This story was first published in the Boston Globe on Feb. 27, 2005.
How do you capture the soul of a place on film? This is the mystery of location filming the task, half craft and half art, that any film crew must address when it leaves the coddled confines of a Hollywood set. When it comes to capturing a metropolis like Boston, the process acquires even more complexity, because a city is far more than the sum of its buildings. A city has an attitude and a personality; it forgives or it doesn't. The light is unique, as are the accents. The way people drive is irreducible; the air and the way it gets breathed can't be replicated anywhere else. This is why Toronto, Hollywood's favored low-cost imitation of New York or Boston, will always feel like Toronto, no matter what they call it.
Los Angeles, of course, is so unconsciously there in movies that we take it for granted, but films like Chinatown, Mulholland Dr., and Thom Andersen's acclaimed 2003 documentary, Los Angeles Plays Itself, burrow under the city's reflexive obsession with image. New York, by contrast, is everything LA is not. It's the meta-location, a fast, smart, gritty Other to LA, and the movies tapping into Manhattan's drive and the outer boroughs' ethnic striving are legion.
So: What about Boston? What are the great films shot here? Are there great films shot here? Yes, but they're few, because Boston resists. Our town withholds itself from cinematic scrutiny on any number of levels, the foremost of which is simple logistics. We're 3,000 miles from the home office in LA, we shut down early, and the weather has multiple personality disorder. A prime reason why early moviemakers fled New York for the West Coast 90 years ago was sunlight, bright and unchanging, whereas Boston-area shooting can be summed up in a reported comment made by Friends of Eddie Coyle director Peter Yates to his cameraman one afternoon in 1972: "Now we'll do it once more in the rain, once more in sun, and once in snow."
As if the weather weren't bad enough, Boston has built a dreadful reputation in the film industry over the years, with plagues that include recalcitrant cops, governmental red tape, under-the-counter payoffs, assorted union goonery up to and including the alleged beating of a production grip on the set of The Cider House Rules, and outright gangsterism (see The Brink's Job, Page 23). The Massachusetts Film Office was axed in 2002, ostensibly for budgetary reasons but rumored as payback for film-office head Robin Dawson's cooperation with a still-ongoing federal investigation into Teamster misdeeds on set. While the film office quickly reopened as a privately funded entity, Dawson now finds herself in conflict with the Massachusetts Sports & Entertainment Commission, of which Romney administration member Mark Drago is vice president of film and entertainment. That's right we're probably the only state with competing film bureaus. All this conspires to keep Boston firmly in the small-potatoes bin when it comes to Hollywood producers, who conclude that if we're going to make it so difficult to play, they'll just take their marbles elsewhere.
Even beyond this, there's an element of Bay State psychology a Puritan remnant, perhaps that views the film industry with suspicion if not alarm. Harvard University so regularly refuses permission to film on its campus that a whole genre of Harvard films that weren't shot at Harvard has arisen (see the sidebar on Page 22). When director Otto Preminger came to town in 1969 for Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, he was served with a court summons for filming the young Liza Minnelli in a nude scene in Braintree's Blue Hill Cemetery. (She was wearing a body stocking; Preminger was found not guilty of desecration.)
But enough with the bad news. The good news is that there have been a number of movies shot on location here, and some of them are good. Actually, some of them are great. The primary appeal of Boston for moviemakers has always been twofold - monuments and crime - and if the former quality makes for glossier movies, the latter makes for better and deeper ones.
This isn't uncommon. In the movies, there is tourist New York (the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, Fifth Avenue), and there is Mean Streets. Likewise in Boston, there are the films that stick to the Freedom Trail and the films that take the long slow Red Line to nowhere.
These last are the "neighborhood movies" - The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Monument Ave., The Brink's Job, Good Will Hunting, Mystic River, even the comparatively frothy Next Stop Wonderland. South Boston is often essential to these films: Neither "official" Boston nor anonymous backdrop, Southie has been so photographed by filmmakers over the years that the exact same shot from the corner of G Street and East Seventh down the hill to Dorchester Bay shows up in The Verdict, Charly, and Good Will Hunting.
The beaches and picture-postcard towns of the North Shore continue to attract filmmakers (with the occasional Perfect Storm taking over Gloucester), and the Cape has been similarly well represented. Oddly, few moviemakers dare to head down the Pike into the western suburbs, which in any event have historically been where people go to get away from drama. In the end, it's the inner-city neighborhood movies that are our best cinematic legacy, and they'll doubtless continue to be so when Martin Scorsese, Matt Damon, and Leonardo DiCaprio arrive here this spring to film The Departed, an Irish mob reworking of the Hong Kong hit Infernal Affairs.
Following is a chronological tour through the 10 best Boston films, noting (where possible) actual locations used and any relevant juicy on-set anecdotes. Accents will be judged, as will whether filmmakers were able to tap into the indefinable spirit that animates this city. When these movies work, they do so because their settings are resolutely average while remaining pungently Boston in the little things - a T sign reflected in a window, a character crossing a Back Bay alley. At their best, they get the accent of the way we talk and, more important, the way we live.
MOVIES ARE RATED OUT OF: ****
The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
STARS: Steve McQueen as a dapper Boston banker-turned-thief and Faye Dunaway - filmed before Bonnie and Clyde turned her into a household name as the vixenish Vicki Anderson, an insurance investigator on the banker's case and in his bed.
REMEMBERED FOR: Multi-image technique swiped by director Norman Jewison from Expo '67, Michel Legrand's groovy theme song, "The Windmills of Your Mind," chess used as a game of seduction.
WHERE IT WAS SHOT: Everywhere. The Walter Mirisch production settled into Boston for an extended shoot in 1967, with McQueen taking lodgings in Beverly Farms. Crown's gang robs the National Shawmut Bank (Jewison used concealed cameras so bank customers would be caught off guard) and dumps the cash in Cambridge Cemetery. Crown lives in Beacon Hill at 85 Mt. Vernon Street, plays golf at the Belmont Country Club and polo at the Myopia Hunt Club in Hamilton, and flies a glider over Essex County. He and Vicki woo each other over dinner at Anthony's Pier 4, on Copp's Hill, in a dune buggy at Crane Beach in Ipswich, at the North End greenmarket, and during an auction in the St. James Ballroom of the Jordan mansion at 46 Beacon Street, with blue bloods and art collectors playing extras and local auctioneer Louis Joseph as himself.
Other bits of Boston to be glimpsed include South Station, the old financial district, the Tobin Bridge, the Allston-Brighton tollbooths on the Pike, the Common, and a meat shop at Blackstone and North streets. But the most weirdly lovely image may be a simple shot down the Pike from the corner of Cambridge Street and Linden Avenue in Allston. Where the horizon is now crammed with a metastasized BU, in Crown we see only empty railway yards and distant greenery.
TRIVIA: If Crown navigates Boston with unusual confidence, that may be due to its screenwriter: Alan R. Trustman of Brookline, a lawyer for the firm of Nutter, McClennen and Fish who got bored one Sunday watching football and decided to write a film script. Director Jewison told the Globe, "Alan knows his Boston intimately - he described every place where the action should take place. They come out of his own experiences." Don't tell that to Mrs. Trustman.
THE ACCENTS: Barely attempted, thankfully.
INHERENT BOSTON-NESS: Middling to high. The sights are nice to see, but McQueen makes a much too dandy Boston banker driving his Rolls-Royce. Wealth in this town is about not flaunting it.
GRADES: As Boston: *** As a movie: ** 1/2
The Boston Strangler (1968)
STARS: Tony Curtis as Albert DeSalvo, the confessed killer of 13 Boston-area women from June 1962 to January 1964; Henry Fonda as Assistant Attorney General John Bottomley, head of the "Strangler Bureau." Look fast for a young Sally Kellerman as an intended victim, a young William Hickey (Prizzi's Honor) as a suspect, a young James Brolin as a detective, and William Marshall as Attorney General Ed Brooke. Local players include newsman Jack Hynes (as a reporter) and Boston movie-theater kingpin Ben Sack (as a reporter).
REMEMBERED FOR: Tony Curtis's change-of-pace turn as a Malden heating repairman with serious multiple-personality issues; more fancy multi-image footwork (it was 1968, everyone was doing it); a thorough disregard for the facts of the case.
WHERE IT WAS SHOT: Like The Thomas Crown Affair, everywhere. Look fast, and you can glimpse the Public Garden; Chandler, West Canton, and Montgomery streets in the South End; Malden Cemetery; Louisburg Square and Revere Street on Beacon Hill; a rooming house on Florence Street in Cambridgeport; and the Top of the Hub restaurant. The Museum of FineArts was used for City Hospital scenes, and the fighting hippie couple were at the foot of the Longfellow Bridge.
TRIVIA: The real Ed Brooke, by the time of the film's production a US senator, refused a roughly $100,000 offer to play himself. The sitting state attorney general, Elliot Richardson, also turned down a request to film in his offices and made no secret of his desire for the whole thing to go away. Once DeSalvo (he was in jail for other crimes but was never tried for the stranglings) learned that his family members wouldn't be recompensed, he sued unsuccessfully to halt the film's release.
THE ACCENTS: The actors playing cops sound more Brooklyn than Boston, but the voice-overs from panicky local women ah wicked good.
INHERENT BOSTON-NESS: Surprisingly low despite all the location footage. A straight-up police procedural, it comes across as a local production made by reasonably attentive interlopers. But what's with that shot of a newspaper called the Boston Dispatch?
GRADES: As Boston: ** 1/2 As a movie: **
STARS: Cliff Robertson as a mentally challenged janitor who briefly becomes a genius after experimental surgery; Claire Bloom as his teacher-turned-lover.
REMEMBERED FOR: Bagging Robertson a best-actor Oscar and for one of the worst psychedelic freakout scenes in 1968 movies (there was competition).
WHERE IT WAS SHOT: At Boston City Hospital and in South Boston - in fact, this movie marks the on-screen debut of G Street in Southie, where Charly lives in the film. The climactic lecture sequence was filmed in the Dorothy Quincy Suite at John Hancock Hall on Berkeley Street. Sequences at the bakery where Charly works were probably filmed in Hollywood, even if the uniforms say Kasanoff's. Charly is the most amusingly blatant example of the Tourist Boston Movie, since Bloom takes her charge on long tour-bus jaunts through the city, by motor-tram through the Public Garden, and by foot through Faneuil Hall, Bunker Hill, across the Longfellow Bridge, and along the Freedom Trail. The couple also hits the countryside just as the foliage peaks. The Chamber of Commerce must have thought it had died and gone to heaven.
THE ACCENTS: Negligible, but the tour-bus driver has a solid JFK yawp.
INHERENT BOSTON-NESS: Middling. The city is used only for local color, but the story could have been set anywhere (all right, anywhere there's an academic/medical community big enough to support experimental brain surgery).
GRADES: As Boston: ** As a movie: **
THE HAWL OF SHAME
Time and again, actors have thrown themselves suicidally off the cliff and onto the rocks of the Boston accent. The mistake? There is no Boston accent. There are several dozen distinct regional dialects, sometimes separated by mere blocks. Oh, and no one ever talked like the Kennedys except the Kennedys. That said, nominees for Worst Boston Accent in a Major Motion Picture include:
* Tony Curtis in The Boston Strangler * Jeff Bridges in Blown Away * Holly Hunter in Once Around * Kevin Costner in Thirteen Days
And the Wicked Pissoir for Mangled Regional Speech goes to Rob Morrow as the idealistic Harvard-educated congressional investigator in Quiz Show.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
STARS: Robert Mitchum as the title character, an aging low-level mook in the Boston criminal hierarchy who has to decide whether avoiding a two-year stretch in a New Hampshire prison is worth dropping the dime on his bank-robber friends. Richard Jordan plays a hip young federal agent, Everybody Loves Raymond grandpa Peter Boyle is a treacherous bar owner, and Alex Rocco (Moe Greene from The Godfather) is one of the robbers.
REMEMBERED FOR: Being the best Boston movie of all time.
WHERE IT WAS SHOT: In places no one would think to look. Of the novel by Assistant US Attorney George V. Higgins, director Peter Yates said, "It's a Boston book about Boston people. You just couldn't film it anywhere else." So we get locations in Dorchester and on the South Shore, at the Kentucky Tavern on the corner of Mass. Ave. and Newbury, on the Cambridge side of the Charles by the MIT dorms, in a Milton house and at the railway station in Sharon (a sign mockingly informs the characters that the town is "a better place to live because it's Naturally Beautiful"), deep in the stands of the old Boston Garden, and, finally, in a parking lot outside the Boston Bowl on Morrissey Boulevard in beautiful downtown Dorchester. Yates even makes Government Center look good, remarkable given Mystic River author Dennis Lehane's generally agreed-upon assessment that the building "is to architecture what Vanilla Ice was to hip-hop."
THE ACCENTS: Just about flawless. In a great and weary performance, Mitchum wears the accent lightly you only hear it in words like "personal" and "thuhty." Jordan gives it the old college try, talking about "Federal District Cawt," but it's the actors playing Coyle's fellow hoods who really deliver. Two lines of dialogue in particular let you know you're home to stay: "Numbah Fah! Bobby Aah! What a few-tcha he's gaht." And the deathless "I can't hack around anymoah, man."
INHERENT BOSTON-NESS: Spot on, from the church bells ringing in the background to the old white-on-green New Hampshire license plates to the characters' casual racism. One sizable caveat, though: This may mark the only time someone has ever gone from Boston Garden to Quincy by way of the Callahan Tunnel.
GRADES: As Boston: **** As a movie: *** 1/2
Since Harvard University hardly ever grants permission for location shooting, filmmakers have historically had to grab what exteriors they can before heading to colleges that just sort of look like Harvard.
LOVE STORY (1970) The real deal: 119 Oxford Street in Cambridge; Harvard and Radcliffe yards; Watson Rink (Harvard hockey coach Bill Cleary doubled for Ryan O'Neal); the Weeks Footbridge over the Charles. Much of the rest: City College of New York.
THE PAPER CHASE (1973) The real deal: A few exteriors. The rest: Toronto.
A SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS (1980) The real deal: Local lore holds that the tunnel scenes were filmed at Harvard Medical School. The rest: Bridgewater State College.
SOUL MAN (1986) The real deal: Exteriors. The rest: Wheaton College in Norton.
WITH HONORS (1994) The real deal: Exteriors of Widener Library and other buildings. The rest: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
HARVARD MAN (2001) The real deal: Exteriors filmed, guerrilla-style, from the Charles River, Mass. Ave., and Mt. Auburn Street. The rest: Toronto.
LEGALLY BLONDE (2001) The real deal: Aerial shots only. The rest: Pasadena, California, mostly. USC's Bovard Administration Building stood in for Harvard Law.
The Verdict (1982)
STARS: Paul Newman as alcoholic Beantown lawyer Frank Galvin, who gets a shot at redemption when he takes on a medical negligence case involving a church-run hospital an easy out-of-court settlement and decides to take it to a jury. James Mason is his prince-of-darkness opponent Edward Concannon, Charlotte Rampling a shady lady.
REMEMBERED FOR: The best-actor Oscar Newman should have won.
WHERE IT WAS SHOT: Ironically, mostly in New York, supposedly to get away from the Boston Teamsters. The Suffolk Superior Court was built on the 20th Century Fox backlot in Hollywood, although our State House was used both for the courthouse corridor sequences and the hospital scene. And Southie plays a large part in the film, from the William F. Spencer Funeral Home at 575 East Broadway to George's Variety on G Street. In fact, the nurse played by Julie Bovasso in the film appears to live in the same G Street house that Cliff Robertson's Charly does. Sequences were also filmed at South Boston High, Quincy Market, South Station, and Suffolk Superior Court.
TRIVIA: Barry Reed, author of the original novel, was an attorney at the firm of Esdaile, Barrett & Esdaile and claimed to have based his book on an amalgam of four cases there. Most close to the case agree, however, that the main story template was the Edabeth Katz malpractice case in 1966.
THE ACCENTS: Newman and Jack Warden tread carefully and come off unscathed. Milo O'Shea as the corrupt judge has a nice Boston Irish burr. James Mason talks like James Mason (i.e., "Chames Mess-son").
INHERENT BOSTON-NESS: Less than you'd think. The Southie scenes help, but Sidney Lumet is a New York director through and through, and Verdict, great as it is, feels an awful lot like a transplanted New York movie. And Mason's Concannon conspiring with underlings to plant items favoring his clients in the Herald, the Globe . . . and WGBH? I don't think so.
GRADES: As Boston: *** 1/2 As a movie: ****
The Brink's Job (1978)
STARS: Peter Falk as Tony Pino, the real-life thief whose gang got away with a $2.7 million haul from the North End offices of the Brink's Armored Truck Co. on January 17, 1950. Costarring Peter Boyle, Gena Rowlands, Paul Sorvino, and Sheldon Leonard as J. Edgar Hoover.
REMEMBERED FOR: Behind-the-camera shenanigans.
WHERE IT WAS SHOT: Director William Friedkin used 65 different locations overall but spent a goodly amount of time rebuilding the old Scollay Square torn down in 1962 to make way for Government Center in McKinley Square and mocking up a re-creation of the Dudley Street el stop. He also shot extensively in the North End on Prince Street, using the original site of the robbery (by 1978, the garage of Polcari's restaurant) and paying locals to remove storm windows, air conditioners, and TV antennas (the story goes that Friedkin's crew paid $200 to get rid of one AC unit - and the next morning every window had one). Production designer Dean Tavoularis used the Charlestown Navy Yard to simulate the old Charlestown prison and built a set in East Boston that housed a diner in "Roxbury" and an electrical company in "Mattapan." You can also glimpse the Berkeley Street police headquarters and a little slice of Medford.
TRIVIA: Friedkin put a reputed local mobster and neighborhood fixer known as "Joe Shoes" on salary as an extra and to help persuade North Enders to cooperate with the production. This backfired when the feds investigated the suspected under-the-counter payments as well as alleged extortion by the Teamsters on Brink's and several other local productions. Then there was the Great Film Reel Robbery, in July of 1978, when three gunmen burst into the Back Bay editing room for Brink's, demanded that the editors "give us the stuff you shot about old Scollay Square," and got away with 14 reels of rushes. A ransom attempt was made, the thieves not being quite bright enough to realize that it was the negatives they should have stolen.
THE ACCENTS: Nonexistent.
INHERENT BOSTON-NESS: Per Bruce McCabe, reviewing the film in the Globe, "Friedkin captures Boston, if not the Boston that was, the Boston that we remember. It's a big small town where the Irish-Americans and the Italian-Americans coexist with varying degrees of ease and where the neighborhood is the setting for life."
GRADES: As Boston: *** 1/2 As a movie: ** 1/2
Good Will Hunting (1997)
STARS: The Boys from Cambridge Matt Damon as a troubled math prodigy from Southie and Ben Affleck as his running mate, faster of mouth and slower of brain. Robin Williams is along for the ride as Damon's tortured-but-wise therapist.
REMEMBERED FOR: Damon and Affleck's screenwriting Oscar, the apotheosis of Hollywood-on-the-Charles chic, and the beginning of the end for Affleck.
WHERE IT WAS SHOT: Castle Rock wanted to film in Toronto; Damon protested: "We said all along that Boston is a character in the movie." Then Miramax bought the script and agreed to split the difference. While easily half of Hunting was made in Canada, more than enough was shot locally to give the movie a real sense of place. Locations include the L Street Tavern and a triple-decker at E and West 5th streets in Southie; Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown; MIT; the Bow & Arrow Pub on Bow Street off Harvard Square and the nearby Tasty restaurant (both no longer extant); South Boston District Municipal Court; a nice nostalgic ride atop the Central Ahtery; the Public Garden; and lots of shots of Dorchester limbo as viewed from the Red Line.
TRIVIA: When shooting in South Boston, director Gus Van Sant's crew asked a West Fifth Street building owner not to remove graffiti that read: "Go to hell Sean."
THE ACCENTS: Fine on Damon, Affleck, and their pals, tragically bogus in Williams's case. Points for the following dialogue: "Morgan wanted to get you a T pass."
INHERENT BOSTON-NESS: On the plus side, Williams reenacts Carlton Fisk waving the ball fair in the sixth game of the 1975 World Series. On the minus side, Damon takes the Red Line through Dorchester to get from MIT to Southie. That's possible if you want to double back in a cab but highly impractical.
GRADES: As Boston: *** As a movie: *** 1/2
Monument Ave. (1998)
STARS: Denis Leary as a prototypical late-1980s son of Charlestown: a car-boosting, coke-snorting layabout happy to rip off the encroaching yuppies but less happy to hew to the neighborhood code of silence when a local kingpin (Colm Meaney) kills his loose-lipped cousin (Billy Crudup).
REMEMBERED FOR: Getting Chucktown right.
WHERE IT WAS SHOT: Everywhere from Bunker Hill to Doherty and Barry playgrounds, with tantalizing images of the Tobin Bridge offramp and the greater Boston that lies well beyond the characters' grasp.
TRIVIA: Leary (who put in substantial uncredited work on the script) lived in Charlestown for 10 years, working on painting crews while trying to jump-start his comedy career during the time portrayed. Director Ted Demme later told the New York Daily News that Leary "took me up to Boston and showed me around Charlestown . . . a neighborhood so self-contained it might as well have a fence around it. This was about characters who never leave their neighborhood unless the Celtics are in town or to rob the yuppies in Back Bay." Leary himself told the Herald's Paul Sherman, "As far as I'm concerned, the Italian-American experience has been documented on film in this country from every particular angle. And the Irish, we still have this sort of underbelly of `Well, let's not really tell the truth about that. Keep that to yourself.' Except for The Friends of Eddie Coyle, which was the touchstone film for us, it hasn't been portrayed."
THE ACCENTS: Any movie with the line "Jackie's gat a sweet dealahship jab up in Sahgus" is doing fine, although Famke Janssen as a neighborhood tootsie sounds like she took a left turn toward Detroit. According to the filmmakers, comedian/cast member/Boston-movie fixture Lenny Clarke was enlisted to keep the cast honest. Said Leary, "Lenny would look at `heart' and say, `That's "hat."' "
INHERENT BOSTON-NESS: Pretty frickin' high for a movie that apes the New York classic Mean Streets. Charlestown in the '80s is duly noted as a place you put a "townie" sticker on your car if you don't want it to end up in the nearest chop shop. And alone among Boston movies, Monument acknowledges our town's unscalable racial divide in the scene in which Leary and his buddies terrify a black man who's made the mistake of wandering into the wrong neighborhood.
GRADES: As Boston: ** 1/2 As a movie: *** 1/2
Next Stop Wonderland (1998)
STARS: Hope Davis as a South End lonely-hearts with a meddling mother (Holland Taylor) and Alan Gelfant as the East Boston plumber-turned-marine-biology student who keeps just missing meeting her.
REMEMBERED FOR: Striking the right balance between tourist Boston and lived-in Boston.
WHERE IT WAS SHOT: All over, with local boy writer-director Brad Anderson knitting the locations together in a way that, for once, makes sense. For instance, Davis's character lives on Union Park in the South End, so it makes sense that she'd eat at the nearby On the Park restaurant (now called Joe V's); she works at Mass. General, so if she's going to the airport, she'd get on the T at Bowdoin. Gelfant's orbit, meanwhile, takes in the New England Aquarium, East Boston, and Revere. All right, so maybe The Burren in Davis Square is a bit of a hike, but young Bostonians have long been willing to journey to Somerville for a pour.
TRIVIA: Anderson arranged to film in an off-duty T car and was caught by surprise when it suddenly went on duty and left the station - along with some of his cast and crew.
THE ACCENTS: Discreet. This is about yuppies and those who aspire to yuppiedom, so accents are beside the point.
INHERENT BOSTON-NESS: Glossed over but present. There's a shot of rush-hour crowds on the Blue Line that's like a museum exhibit of New England faces, and the film's perverse un-love story, in the words of former Globe critic Jay Carr, "easily aligns with the bred-in-the-bone Boston conviction that nothing should come easily."
GRADES As Boston: *** As a movie: ***
Some movies that have only a peripheral tie to Boston make their statement with one or two evocative scenes.
AMAZING GRACE AND CHUCK (1987) The old Boston Garden
AMISTAD (1997) The State House
FIELD OF DREAMS (1989) Fenway Park
THE FIRM (1993) Copley Plaza hotel (exteriors only)
THE RIVER WILD (1994) Meryl Streep sculling on the Charles
Mystic River (2003)
STARS: Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon as three friends from the nabe who grow up to be, respectively, a local crime king in semi-retirement, an emotionally shattered abuse survivor, and a cop.
REMEMBERED FOR: Marking the big-time return of the Boston movie.
WHERE IT WAS SHOT: Dennis Lehane's book takes place in "the Flats," a nonexistent mixture of Dorchester, Southie, Charlestown, and Brighton that the author hoped would capture the feel of "the Red Line between Quincy and South Station." Accordingly, director Clint Eastwood took in all those neighborhoods (minus Brighton) and threw in East Boston, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, and Chelsea. The opening abduction scene was filmed on Condor Street in East Boston near the McArdle Bridge, while the climactic face-off between Robbins and Penn unfolds around the corner on Border Street at the wholly fictional and built-for-the-occasion Black Emerald Bar. The parade scene was shot nearby, on Monmouth Street. Emmy Rossum's body is discovered in the old bear den in Franklin Park after her character spends the evening drinking at Doyle's Cafe in JP, and the corner store that Penn's Jimmy Markum runs is Miller's Market on K Street in South Boston. And the triple-deckers the characters live in? Built by production designer Henry Bumstead in a warehouse in Canton, where most of the film's interiors were filmed.
THE ACCENTS: Strenuous and debatable. Bacon's is unobtrusive, Robbins struggles, Penn's comes and goes, Laura Linney's is either great or a disaster, depending on whom you ask.
INHERENT BOSTON-NESS: Just about as good as could ever be expected from a director and a cast with major California credentials. Mystic River is a great movie more than it's a great Boston movie, references to the Cantab in Central Square aside.
GRADES: As Boston: ** 1/2 As a movie: *** 1/2
Films that weren't good enough or Boston enough to make the A-list:
ALEX & EMMA (2003) Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson make cute at the Public Garden, on the Duck Tour, and on Cambridge Street.
BETWEEN THE LINES (1977) Jeff Goldblum and John Heard star in an unreal version of The Real Paper. Cambridgeport; nice helicopter shot of the old Harvard Square.
BLOWN AWAY (1994) Bomb squad mayhem in Copley Square, Charlestown, and East Boston. Gawdawful accent on Jeff Bridges but good location footage.
THE BOONDOCK SAINTS (1999) Is director Troy Duffy the Quentin Tarantino of Southie? Man, wouldn't he like to think so.
THE BOSTONIANS (1984) Nice period shots of the Athenaeum, Beacon Hill, and Back Bay, but aside from the Gibson House Museum on Beacon, near Berkeley, most of the film was shot in Troy, New York.
CELTIC PRIDE (1996) The old Gahden and Doyle's Pub in JP figure in this basketball comedy that may in fact be the worst Boston movie ever.
A CIVIL ACTION (1998) Ironically, the John Travolta legal drama filmed all over the Boston area except Woburn, where the real events took place.
THE LAST DETAIL (1973) Sailors Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid, and Otis Young tour the glory that was the old Combat Zone.
SOUTHIE (1998) Jimmy Cummings's crime-drama love letter to South Boston uses locations so well you wish it were a better movie. Maybe he should have included a shot down G Street.
SPARTAN (2004) David Mamet's enjoyably overcooked thriller veers confidently from Harvard Yard to Essex County to the Zakim bridge before heading to the Mideast.
ILLUSTRATION: PHOTO CHART
MEMO: THE MOVIE ISSUE
Ty Burr is on the Globe staff. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Globe librarian Richard Pennington did invaluable research for this article.