I distinctly remember, when I was a fifth-grader at Lake Avenue Elementary School, one of my classmates snagging a part as an extra in Billy Bathgate, a feature film set in the 1930s that was shooting in Saratoga Springs. While it’d be another seven or so years before I’d legally be able to watch the R-rated film, I remember being proud of my little hometown at the time; it was as if we’d finally “made it.” Here are 15 glittering examples of when Hollywood—and some of its brightest stars—came calling on the Capital Region. Or, as we call it around here, when Saratoga went Hollywood.
Not a bad place to start, no? This 1937 classic starring Clark Gable and Jean Harlow is all about horse racing, gambling and romance—and features scenes shot at the Saratoga Race Course.
Stanley Kubrick fans know him best for A Clockwork Orange, The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut, but his earlier films are just as engaging—like this 1962 adaptation of the shocking-for-the-time novel, Lolita, adapted to the screen by its author, Vladimir Nabokov. Starring James Mason, Sue Lyon and Shelley Winters, the movie features screen time for both Lake George and Albany.
The Way We Were (1973)
Hell might freeze over before this sentence ever gets written anew: “Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford acted together on the Union College campus in Schenectady.” But yes, in the early 1970s drama, which won a pair of Oscars, Streisand (the liberal activist) and Redford (the Golden Boy) wound up in the Electric City. Visibly, there was more than a little bit of electricity to go around, too.
Ghost Story (1981)
“A horror movie starring a late-career Fred Astaire?” you ask. If you’re hoping for a macabre classic with sweeping dance sequences, you’ve come to the wrong place. Think: melting faces and other B-movie camp. Considering it’s scored just a 35 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, it shouldn’t be at the top of your queue—save, maybe, for the fact that scenes were shot both in Saratoga Springs and Albany.
This Oscar-nominated film starring the thespianlicious pairing of Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep—based on the eponymous Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Yaddo veteran William Kennedy—takes place in Albany. So it made a whole lot of sense to shoot the movie in the Cap City. You’ll recognize locations on Lark Street and Clinton Avenue—as well as in nearby Watervliet, Troy, Slingerlands and Glenville.
Billy Bathgate (1991)
It’s not difficult to see why the 11-year-old me was so excited about this movie: With a cast featuring Dustin Hoffman, Nicole Kidman and Bruce Willis, Billy Bathgate—which tells the fictional tale of a young protégé to real-life gangster Dutch Schultz (Hoffman)—would end up nabbing a Golden Globe nomination for Kidman and solidifying Saratoga’s status as a serious setting for the silver screen.
Scent Of A Woman (1992)
Hoo-ah! Al Pacino took home a Best Actor Oscar for his role as the crotchety, blind Lt. Col. Frank Slade in Scent Of A Woman. In the film, Slade’s temp-job handler, Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donnell), attends the fictional Baird School—which is none other than Troy’s Emma Willard, ironically, a school Simms would never have been able to get into himself (it’s girls-only).
The Age Of Innocence (1993)
Just a handful of years after the producers of Billy Bathgate rolled into the Spa City, Martin Scorsese shipped his cameras—and stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer—to the Collar City. At Italian restaurant, Lo Porto, in Downtown Troy, hungry visitors can feast on a plate of Veal Scorsese, named for the bushy-eyebrowed directing legend who dined there frequently during filming.
The Horse Whisperer (1998)
Someday, Saratoga will be used as the backdrop to an intense, bloody alien invasion movie. Until then, it’ll make for the perfect turn-of-the-century setting—or horse racing haunt, as it did in 1998’s The Horse Whisperer, directed by and starring Robert Redford and a young Scarlett Johansson. Scenes were shot at Saratoga Race Course, of course.
The Time Machine (2002)
Man, the things I could do with a time machine. (I’d probably swing back to fifth grade and sign myself up as an extra in Billy Bathgate.) Don’t confuse this forgettable film starring Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential) with the much, much better 1960s sci-fi flick of the same name. But definitely watch it, because it was filmed in Albany, Schenectady, Troy and right here in Saratoga—specifically, in the Spa State Park.
The multiple Oscar-nominated film, Seabiscuit, based on the novel by Laura Hillenbrand and starring Tobey Maguire (fresh off spinning webs as everyone’s superhero Spider-Man), filmed scenes at Santa AnitaPark, Keeneland and, yes, Saratoga Race Course.
Synecdoche, New York (2008)
I have to admit: I didn’t enjoy this movie at all. In fact, I hated it. Famed movie critic Roger Ebert, on the other hand, dubbed it “the best film of the decade.” (Maybe I have to rewatch it.) Starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and written/directed by Charlie Kaufman—both Oscar winners—the movie takes place primarily in, you guessed it, Schenectady, NY. Portions of it were filmed in the real McCoy.
Angelina Jolie—known for her on- and off-screen badassery—turned up in Albany to film a chase scene off of I-787 for her action-packed, Oscar-nominated, Salt. Capital Region moviegoers got to screen it at Proctors a full day in advance of the rest of the world. Not a bad deal for lending your streets to Lara Croft, eh?
The Other Guys (2010)
Anything Will Ferrell touches turns to comedy gold—and this 2010 cop movie spoof, which costars Mark Wahlberg, is no exception to the rule. Just like Salt, the movie was peppered with chase scenes filmed in Albany.
The Place Beyond The Pines (2012)
You’d think a contemporary cops-and-robbers movie starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes would be a winner, but it’s actually a snoozer. The film’s set in—of all places—Schenectady, and true to its roots, it filmed at a number of recognizable locations there, such as Ellis Hospital and Vale Cemetery, as well as spots in Scotia, Glenville and Latham.