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Movies Filmed in Michigan, Part I: 1940s-1980s

This Time for Keeps
This Time for KeepsMGM

When you think of the Michigan film industry today, you may often associate it with the Michigan film incentives. But the movie and film industry has been a part of Michigan's history long before the recent movie production tax breaks. For the official history of motion picture production in the State of Michigan we would have to go back to the beginning of the Post–World War II baby boom Beginning with This Time for Keeps, starring Esther Williams and (Jimmy Durante) in 1946, followed by Anatomy of a Murder, starring Jimmy Stewart and Lee Remick in 1959, some over 300 movies have been filmed in part or in whole since then. In fact, the Michigan Film Office website contains a list of 319, filmed in Michigan titles And the list keeps growing at a record pace!

Here then is a look at some of the filmed in Michigan movies which are part of that growing list.

This Time for Keeps
This Time for Keeps MGM

This Time for Keeps

This Time for Keeps is an American romantic musical film released in 1947 and produced by MGM. It is about a soldier, returning home from war, who does not wish to work for his father's opera company or to continue his relationship with his pre-war lover.

Starring Esther Williams, Jimmy Durante, Johnnie Johnston and opera singer Lauritz Melchior the film was shot in color and partly on location at the Grand Hotel, on Mackinac Island in Michigan.

This Time for Keeps was directed by Richard Thorpe. became the second film in which Williams's name was first billed above the title, after Fiesta

Anatomy of a Murder
Anatomy of a Murder Universal Studios

Anatomy of a Murder

Anatomy of a Murder is a 1959 American courtroom crime drama film directed by Otto Preminger and adapted by Wendell Mayes from the best-selling novel of the same name written by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker under the pen name Robert Traver.   Voelker based the novel on a 1952 murder case in which he was the defense attorney.

Sterring James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Eve Arden, George C. Scott, Arthur O'Connell, Kathryn Grant, Brooks West (Arden's real-life husband), Orson Bean, and Murray Hamilton,  the Michigan Supreme Court Justice was played by Joseph N. Welch, a real-life lawyer famous for berating Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy Hearings.

The film was shot in several locations in the Upper Peninsula (Big Bay, Marquette, Ishpeming, and Michigamme). Some scenes were actually filmed in the Thunder Bay Inn in Big Bay, Michigan, one block from the Lumberjack Tavern, the site of a 1952 murder that inspired much of the novel.

Though set in and filmed in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the world premiere for the 1959 film was held at the United Artists Theater in Detroit, MI. This was subsequent to a local premiere at the Butler Theater in Ishpeming, MI.

Where the Boys Are
Where the Boys Are MGM

Where the Boys Are

Written by George Wells based on the novel of the same name by Glendon Swarthout, about four Midwestern college co-eds who spend spring break in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Where the Boys Are (1960) is an Metrocolor and CinemaScope American coming-of-age comedy film.

Where The Boys Are (1960) was set on the Michigan State campus and was the first comic novel about the annual "spring break" invasion of the beaches of southern Florida by America’s college students. MGM's movie version became the highest grossing low-budget movie in the studio’s history.

Detroit 9000
Detroit 9000 Holly Hill Productions

Detroit 9000

A 1973 American cult film directed by Arthur Marks from a screenplay by Orville Hampton,  originally marketed as a blaxploitation film Detroit 9000 was shot on location in downtown Detroit and close-in neighborhoods.

A number of now demolished landmark buildings can be seen including the J.L. Hudson Company, and the Fort Street Terminal train station. Fort Street Station was already closed when filming was taking place and the approach tracks to the station were used for a chase scene.

The now restored Book Cadillac Hotel was used in the reception scenes, including the hotel's famed crystal ballroom. 

Although Detroit suffered from race rioting in July 1967, and the riots are referred to in the movie, the film avoided showing areas that still showed signs of heavy damage from the rioting.

The final shootout takes place in historic Elmwood Cemetery. Sacred Heart Seminary stands in for the "Longview Sanitarium," where Bassett goes to visit his institutionalized wife. The hospital is Detroit Memorial Hospital on St. Antoine St. (The building was torn down in 1987.) Detroit Police headquarters at 1300 Beaubien Street is also shown.

Scarecrow Warner Brothers


Revolving around the odd relationship between two vagabonds, Max Millan (Gene Hackman), a short-tempered ex-convict, and Francis Lionel "Lion" Delbuchi (Al Pacino), a childlike ex-sailor..and the  profound effect on each other

Lion is on his way to Detroit to see the child he has never met and make amends with his wife Annie, to whom he has been sending all the money he made while at sea. Max agrees to make a detour on his way to Pittsburgh, where the bank that Max has been sending all his seed money is located. His plans are to open a car wash, with Lionel as a partner.

When they do finally make it to Detroit, Max has to take care of Lion, who becomes catatonic after hearing of the passing of his unborn child (a lie made up by Annie to make Lion feel guilty for leaving them).

The Betsy
The Betsy Allied Artists

The Betsy

A 1978 film made by the Harold Robbins International Company and released by Allied Artists, the Betsy was directed by Daniel Petrie and produced by Robert R. Weston and Emanuel L. Wolf with Jack Grossberg as associate producer. The screenplay adapted from the novel of the same title by Harold Robbins, written by William Bast and Walter Bernstein, is about a fading family-owned automobile manufacturer and its owners who pin their hopes for a return to profitability on a new model named for the great-granddaughter of the firm's founder.

The film stars Laurence Olivier, Robert Duvall, Katharine Ross, Tommy Lee Jones, Jane Alexander, Joseph Wiseman, Kathleen Beller, Edward Herrmann, Paul Ryan Rudd, and Lesley-Anne Down.

Blue Collar
Blue Collar Universal Pictures

Blue Collar

Both a critique of union practices and an examination of life in a working-class Rust Belt enclave, Blue Collar is a 1978 American crime drama film written and directed by Paul Schrader, in his directorial debut. 

Starring Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto, it has minimal comic elements provided by Pryor, it is mostly dramatic.

The film was shot on location at the Checker plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and at numerous locales around Detroit, including the Ford River Rouge Complex on the city's southwest side and the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle.

Somewhere In Time
Somewhere In Time Universal

Somewhere In Time

A film adaptation of the 1975 novel Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the screenplay., Somewhere in Time is a 1980 romantic science fiction film directed by Jeannot Szwarc.  The film stars Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, Christopher Plummer, Teresa Wright, and Bill Erwin.

Reeve plays Richard Collier, a playwright who becomes smitten by a photograph of a young woman at the Mackinac Island  Grand Hotel.

Filmed on location at the Grand Hotel, and the former Mackinac College (during filming, Inns of Mackinac, now Mission Point Resort), located on Mackinac Island, Michigan.,

It's interesting to note that the cars used in the film required special permission from the City of Mackinac Island to be brought onto, and driven on, the island.

Motorized vehicles, other than emergency vehicles and snowmobiles in the winter, are prohibited on Mackinac Island. With very few exceptions, like motorized ambulances, transportation is limited to horse and buggy or bicycle.

Continental Divide
Continental Divide Universal Pictures

Continental Divide

Starring John Belushi and Blair Brown, Continental Divide is a 1981 American romantic comedy directed by Michael Apted from an original screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan. Brown was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in this movie.   This is also the first film from Stephen  Spielberg's production company Amblin Entertainment.

The train depot where Belushi's character says goodbye to Blair's character, but later gets back on the train is the Michigan Central Railroad Niles Depot in Niles, Michigan about 90 miles east of Chicago. It's a large sandstone building built in 1892. This same depot appeared in Midnight Run with Robert De Niro and Only the Lonely with Maureen O'Hara and John Candy.


The Evil Dead
The Evil Dead Renaissance Pictures

The Evil Dead

A 1981 American horror film written and directed by Sam Raimi and executive produced by Raimi and Bruce Campbell.

Raimi, the fourth of five children, was born in Royal Oak, Michigan,  grew up in Birmingham, Michigan.  Raimi graduated from Groves High School and later went on to attend Michigan State University, where he majored in English but left after three semesters[citation needed] to film The Evil Dead.

The crew initially attempted to shoot The Evil Dead in Raimi's hometown of Royal Oak, Michigan, but instead chose Morristown, Tennessee, as Tennessee was the only state that expressed enthusiasm for the project. 

Doctor Detroit
Doctor Detroit Universal

Doctor Detroit

A 1983 comedy film, written by Bruce Jay Friedman, Robert Boris and Carl Gottlieb, Doctor Detroit stars Dan Aykroyd, Howard Hesseman, Lynn Whitfield, Fran Drescher, and Donna Dixon, with a special appearance by James Brown, who performed the theme song "Get Up Offa That Thing/Dr. Detroit"

Perhaps the only connection with Michigan for this film was the title.   According to sources,  this  film was shot on location in Chicago during the summer of 1982 and in Los Angeles.  Oooops! 

Beverly Hills Cop
Beverly Hills Cop Paramount Pictures

Beverly Hills Cop

Directed by Martin Brest and starring Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley, a street-smart Detroit cop who heads to Beverly Hills, California, to solve the murder of his best friend.

Some scenes were filmed in Detroit, including scenes filmed in Brush Park. The T-shirt that Murphy wears in the film is from Mumford High, a real high school in Detroit. The Renaissance Center is visible in the opening scene.

Gil Hill, the actor who portrayed Inspector Douglas Todd, was a real-life detective in the Detroit Police Department who later became a Detroit City Council member and mayoral candidate, losing to Kwame Kilpatrick in 2001.

This first film in the Beverly Hills Cop series shot Murphy to international stardom, won the People's Choice Award for "Favorite Motion Picture", was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical, and even received an Academy Award nomination in 1985. 

It earned $234 million at the North American domestic box office, making it the biggest hit of 1984.

Crimewave Renaissance/Pressman


Another film directed by one of Michigan's favorite sons, Sam Raimi (see the Evil Dead), Crimewave is a 1985 American comedy film. An unusual slapstick mix of film noir, black comedy and B-movie conventions, the film portrays bizarre situations involving a death row inmate. It starred Reed Birney, Paul L. Smith, Louise Lasser, Brion James, and Bruce Campbell, the latter of which also served as a producer.

Following the commercial success of The Evil Dead (1981), Raimi and Campbell decided to collaborate on another project,  this movie proved so disastrously bad, the film was a box-office flop, and has since fallen into obscurity outside of fans of Campbell and Raimi.  Raimi budgeted the film at $2.5 million,  the movie quickly went both over budget and over schedule

At one point, shooting was to take place at a bridge overlooking the Detroit River, which was frozen at the time. The script, however, called for clear and running water, meaning that the crew had to brave dangerously low temperatures and conditions to clear the ice; finally they blew up the ice with dynamite.

At another time, the crew spent a week filming on a Detroit street after dark, directly under a nursing home, with huge wind machines blowing for long hours.One evening a glass bottle with a note in it crashed to the ground from an upper floor. The note inside read, "The noise is keeping me awake all night long and I am getting sick. I am dying because of you.