Late Filmmaker Norman Jewison Once Shot a Movie in Dubuque
It was a sad day for the cinema world yesterday when accomplished Canadian director Norman Jewison passed away at the age of 97. The legendary filmmaker was known for covering a plethora of genres (everything from comedy to drama and even musicals) and doing so with a keen for social and political commentary.
Among his decorated filmography, which included Fiddler on the Roof, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Cincinnati Kid, just to name a few works, he also directed a little movie called F.I.S.T. in 1978. Starring Sylvester Stallone, the film revolved around labor unions and was loosely based on the Teamsters and their president, Jimmy Hoffa.
F.I.S.T. remains a topic of discussion in living rooms and barrooms all across Dubuque and eastern Iowa because the film was actually shot in Dubuque. Here's a bit of backstory on how and why the Key City was ultimately chosen for this important crime drama.
Why Dubuque was Chosen to Be a Stand-In for Cleveland:
United Artists, the studio behind the film, hired Joe Eszterhas (who would go on to write Showgirls) to write a screenplay about the labor movement in 1974. Eszterhas had never written a screenplay before, but had written a 40-page essay on the history of labor unions in the Midwest, so he had extensive knowledge on the subject.
While F.I.S.T. takes place in Cleveland, OH from the 1930s through the 1950s, Dubuque was chosen for filming because the older sections of the city mirrored 1930s Cleveland than the city itself did at the time. The absence of roof-mounted television antennas — due to most Dubuque homes having cable television at the time thanks to the area's rolling bluffs creating problems for over-the-air TV signals — also reflected the period in which the film is set.
Popular Dubuque Hotspots Seen in the Movie:
Some locations seen in the film included St. Raphael's Cathedral, Sacred Heart Church, the Fourth Street Elevator, and Dubuque Star Brewery. Portions of the former Caradco manufacturing company in Dubuque were also utilized, while the county courthouse and Saint Mary's Catholic Church can also be seen at certain points.
F.I.S.T. was released in April 1978 to mostly positive reviews from critics, and was a modest box office success (grossing slightly over $20 million on an $8 million budget). Its earnings paled in comparison to Rocky, also starring Stallone, which was released a few years prior, but it's difficult to compare the mass appeal of a boxing flick to that of a sternly serious union drama.
We have Norman Jewison to thank in large part for a litany of outstanding films, and he's also the man responsible for shooting arguably the most popular movie in Dubuque, second only to Field of Dreams (although that was technically Dyersville, IA).
Where Can I Watch F.I.S.T.?:
The unfortunate part is that F.I.S.T. is (shockingly) not streaming on any streaming service as of this writing. It's not even available to rent on Amazon Prime Video nor Vudu. Sure, you can try and opt to watch it on one of those websites, or elect to purchase a copy of the long out-of-print DVD on eBay.
Tis pity that in this day and age, a movie starring Sylvester Stallone of all people is all-but inaccessible. Especially when the distributing studio, MGM, has its own streaming service designed for their content, but I'll stop myself before I rant too hard.
For more about F.I.S.T. using Dubuque, IA as one of its filming locations, visit the film's Wikipedia page. For more on Norman Jewison, one of the finest directors of this, or any other, generation, consider reading the beautifully written obituary from The New York Times.
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Gallery Credit: Tom Ehlers