YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIVE IN BROOKLYN HEIGHTS to love movies, or even to love hearing about the ones shot in the Heights. For many decades, a number of notable movies have used Heights locations, and fascination with that very fact will be the basis of Hollywood in the Heights, the inaugural event to kick off the 100th Celebrating a Century anniversary of the prestigious Brooklyn Heights Association.
Director and writer PETER HEDGES will include clips of films shot in the Heights, then will lead a panel discussion of film industry pros to give an inside look at the mechanical, technical and creative aspects of filming a feature on neighborhood streets — particularly the historic and picturesque streets of the Heights.
While the Heights community awaits this fascinating program, many longtime residents who follow movies closely may appreciate some anecdotes and incidents that have resulted from several of the famous films (including some that Mr. Hedges will probably cover).
One of the most contentious incidents — one that has become almost mythic — involved filming of the horror film The Sentinel, which was shot largely at 10 Montague Terrace and released in 1977. The huge mansion at the corner of Montague Terrace and Remsen Street was, for purposes of the film=s storyline, built over the secret gates to Hell.
Actor John Carradine (David’s father, for Tarantino fans) played a blind priest whose job was to live in the bedeviled house and stand as “Sentinel.” Other actors in the film included Chris Sarandon, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach and Burgess Meredith. Readers interested in the movie’s story line may search elsewhere, but there is plenty of conflict in behind-the-scenes details here.
The movie’s director Michael Winner wanted to film a wrecking ball hitting the side of the historic mansion when the story called for a demolition at the end. He said he would use a rubber wrecking ball that wouldn’t damage the brick. The building owner, at that time a woman named Rita Ponsignlione Martin, refused to allow the wrecking ball to make contact with the house, infuriating Mr. Winner. In apparent retribution, Mr. Winner added a short bit of dialogue to the script when the final cut was made. A real estate agent played by Ava Gardner (yes, the famous one) was describing the apartment for rent to another character, and added, “It’s at 10 Montague Terrace in Brooklyn Heights…”
While mentioning an address that actually exists would not necessarily mean “retribution,” it amounted to such in a grade-B horror flick that would inevitably attract tourists to the location. And attract it did. At the time, when the mansion had long been divided into apartments, Mrs. Martin reported to the Brooklyn Heights Press that she and her tenants had to deal with strangers using whatever means possible to get into the lobby of the building and wander the halls looking for “clues to the gates of hell…”
The Heights Press tracked down Mr. Winner in London by phone and was told that mentioning the address was a “terrible mistake” in the editing process. To add more fuel to the flames of discontent, several then-residents of the building who had watched some of the filming described Mr. Winner as having been “flippant and denigrating” about some of the film’s more graphic scenes, including one in which actress Sylvia Miles was required to eat wet bread dyed to look like human brains. When Ms. Miles expressed concern about the dye being unhealthy to eat, Winner apparently uttered an aside: “Doesn’t matter, this is her last scene anyway…”
A couple of light anecdotes resulted from two other films, neither of which had light story lines. In Three Days of the Condor (released 1975), Robert Redford plays a CIA analyst on the run. He hijacks Faye Dunaway and her car to find a place to hide for a while. They drive from lower Manhattan to her apartment on Cranberry Street, shown by camera shots on the Brooklyn Bridge and the corner of Cranberry at Columbia Heights. The local audience watching the film at the Heights Cinema suddenly burst out laughing when their car turned onto Cranberry and parked with no trouble in front of her apartment, where there were no other cars on the street.
Another local screening brought laughter in an inappropriate spot. In No Way To Treat a Lady (released 1968), George Segal plays a NYC detective who has been visiting his mother, played by Eileen Heckart, at 75 Henry St. When Segal gets a call from his endangered fiancée, played by Lee Remmick, he must rush to Manhattan to save her from the killer, played by Rod Steiger. There followed a scene that showed Segal running past the token booth at the St. George subway entrance, flashing his cop badge…and then promptly bolting down the stairs that are visible against the wall. Local intelligence knew that those stairs lead only to bathrooms. Access to the subway is via elevator doors directly behind the token booth, or in dire circumstances, the enclosed stairway that sits adjacent to the elevators. Yes, only in Brooklyn Heights, the audience laughed.
In days to come, colleagues at the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the Brooklyn Heights Press will no doubt offer other background anecdotes about filming in Brooklyn. There is great anticipation already building about Peter Hedges and the upcoming full year of celebration fostered by the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Heights Association.
Hollywood in the Heights will start at 7 p.m. on January 20 at the St. Francis College Auditorium. As noted in the BHA’s press release, Brooklyn Borough President will open up the evening with a greeting and salute to BHA. The rest of Celebrating a Century will be announced that evening.