Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.
Though film shoots in our city have really taken off in the last fifteen or twenty years, they did make movies up here before we gained any kind of rep as “Hollywood North.” It’s fun to watch some of them old movies at least partially because they’re better, on average, than a lot of what’s made nowadays. On the other hand, they present more of a challenge for us here at Reel Toronto.
Take these three fine movies, for instance: Silver Streak (1976), Sea of Love (1989), and Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993). Unless you have a keen eye, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll notice any of these were even shot north of the border. Because of how long ago they were done, records are lost, locations are gone or seriously altered, and, overall, it’s a real uphill battle.
Going in reverse chronological order, Searching for Bobby Fischer—starring Ben Kingsley, Joe Mantegna, and Laurence Fishburne—is a darned wonderful little film (and a true story, to boot) about a chess prodigy. The story primarily takes place in New York, but there are a lot of interior scenes set in various schools, gyms, and other virtually indistinguishable locales.
The final chess tournament was filmed at U of T’s Trinity College. That was relatively easy to spot.
Other school-type scenes were shot at St. Veronica’s School, Upper Canada College, the extinct Victoria Royce Presbyterian Church, and Ryerson’s Willard Hall (now Covenant House).
Joe Mantegna’s job is working for a newspaper, so they grabbed some scenes at both the Star and Sun newsrooms.
Outdoor scenes are even trickier to spot, with some done in High Park and Grange Park. This, at least, is a recognizable landmark: the King Eddie.
Sea of Love is a pretty cool thriller from the era between when Pacino was doing classic films and when he started shouting “Hoo-ah!” and stuff. It also takes place in New York, and they did shoot a good bit there, but there’s some 416 going on too.
Take this early scene, where the cops invite a bunch of deadbeat criminals on outstanding warrants to what’s ostensibly a Yankees breakfast. It might look like any ol’ bingo hall, but if you look close you can tell it’s actually the Masonic Temple/Concert Hall/Mike Bullard studio/MTV Canada headquarters.
The film opens with a montage of seedy New York shots, but they weren’t all done there. This porn shack is actually the Metro Theatre on Bloor West (the triangular marquee is the giveaway.)
It goes by quickly, but this is the former Jerry’s Restaurant, now known as the Lakeview Lunch. (Well, now it’s the new Lakeview Lunch.) Tom Cruise’s awful Cocktail shot there too back in the day.
Here’s Pacino having a drink at the Horseshoe Tavern’s front bar.
Then there’s a long list of long-gone locations. This one is probably the Matco Supermarket (and, yes, that’s John Goodman). Where was Matco? You tell us! Also gone the way of the dodo: Crooks Restaurant and the old 53 Division.
The new 53 Division is that brown building beside Eglinton Station, but we suspect it’s the station interiors that were shot in the original building.
This fancy shmancy dinner appears to have been grabbed at Sutton Place.
Finally, Silver Streak. There was a time, folks, when Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor ruled the box office because, like, they were crazy funny. Even funnier than the Wayans Brothers, believe it or not.
This flick, basically a fun chase set largely on a train, was directed by homeboy Arthur Hiller, who went on to head the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Of course, even if you’re mostly on a train, you have to get off every now and then, right?
Accordingly, Union Station gets some celluloid love during the finale, with shots of the Great Hall…
…the train blazing past the Royal York…
…and the sheds…
…and giving a grand kick-off to the long-awaited renovations. The final credits roll over this beauty.
The station is actually doing double duty, playing train stations in both Chicago and Kansas City. Most of the shots of the train allegedly travelling that stretch were actually done on CP’s lines around here and in Alberta. Despite the rail line being called “Amroad” (Amtrak wasn’t thrilled about stuff like trains crashing into stations…), you can tell they are painted-over CP trains.
This is rarity for Reel Toronto. Not only are all three movies done with sufficient skill that Toronto doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, they’re all, gulp, good! It’s enough to bring a tear to our cynical, snarky eye.