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ScenePast reels you in with film sites then and now

Want to know what a street corner from the 1958 movie "Vertigo" looks like today? Take a click through this cool app for movie buffs.

Those things in the background? They're called phone booths. Screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

I took a little tour of movie history this afternoon, visiting sites where "The Graduate," "Taxi Driver," and "Broadway Danny Rose," among other films, were shot. And I did it without leaving my desk, via ScenePast, a fun time travel (and time-sucking) app that puts film and TV locations then and now in the palm of your hand, testing your movie mettle along the way.

For example, I didn't know that scenes from "Dirty Harry," "Vertigo," and "The Conversation" were filmed within walking distance of CNET's San Francisco's headquarters.

Many sites familiar to me from everyday SF life appear surprisingly similar to how they looked 30, 40, 50, or more years ago (except the cars in 1951 seem awfully tough to parallel-park downtown). Others have swapped early 20th-century architecture for sleek buildings covered in glass (hey, is that Fidelity Investments where "The House on Telegraph Hill" once took place?).

The $1.99 app for iPhone and iPad (£1.49, AU$2.49) features images from hundreds of movie and television locations in major American cities, searchable by year, ZIP code, or pinpoint-laden map, and is constantly being updated. Each photo tells exactly when in a movie or TV show the spot appeared, and includes a specific address in case you want to build your own real-life celluloid time-travel tour. A Watch Now feature allows you to download films and TV shows from iTunes, and a crowdsourced feature called "Help Solve" solicits input on mystery images.

Screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

Whether you're a movie, history, or urban-planning buff, it can be plain fascinating to drag the ScenePast activation lever and go back in cinema time, especially when a spot has really changed over the years.

That Brooklyn Phillips Dance Studio in "Saturday Night Fever" is boarded up, covered in graffiti, and not looking so well, while other, once run-down spots positively gleam with modern gentrification.

All in all, it's definitely an app worth watching.