Hundreds of filmmakers have been drawn to New England since the turn of the last century, and it isn't just because autumn leaves and church steeples make the perfect backdrop for their classic movies. New England's history and literary tradition provide rich material for stories and characters set against quaint fishing villages, gritty mill cities, Gilded Age resorts and Ivy League campuses.
Familiar New England themes appear again and again in film. The theme of the salty sea captain fighting a sea monster inspired films from "Moby Dick" through "Jaws" to "The Perfect Storm." Family secrets inspired Eugene O'Neil's fictional "Ah Wilderness" in 1906 as well as the true story of a suspected murder in "Reversal of Fortune" in 1990. Haunted New England was a favorite theme long before Stephen King arrived on the scene.
New England characters populate many classic movies shot in the region: the Boston Brahmin, the rustic Yankee, the stalwart fisherman, the town gossip and the outsider struggling to assimilate. So do characters from New England literature. Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" was first filmed in New England in 1909 and remade four times as a feature film, three as a television production. But because it's literary doesn't make it good; Demi Moore starred as Hester Prynne in the 1995 remake of "Scarlet Letter," a box office bomb that earned seven Golden Raspberries including "Worst Remake or Sequel."
Plenty of legitimate classic movies were made in New England, though. Here is a baker's dozen of award-winning films shot on location in all six states.
A true story of a prosecutor's fight to prove an accused man innocent, this 1947 film takes place in a small Connecticut city where a kindly priest is murdered on a street corner. Elia Kazan directed an all-star cast including Dana Andrews, Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt and Karl Malden. Playwright Arthur Miller appeared uncredited as a suspect in the police lineup. Bridgeport was the scene of the crime but Kazan couldn't get permission to film there, so he shot it in Stamford. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay, and Kazan won Best Director awards from the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle. Homer Cummings, the real-life prosecutor upon which the film is based, became U.S. attorney general under Franklin Roosevelt.
This true-crime film about the serial killer who terrorized the Boston area from 1962-64 starred Tony Curtis and Henry Fonda. As shooting was set to begin in 1968, the man believed to be the Strangler -- Albert DeSalvo --escaped from the mental institution where he was held. DeSalvo was captured 33 hours later. Ed Brooke was elected U.S. senator after coordinating the hunt for the killer. "The Boston Strangler" was filmed in Boston, Cambridge and Malden. It received Eddie, Edgar and Oscar nominations. DeSalvo died in prison (where he made choker necklaces for sale) in 1973. His family is still trying to exonerate him.
The Trouble With Harry
Just about all of Alfred Hitchcock's films are classic movies, and The Trouble With Harry is no exception. The trouble with Harry in the film is that he was dead. Hitchcock's 1955 dark comedy starring John Forsythe and Shirley MacLaine was filmed in Morrisville, Barre and Craftsbury Commons. The crew arrived in Craftsbury on September 27, 1954 to film outdoor shots of fall foliage. Unfortunately, there wasn't any, so they glued leaves on trees. It was nominated for three awards, including BAFTA, Directors' Guild and Satellite for "Outstanding Classic DVD" in 2005.
The Stepford Wives
A 1975 take on the theme of haunted New England, the film is set in the fictional Connecticut town of Stepford. Johanna Eberhart, played by Katharine Ross, moves there with her family and soon discovers a sinister truth behind the perfect behavior of the town's housewives -- they're robots. The film was mostly shot in Connecticut, including Redding, Fairfield, Westport, Weston, Darien (at the Goodwives Shopping Center) and Norwalk at the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion.) Katharine Ross won the 1976 Golden Scroll Best Actress award.
This 1949 drama is a fictionalized version of the true story of Albert Johnson, a light-skinned African-American doctor who passes for white in a small northern New Hampshire town. Starring Mel Ferrer and Beatrice Pearson, it was filmed in Kennebunkport, Me. (church scene), York (Nubble Light) and Portsmouth, N.H. In one scene, the doctor is shown on a Coast Guard boat going from Portsmouth to the Isles of Shoals, 6 nautical miles away, but he lands in York, Maine, quite farther away. The film won Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival in 1949.
A 1975 horror film, Jaws was a classic summer blockbuster and a watershed in the American movie industry. It featured a simple premise -- the hunt for a man-eating shark that terrorized beachgoers. The most successful film in box office history at the time, it set a precedent: action and adventure films released during the summer in thousands of theaters and advertised heavily. It was filmed mostly in Menemsha on Martha's Vineyard. It won many awards, including three Academy Awards for Best Film Editing, Best Original Dramatic Score, and Best Sound. In 2001, Congress voted to include it in the National Film Archive as "culturally significant." The author, Peter Benchley, later felt guilty about unfairly maligning the Great White Shark, a creature generally uninterested in eating human beings.
The Great Gatsby
This 1974 film starring Robert Redford as self-made millionaire Jay Gatsby featured the Newport, R.I., mansion Rosecliff as his home. The mansion was built in 1902 for Nevada silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs and
designed by Stanford White. The original Long Island mansion that inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald to write the novel was torn down in 2011. The Great Gatsby also featured another famous Newport property: it was there that Sen. John F. Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier. The Great Gatsby received two Academy Awards.
Peyton Place was based on New Hampshire writer Grace Metalious' best selling book of the same name. The 1957 film was shot mostly in Camden, Maine, with some exteriors filmed in Belfast and Rockland (also Lake Placid, N.Y.), according to Wikipedia.
The film premiered in Camden two days before everyone else saw it. Peyton Place didn't do well at the box office for the first four months until star Lana Turner's daughter killed her mother's mobster lover, Johnny Stompanato. It then became the second-highest grossing film of 1958.
Peyton Place received nine Oscar nominations, including four for supporting performances.
Love Story, the highest grossing film of 1970, was a romantic tragedy based on the wildly popular novel of the same name. It starred Ryan O'Neal as the preppy Harvard student Oliver Barrett IV and Ali MacGraw as the working-class Italian "Cliffie" doomed to an early death. The American Film Institute considers it one of the most romantic films of all time. Production at Harvard caused such damage to the campus that the university denied future requests to film there. The movie was also shot in Massachusetts at the frame house at 119 Oxford St. in Cambridge, where MacGraw's character utters the famous line, "Love means never having to say your sorry." It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning one for Best Music, Original Score.
A 1940 adaptation of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town about family conflict in a small town, this classic movie was shot in Peterborough, N.H. It starred William Holden and Martha Scott. The town was the real model for the play, which was written by Wilder while in residence at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough. His fictional town of Grovers Corners appears to have been named for Peterborough's Grove Street. The film received six Academy Award nominations. See the full film here.
Spencer Tracy -- in curls -- plays a Portuguese fisherman who rescues Harvey Cheyne, a railroad magnate's spoiled son who was thrown overboard from an ocean liner. The film is a 1937 adaptation of a book written by Rudyard Kipling in 1897 when he was living in Brattleboro, Vt. Scenes were shot in Gloucester, Mass., though much of the movie was filmed in California with fish flown in from Alaska and Boston. It received four Oscar nominations, including a win for Best Actor for Spencer Tracy.
The Thomas Crown Affair
Thomas Crown, a debonair bank executive played by Steve McQueen, thinks he's pulled off the perfect bank robbery in this 1968 crime drama. Faye Dunaway plays the insurance investigator who will do anything to get her man. It was filmed in a number of well-known (and still recognizable) Boston-area locations, including Beacon Hill, the North End, Cambridge Cemetery, the Tobin Bridge, the Allston-Brighton toll booth, Crane Beach in Ipswich and Anthony's Pier 4 Restaurant. The second Harrison Gray Otis house, designed by Charles Bulfinch for a congressman, was filmed as Crown's house. The Thomas Crown Affair won an Oscar for Best Song, "Windmills of Your Mind."
This 1956 musical remake of The Philadelphia Story starred Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Grace Kelly in her last movie role. Cole Porter wrote the score and Louis Armstrong appears as himself. Sinatra and Kelly appear driving together in a scene along Ocean Boulevard in Newport, R.I. Interiors were filmed at a Newport mansion later purchased by Sunny von Bulow. Her husband Claus was later accused of trying to murder her there, and the story was made into a 1990 film, Reversal of Fortune. High Society was nominated for two Oscars, Best Musical, Original Song, and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.
This story was updated from the 2013 version.