Truckee: the land of over 100 Hollywood films |

Truckee: the land of over 100 Hollywood films

TRUCKEE, Calif. — I just returned from a weekend getaway to Bodega Bay, a setting made famous by the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock thriller, “The Birds.”

While Bodega Bay was the site of one classic film, did you realize that the Truckee region has starred in over 100 films since the advent of motion pictures in the early 20th century?

During the silent film era, if a film’s setting called for snow and/or majestic mountain scenery, Truckee was the go-to destination, relatively close to Hollywood and accessible by train. Truckee was the perfect stand-in for Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, Canada, and the Arctic.

Imagine the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, Greta Garbo, John Barrymore and Will Rogers strolling along Commercial Row in the 1920s. Or Clark Gable, Henry Fonda and John Wayne in later decades.

The Truckee Library circulates a number of DVDs movies filmed in Truckee, spanning nearly a century of film-making. Currently, the library’s collection is heavily skewed toward 1920s silent films and popular titles from the 1990s.

Perhaps the most famous movie filmed in and around Truckee, was Charlie Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush,” the highest grossing silent-era film comedy.

The American Film Institute named “The Gold Rush” as one of the 100 greatest films ever made. Chaplin referred to the 1925 film as “the picture that I want to be remembered by.” The opening scene of miners trudging up the mountain was filmed on Donner Summit.

A year before “The Gold Rush” was released, John Ford, one of the most influential directors in the history of cinema, used Truckee as the backdrop to tell the story of the building of the transcontinental railroad in “The Iron Horse.”

In 1926, Truckee became Canada in “The Test of Donald Norton,” starring Tyrone Power, Sr. In “The Michigan Kid,” filmed in 1928, Truckee poses as the backwoods of the Pacific Northwest, with Truckee children used as extras.

Fast forward to the 1950s with John Wayne, starring in “Island in the Sky,” filmed at the old Truckee airstrip, adjacent to the present-day truck weigh station on I-80.

The movie tells the story of a downed Air Force transport plane in Labrador and the efforts of a rescue squadron to locate it in a frozen, desolate area. Over 100 actors and technicians converged on Truckee during the filming.

More recently, a house on Prosser Dam Road was rented to film the wintery scenes of a Brat Pack classic, “St. Elmo’s Fire” (1985). In 1994, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis were on location near Truckee to film scenes from “True Lies.” Other 1990s movies filmed in Truckee include “Misery,” “Bushwhacked” and “Jack Frost,” the latter of which also used Truckee kids as extras.

For more information about movies filmed in Truckee, check out the Truckee Donner Historical Society’s website ( To check out any of the aforementioned films, visit the Truckee Library.

Teri Andrews Rinne is the children’s services librarian at the Truckee Library, 10031 Levon Ave. Call 530-582-7846 or visit

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