Where the 1980 Shatner Thriller The Kidnapping of the President Was Filmed in Toronto
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Where the 1980 Shatner Thriller The Kidnapping of the President Was Filmed in Toronto

A political thriller that makes the most of Nathan Phillips Square.

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With presidential politics churning up the waters south of the ol’ 49th parallel, what better time could there be to remember the time POTUS was kidnapped here in fair Toronto?

Nah it didn’t really happen, it was just a movie! But you could be excused for not remembering it either way. It’s nonetheless fascinating for multiple reasons. First, most atypically, it actually takes place in Toronto, with the fictional president visiting for a summit with the Prime Minister.

Secondly, dig this weirdness: It’s based on a book by a guy from Toronto but in the book, the presidential visit is in NYC. How they ended up moving the film location to here is either a mystery or a coincidence but the book’s author wasn’t just any Torontonian. He was Charles Templeton, not just an evangelist, author, and journalist, but a one-time runner-up for leadership of the provincial Liberal party.

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Thirdly, Shatner!!

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Anyway, with some of these older movies, it’s not so much a question of detective work as enjoying the opportunity to see so much footage of the city circa 1980. Like, can we start with some helicopter shots of the naked-looking skyline?

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The chopper flies over downtown…

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…and you can see all the parking where Bell Trinity Square is now…

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…and comes in for a landing…

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…directly southwest of the CN Tower, pretty much where SkyDome (as we still call it!) now sits. You can see that building, and its distinctive little tower between the under-construction CN Tower and the since-demolished CNR Spadina Roundhouse here and here.

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More history? How about this old-school trolley bus?

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Hey, it’s one of our fave character actors, the late Maury Chaykin!

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He’s one of the bad guys. They come into town along Lake Shore Boulevard (was there actually a time when people referred to University as “11A”??)…

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…and you can see the CN Tower back there.

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Then they go up Bay Street, which we see a lot of given how much of the action will take place (spoiler!) in Nathan Phillips Square.

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The geography of the presidential motorcade almost makes sense. They come in along the Gardiner…

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…and as the camera whips around you can see we’re right by the CNE.

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…then they’re coming down Queen’s Park Circle (you can see Hart House down there)…

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…and then we go past the legislature…

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…and along University…

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Then you can see the ol’ Famous Players theatre at the Sheraton Centre (where Breaking Away and Sleeping Beauty are screening!)…

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…as he arrives at the square.

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It’s quite the celebration.

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Dig the 80s Metro cops!

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Yes, it was a more innocent time, people. A time when Secret Service agents could get away with wearing powder blue on the job.

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And it’s interesting to see what the big political issues of the day were.

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Anyway, the bad guys have set up shop just across the street…

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…at the Eaton Centre’s west exit.

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They go inside the mall too.

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Based on the proximity of Old City Hall, Shatner seems to be meeting with the PM at 20 Queen Street West.

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And what about that PM, eh? Wonder if he’s supposed to look like anyone specific with the rose on the lapel and all? Nah, probably just a coincidence.

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If you love City Hall, you really won’t be able to get enough. You get to see the square at night…

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…and the parking lot underneath…

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…and some interior shots too.

Amusingly, The Kidnapping of the President recalls another largely forgotten film, starring another local(ish) boy. In 2006’s The Sentinel, Kiefer Sutherland protected president Michael Douglas from a terrorist attack at a G8 conference, also in actual Toronto and also climaxing in Nathan Philips Square.

So, whoever wins in November is perfectly welcome to come visit but maybe we can all meet up in Harbourfront or somewhere a bit safer than Nathan Phillips Square?