Bill Murray’s memorably excellent 1993 comedy Groundhog Day is an evergreen classic, but it’s gained extra significance under lockdown, with the expression ‘It’s just like ‘Groundhog Day’’ repeated, well, on what seems like a daily basis. For those who haven’t seen the film, the premise revolves around Murray’s character, the bitterly egocentric TV weatherman Phil Connors, reliving the same day over and over again after being snowed in following a broadcast from the Pennsylvanian town of Punxsutawney. That particular day is 2 February, otherwise known as Groundhog Day, when the American tradition of a groundhog predicting the start of spring takes place. Connors’ day begins with his clock-radio alarm playing Sonny and Cher’s ‘I Got You Babe’ and continues through a series of repeated encounters he gradually learns to side-step and adapt to, and eventually reaches redemption.
For those who are familiar with the film – and if you haven’t seen it recently, a re-screening is recommended – many may envy Connors’ relative freedom. Heck, at least the bars are open, and the restaurants, and he’s able to learn to play the piano, sculpt ice and speak French through one-to-one lessons with actual people. There’s just the endless sense of déjà vu to cope with. Here’s where Groundhog Day was filmed…
Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania does exist in the real world, but anyone visiting in search of the film’s location would experience a disappointing absence of déjà vu. That’s because the film’s director, Harold Ramis, felt that it wasn’t photogenic enough, and decided to shoot instead more than 60 miles away, in the Illinois town of Woodstock (no relation to the festival). The town, with its old courthouse, restored opera house and Victorian-era buildings, had featured briefly in an earlier comedy classic, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and personifies a certain type of small-town America with a close-knit community. ‘It’s a quintessential, little beautiful town,’ said the film’s location manager, Bob Hodgins, in an interview with The Woodstock Independent. Having looked at around 60 other possibilities, he quickly went back to his first choice.
During shooting, that sense of community spirit became apparent, with locals helping to keep the actors warm with blankets between takes; and since the film’s release in 1993, the town has embraced the connection, holding annual events on 2 February, and hosting a walking tour around the movie’s landmarks. They include Taqueria La Placita on 108 Cass Street, the location for the on-screen Tip Top Cafe; the old courthouse, whose bar was used; the Woodstock Moose Lodge, where Connors plays the piano in the film’s finale, and the Woodstock Opera House, which became The Pennsylvania Hotel where Andie MacDowell’s character Rita stays (it was dismissed as ‘a fleabag’ by Connors).
Murray’s character stays at The Cherry Street Inn, a handsome 19th-century mansion that was actually a B&B called the Royal Victorian Manor at the time, but has since adopted its fictional name and invites potential guests to ‘enjoy an ice tea on the front porch’. And small plaques dotted around Woodstock alert visitors to key scenes, such as the exact curb on which ‘Bill Murray stepped’ before striding straight into a puddle. It’s a film that certainly rewards repeat viewing – though there’s probably a limit.
‘Groundhog Day’ can be streamed on Google Play, Amazon Prime, Youtube
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