Salem on Screen

Ask local residents to name a movie filmed in Salem, and most could cite the oft-reported connection between “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and the Oregon State Hospital. But is that the only one?

Far from it. In honor of this month’s scheduled release of the latest movie to shoot here, “10 Days in a Madhouse” — a independent period piece about investigative journalist Nellie Bly that filmed in a number of Salem spots in early 2014 — I set out to compile a list of the other flicks that have used Salem settings.

I limited my search to widely released feature films and TV movies. Some were notable; many weren’t. This list is far from comprehensive, and it may not even be completely accurate — it’s tough to find information about little-known films from 30 years ago.

(And if you’re curious about “10 Days,” it’s scheduled for a limited theatrical release on Nov. 11 in major cities, but you can already spot multiple Salem locations in the trailer online.)

Wendy and Lucy (2008)

Filmed mostly in Portland, “Wendy and Lucy,” directed by Kelly Reichardt and starring Michelle Williams, used a now-closed Salem grocery store for one of its pivotal scenes.

Williams plays Wendy, a woman heading to Alaska with her dog Lucy in hopes of starting a new life. Wendy gets stuck in Oregon when her car breaks down, and things go further south when she gets caught shoplifting at a grocery market. The market scene was shot at Jack’s IGA Foodliner, which sat in a shopping center on Market Street just west of I-5 until closing a few years ago — today the spot houses Wheeler Dealer Liquidation. (You can watch part of the market scene in the second clip above; it starts at about 2:05.)

Production designer Ryan Warren Smith told MovieMaker Magazine that they chose Jack’s because it looked like an old-fashioned family store that could be anywhere in the country. “The colors hadn’t changed since the ’70s,” Smith noted in the article.

The Hunted (2003)

I found conflicting information on whether this thriller starring Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio Del Toro actually filmed any scenes in Salem. Numerous websites, including the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), claim it did, but Statesman Journal coverage of the filming only mentioned shooting at Silver Falls State Park, mostly in the Upper North Falls area.

The state park provided a perfect backdrop for this film, which features Del Toro playing a trained assassin who had gone AWOL from the Special Forces and murdered several deer hunters. Jones plays a man who trained Del Toro’s character and was hired to help hunt him down. A 2001 Statesman Journal article on the movie noted that Silver Falls park ranger Rick Bauman had a bit part leading a SWAT team to an investigation area.

Bandits (2001)

“Filming a ‘smash’ at prison,” read the Statesman Journal headline when the “Bandits” production crew came to Salem in 2000. A team of 200 MGM cast and crew members descended on the Oregon State Penitentiary to film prison scenes for this crime-comedy romantic drama starring Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett. Willis and Thornton play convict friends who break out of prison and start a bank-robbing spree.

The opening scene features the two convicts smashing through the prison gate in a sand and gravel truck. About 170 inmates earned $25 a day as extras who cheered while Willis’ and Thornton’s characters escaped. In the Statesman, corrections spokeswoman Rita Chase noted that “the actual scene, it couldn’t happen” — a heavy metal bar and metal gate normally blocking the entrance were left open for filming. Plus, “corrections officers stationed on the wall also are known to be good sharpshooters, in contrast to the wild shots in the film.”

Director Barry Levinson told the Statesman that the film originally was set for Washington, but they changed the setting to Oregon “after they found the right locations, including the 1886-vintage prison with its high walls, guard towers and the particular layout of fences and gates that form ‘The Avenue’ inside the prison.”

Double Jeopardy (1999)

Here’s another movie that may or may not have filmed in Salem. Another film starring Tommy Lee Jones, this time alongside Ashley Judd, “Double Jeopardy” features a woman who is framed and goes to prison for murdering her husband, only to find out later he is still alive. Believing she can’t be convicted twice for the same murder, she tries to kill her husband after getting out of prison. (Legal experts at the time noted that because the “murders” were two separate incidents, the Fifth Amendment’s double jeopardy clause would not apply.)

IMDb does not list Salem as a filming location, but multiple websites about movies made in Oregon name the capital city, with a local correctional facility possibly being the setting for the film’s prison scenes. A 2000 Statesman Journal article also notes that part of the movie was filmed in Salem.

Payback (1997 TV Movie)

This made-for-TV movie from ABC was billed as a long-awaited reunion between Mary Tyler Moore and Edward Asner, former co-stars of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Moore plays the part of a restaurant owner who witnesses an incident of police brutality outside her business. After she reports the crime to a police internal affairs investigator (Asner), the rogue cop (Fredric Lehne) seeks revenge.

IMDb says this movie was shot in Portland and Salem, although I was unable to find any news articles to confirm that.

Promise (1986 TV Movie)

Of the TV movies filmed in Salem, this one garnered the most attention. “Promise,” which aired on CBS as part of the Hallmark Hall of Fame series and starred James Garner, James Woods and Piper Laurie, won two Golden Globes and five Primetime Emmys for its portrayal of a man’s attempt to deal with his brother’s schizophrenia.

According to Wikipedia and IMDb, the movie was filmed in Salem, Dallas, Corvallis and the Triangle Lake area.

A Summer to Remember, aka Toby’s Gorilla (1985 TV movie)

I’m not sure why this movie was widely called “Toby’s Gorilla” in the media, since it actually featured a orangutan, but perhaps that’s why it earned the subsequent name of “A Summer to Remember.” The movie features a deaf boy named Toby who finds and befriends a lost orangutan that knows sign language. The movie was set and filmed mostly in Salem.

An Associated Press article written just before Salem was chosen as the film’s setting noted that CBS spokesman Max Keller was “impressed by the cooperation he’s received from city officials in trying to work out details of filming the movie in Salem.” Then-city manager Russ Abolt commented, simply: “Any influx of that type of work and dollars is most welcome.”

If you want to see the movie, Bridgette Andersen, who played Toby’s young sister in the film, posted the entire thing on YouTube (the second link above).

Pigs vs. Freaks, aka Off Sides (1984 TV Movie)

The IMDb description of this movie’s plot pretty much says it all: “In a small town, the hippie faction often clashes with the mainstream. To settle their differences, the hippie ‘freaks’ take on the town police ‘pigs’ in a football game.” I didn’t find much else about this movie, which was filmed in Salem and Corvallis, except a 1987 Eugene Register-Guard editorial that called it “an execrable farce.”

However, for your viewing enjoyment, someone online who seems to be a big fan of one of the film’s stars, Adam Baldwin, pieced together all of the scenes that feature his character (see the two videos above). Keep an eye out for a young Patrick Swayze.

Honorable Mention: WarGames (1983)

This classic Cold War sci-fi flick, Matthew Broderick’s first big hit film, includes a scene where his character asks a friend to book him a flight “from Grand Junction, Colorado, to Salem, Ore-gone” (couldn’t they have gotten the pronunciation right?). You can see his Horizon Air plane land at an unidentifiable airport, but IMDb says the scene actually was filmed at Boeing Field in Seattle.

Do you remember when any of these movie crews came to Salem for filming? Do you know of other important ones that I missed? Let me know in the comments.

Salem Is editor Sarah Evans had fun digging through old newspapers on microfilm to report this story, and is most disappointed that “WarGames” wasn’t actually filmed here.