, set and filmed in Monterey County.
Tortilla Flat (1942) is one of the best, starring Spencer Tracy as a high-spirited paisano who''d rather party than work for a living. Great scenes of him cleaning fish on the Monterey Wharf, and cool opening shots of Jacks Peak.
The original Of Mice and Men (1939), a haunting study of Depression-era migrant farm workers, was partially shot (ironically) at Pebble Beach. It is hard to rent locally, so make do with the five-star 1992 remake starring the ever-creepy John Malkovich, which isn''t filmed here, although it''s about here. Forget the 1981 made-for-TV version, unless the Malkovich version is checked out.
Don''t dare miss Elia Kazan''s East of Eden (1955), a powerful tale of conflict between father and son in turn-of-the-century Salinas Valley. It''s got Raymond Massey, Julie Harris and rebel-without-a-cause James Dean, in his first starring role, as the anguished, eternally misunderstood son, Cal.
And Cannery Row (1982), starring Debra Winger and Nick Nolte, is worthwhile, if only for the Cannery Row scenes and references to local notables.
Now for Clint Eastwood, our favorite resident actor/director, environmentalist/ developer, and former mayor of Carmel. The obvious choice here is Play Misty For Me, with Eastwood playing a hip DJ (catch his cool ''70s sideburns) at a fictitious Carmel radio station (based on jazz station KRML) who is pursued by a psychotic female fan. Lots of local action, culminating in a cliff-hanger (literally) in the Carmel Highlands. It''s Eastwood''s directorial debut, by the way.
A good second choice is the silly but fun The Eiger Sanction (1975), where Eastwood is a college professor by day, super-secret agent by night. Wacky.
Two must-see documentaries that establish our area''s hippie credentials are Monterey Pop (1969), filmed at the legendary Monterey Pop music festival in 1967 that kicked off the Bay Area''s Summer of Love--priceless concert footage of Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, The Mamas and the Papas, and more ''60s greats; and Big Sur: The Way It Was (1971), a look at the artists and Bohemians that put Big Sur on the map, including interviews with Henry Miller and scenes of the "hippie train" wending its way down Highway 1. To view this last film, you have to make the long trek down to the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur and watch it there, but that''s a trip you should make anyway.
Back in the feature film category, check out Alfred Hitchcock''s Technicolor thriller Vertigo (1958), starring an uncharacteristically scary James Stewart and Big Sur resident Kim Novak, filmed in San Francisco, San Juan Bautista, and on Monterey County roads.
A Summer Place (1959), stars Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue as teenage lovers "in trouble." The Monterey Peninsula stands in for the Maine coast, but you can''t fool us locals--the Wharf and the Frank Lloyd Wright house on Carmel Beach are hard to miss. You''ll chuckle at the scenes at Monterey airport--same damn propeller planes they''re still flying today.
A final handful: The Sandpiper (1965), with gorgeous scenes shot in Big Sur; One-Eyed Jacks (1961), starring Marlon Brando, who took over as director when Stanley Kubrick quit mid-stream; The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), with Rex Harrison and Natalie Wood in a tale of a young widow who moves into a lighthouse home (in Pacific Grove) of a long-dead sailor; The Graduate 1967, where a very young Dustin Hoffman is tempted by Anne Bancroft, his fiancee''s mother (can''t remember where the Monterey scenes are, but it''s a great flick) and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, (1986), where Spock talks to whales at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
As if you don''t have enough reading to do, here are a few books about Monterey County.
First, read all of John Steinbeck.
When you''re done, here are three heavier tomes.
Cannery Row, by local historian Michael Hemp, is a chatty history of the Cannery Row area, easy to get through, with lots of historical photos.
Between Pacific Tides, an early study of the ecology of marine life, was written by self-taught marine biologist Ed Ricketts (who appears as Doc Ricketts in the Steinbeck novels). Ricketts lived in a brown wooden shack on Cannery Row, where he collected and studied samples of local marine life. His shack still stands, and many of his samples, still in formaldehyde jars, are on display in the basement, as they were the day Ricketts was killed 45 years ago by a passing train (yes, there used to be a train here.)
Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch is the only work Henry Miller set in Big Sur during the 18 years he lived here. It''s not his best writing, but he talks about what it was like to live in the close-knit Big Sur artists'' community of the 1940s and ''50s.
There are local writers working today who set their novels in Monterey County. One is Harry Casey, retired after 43 years as editor and publisher of the King City Rustler, who writes historical fiction set in the Salinas Valley. Two of his books, Land of the Eagle and Pen and Plow follow the Irish immigrant Cleary family through 50 years of settling the farmlands of South County. They''re easy reading, with lots of local color.
Now, do your homework. cw