Turner Classic Movies Cinematic Cities: New York

The Big Apple on the Big Screen


By Christian Blauvelt

By Turner Classic Movies

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For armchair travelers, film buffs, tourists, and city dwellers alike, Turner Classic Moviestakes you on a one-of-a-kind tour of the cinematic sites of New York City.
Highlighting the great films set in the Big Apple since the dawn of cinema to the present, Cinematic Cities: New York City is both a trove of information including behind-the-scenes stories and trivia, and a practical guide full of tips on where to go, eat, drink, shop, and sleep to follow along the path of your favorite films set in NYC. Organized by neighborhood and featuring photographs and illustrated maps throughout, this is a love letter to the city and a one-of-a-kind history of the movies.
Featured films and locations include The Godfather, The Seven Year Itch, King Kong, North by Northwest, On the Town, West Side Story, When Harry Met Sally, the films of Woody Allen, and scores of others.


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Page v: John Travolta’s Tony Manero rides the subway in Saturday Night Fever. Graffiti has long since been scrubbed away on all subway train cars in New York City.


NEW YORK CITY IS ONE OF THE GREATEST, most complex characters ever featured in the movies. And it is a character—pulsing with life, changing seemingly from hour to hour, and possessing a personality all its own.

It just so happens that as New York matured into a global capital of culture and commerce, becoming the defining city of the twentieth century and a virtual stand-in for the idea of modernity, the movies came into their own as the century’s defining art form as well. The big screen and the Big Apple are indelibly intertwined.

This book attempts a cinematic history of New York City, from the very first movie shot there, by a cameraman for Thomas Edison on May 11, 1896, all the way through the classic Hollywood period and up to Can You Ever Forgive Me? and If Beale Street Could Talk, two Manhattan-set triumphs from 2018 that seem destined to become classics. But rather than going decade by decade, this book goes neighborhood by neighborhood. If you’re a cinephile visiting New York City, this approach will guide your sightseeing, based on your favorite movies. But if you’re a New Yorker, this approach enables you to appreciate your surroundings that much more, to truly immerse yourself in the city around you based on the silver screen classics you adore. When you realize that a particular location you visit is actually one from a film you cherish, it’s like stepping through the movie screen. And though the city changes so quickly, so much also endures: from the subway vent that caused Marilyn Monroe’s white dress to flutter, to the courtyard that inspired Jimmy Stewart’s view in Rear Window (1954).

This book covers all of Manhattan plus the four outer boroughs. It can’t possibly reference every single movie that’s been filmed on location here, but if not a completist take, it’s an overview to inspire further exploration. Holding this guide in your hands, your personal cinematic journey through New York City begins.


Start at the Brooklyn Navy Yard where Gabey, Chip, and Ozzie disembark. It remained an active military shipyard until 1966. It is currently a vibrant industrial park, home to over four hundred businesses. To head for the Brooklyn Bridge from the Navy Yard, walk west on Flushing Avenue and hang a left on Duffield Street. Walk south on Duffield until you reach Tillary Street and keep walking west until you reach the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian entrance.

On the Town is one of the most beloved movies set in New York City, maybe because it seems like it’s so in love with the city itself: shot partly on location in the Big Apple, something extremely rare for any musical in 1949, it tells the story of three sailors, Gabey (Gene Kelly), Chip (Frank Sinatra), and Ozzie (Jules Munshin). They’re on leave for just one glorious day—but do they ever see and do a lot! On the Town presents New York as a place of discovery, opportunity, and romance—and that transformation, of both the city and of the visitor, is inevitable. The film opens with an energetic montage set to Leonard Bernstein’s “New York, New York.” (This is the one that goes “New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town / The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down.”) In an opening sequence of just three minutes, Gabey, Chip, and Ozzie sightsee and sing their way through a whirlwind tour of some of the city’s most treasured—and tourist-friendly—landmarks. The montage shows their itinerary so clearly, you can replicate it yourself! Here’s the route to follow to take in everything the sailors visited during “New York, New York.”

Cross the Brooklyn Bridge by foot. The bridge’s pedestrian walkway begins at the intersection of Tillary Street and Boerum Place and ends at the northeast edge of City Hall Park on Centre Street. It takes about thirty minutes to walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Head south along Centre Street until it becomes Park Row and merges with Broadway. Keep heading south on Broadway until you hit Trinity Church, which opened in 1846 and was the tallest structure in the city until the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883.

Backtrack along the route you took from City Hall, then cross to the east side of Columbus Park. Walk down Bayard Street, Elizabeth Street, Mott Street, and Mulberry Street to sample gastronomic delights in Chinatown—then keep walking north on Mulberry past Canal Street and you’ll enter Little Italy.

Take the number 4 or 5 subway trains to Bowling Green and get the ferry to the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park.

Since the Third Avenue El tracks that the sailors visit no longer exist, do the next best thing by taking a cab to Chelsea’s High Line. Then climb up and walk this elevated railroad track that was converted into a beautiful park in 2009.

From the southernmost terminus of the High Line at Gansevoort Street, walk to Washington Square Park and run through the Arch, then drive past the historic Helmsley Building at Grand Central Station, and head all the way up to Riverside Park to visit Grant’s Tomb and Riverside Church, the tallest church in the United States.

Hire a horse-drawn carriage on Central Park South and have your driver take you as close as you can to Cleopatra’s Needle past Seventy-Ninth Street, followed by a spin on a bicycle and a run across the Sheep Meadow.

Take a cab down Fifth Avenue and get out just past Fifty-First Street. Gaze at Lee Lawrie’s Atlas statue at Rockefeller Center, then ride an elevator all the way to the Top of the Rock for one of the best views of the city.

Check out Paul Manship’s statue Prometheus, depicting the Greek Titan who first gave fire to man, over which the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is placed each year, and you’ll have visited everything Gabey, Chip, and Ozzie see during the opening of On the Town.


The Statue of Liberty has become cinematic shorthand for the immigrant experience—even for immigrants from another world.

“You sail into the harbor, and Staten Island is on your left, and then you see the Statue of Liberty. This is what everyone in the world dreams of when they think about New York. And I thought, ‘My God, I’m in Heaven. I’ll be dancing down Fifth Avenue like Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers.’”

—Frank McCourt

APOLOGIES TO THE MALTESE FALCON, but it’s Lady Liberty who’s truly “the stuff dreams are made of.” For countless immigrants dreaming of a better life in America, this beacon of freedom towering over New York Harbor was the first thing they saw when they arrived.

Standing 151 feet and 1 inch, or 305 feet and 1 inch if you include the pedestal, this copper statue was a gift from France to the United States in celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of American independence—though it was only dedicated ten years later, in 1886. The funny thing is that, nine years after that, cinema itself would also be France’s gift: in 1895, the Lumière brothers created the motion picture–filming and projection techniques that most agree was the official beginning of the movies. And if the movies teach us “how to desire,” as philosopher Slavoj Žižek has said, the Statue of Liberty teaches us what to desire: the dual freedom to be who you are… and to attempt to become whatever you wish to be. It’s the American Dream itself, a symbol of hope whether you’re an immigrant from Königsberg or Krypton.


For tourists from Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, nestled on top of Bedloe’s Island (renamed Liberty Island in 1956), is a short ferry ride away. For the twelve million immigrants who would pass through nearby Ellis Island, the checkpoint from 1892 to 1954 for all foreigners seeking asylum in America via New York, the Statue of Liberty marked the beginning of their life as new Americans—much as it did for young Vito Andolini (Oreste Baldini) in The Godfather Part II (1974). The words by poet Emma Lazarus inscribed on Lady Liberty’s pedestal—“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—could serve as a mission statement for America itself.

Vito Andolini, soon to be renamed Vito Corleone, gazes at the Statue of Liberty from his quarantine room at Ellis Island in The Godfather Part II.

Fanny Brice, though not an immigrant, was certainly an embodiment of the American Dream. In Funny Girl (1968), Barbra Streisand plays Brice and ends her song “Don’t Rain on My Parade” with a note of ecstatic hope and yearning aboard a tugboat passing in front of the statue. On a more somber note, it looms over Rose (Kate Winslet) in Titanic (1997) when she returns to New York aboard the RMS Carpathia following the sinking of the doomed liner. The Statue of Liberty marked the end of her harrowing journey and the beginning of a new one, too.

Barbra Streisand sings a showstopper in front of the Statue of Liberty in Funny Girl—it represents her hopes and dreams.


Charlie Chaplin directed and starred in 1917’s The Immigrant, in which his Little Tramp character passes through Ellis Island on his journey to a better life. And on their way, they pass by the Statue of Liberty. Though his clothes are ratty, the fact he wears a suit, with a waistcoat, tie, cane, and hat, builds an element of the aspirational into the very idea of the Little Tramp. And through his good manners and concern for his fellow man, the Little Tramp also embodies something countless immigrants have also: dreams of a better future, yes, but dignity in the present, too.

Charlie Chaplin was an immigrant to America himself, having grown up on London’s South Bank. He’d stay in the United States for many years after he made his first short for Keystone Studios in 1914.


Ellis Island was a scary place for many immigrants, though. They could be quarantined for weeks or longer while they were screened for diseases. Young Vito Andolini in The Godfather Part II is accidentally renamed Vito Corleone by an immigration officer simply because his hometown was Corleone, Sicily. In the 2013 film The Immigrant, director James Gray showed that sometimes accommodations could be made for the health and well-being of immigrants; however, in one moving scene, Enrico Caruso visits Ellis Island to sing for all those hoping to be let into America.

Young Vito had to leave Sicily to save his life after a Mafia boss killed his parents—but America would present its own hardships, such as Ellis Island’s rigorous quarantines.


Because the Statue of Liberty is not just a symbol of America but of freedom itself, filmmakers sometimes like to show that something horrible has happened to it as an indication that the world has fallen into darkness and despair. Lady Liberty is toppled off her pedestal after the aliens destroy New York City in the disaster epic Independence Day (1996). Only her torch remains above the water after catastrophic climate change has caused seawater to rise dramatically in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)—a visual virtually repeated just three years later on the poster for The Day After Tomorrow (2004), with the risen sea frozen over. (The image of just Liberty’s torch is actually what New Yorkers first saw of the statue—before the rest was assembled, just the torch was on display in Madison Square Park from 1876 to 1882.) And yet she somehow endures intact, though covered by a strange postapocalyptic beach, long after New York vanished and human civilization itself disappeared in Planet of the Apes (1968).

Charlton Heston discovers a shocking truth about the strange world on which he’s crash-landed in Planet of the Apes.

The Twilight Zone creator and master of the jaw-dropping twist, Rod Serling, co-wrote the unforgettable ending of Planet of the Apes.

Planet of the Apes made the destruction of the Statue of Liberty a cinematic shorthand for end-times hellishness—including for director Drew Goddard, whose poster for his monster movie Cloverfield (2008) showed Liberty’s head chomped off.


On Sale
Nov 5, 2019
Page Count
176 pages
Running Press

Christian Blauvelt

About the Author

Christian Blauvelt is an entertainment journalist, who serves as the managing editor of leading film and TV industry website IndieWire. He regularly appears on CBS New York to give previews of upcoming films and awards season analysis; has hosted films on Turner Classic Movies; and has presented at South by Southwest and San Diego Comic-Con. Blauvelt is the author of books including Cinematic Cities: New York. He lives in New York City.

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