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Barriers Burned Away (1925)

In 1871 Chicago an undercover detective gets a job as a porter in a somewhat disreputable saloon in order to get information on a stolen painting, which he believes will be fenced there by ... See full summary »



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Cast overview:
Mabel Ballin ...
Christine Randolph
Mark Randolph
Wayne Morgan
Molly Winthrop
Gale Winthrop
Mildred McCormick
Earl of Tarnsey
Hon. Bill Cronk
Howard Mellon
Slim Edwards (as James Mason)
J.P. Lockney ...
Patrick Leary
Mrs. Charles Craig ...
Mrs. Leary
Peg-Leg Sullivan
Halstead Street Terror
Frankie Mann ...


In 1871 Chicago an undercover detective gets a job as a porter in a somewhat disreputable saloon in order to get information on a stolen painting, which he believes will be fenced there by the thieves. He soon falls in love with the saloon owner's daughter, who believes him to be just a porter. Soon his undercover work puts he and the girl in danger, from both the criminals who stole the painting and the infamous Chicago Fire of 1871. Written by frankfob2@yahoo.com

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Release Date:

4 January 1925 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

La cité en flammes  »

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Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

A hot time in the old town
16 November 2004 | by See all my reviews

'Barriers Burned Away' is one of those movies (like 'Titanic' and 'Gallipoli') which puts fictional characters at the centre of a real-life disaster, and we're meant to be concerned about the fictional characters instead of the real people who actually died in this place.

CONTAINS SPOILERS. Chicago, 1871: Wayne Morgan has a lowly job as a porter in the salon of wealthy art dealer Mark Randolph. Little does anyone suspect that Morgan is actually a detective, searching for a stolen portrait which he expects to surface for sale at Randolph's salon. While undercover, he becomes attracted to the proprietor's daughter Christine. But will a society belle return the love of a lowly porter? Morgan spends his off-hours consorting with members of Chicago's underworld: this is of course part of his effort to find the painting. Morgan's gumshoeing causes Christine to end up in a sleazy cafe -- a front for criminal activity -- where she is held prisoner while a fight breaks out. As if this weren't enough trouble, the Great Chicago Fire enters upstage left. Morgan rescues Christine from the fight, and then he rescues her from the fire. The baddies roast merrily.

'Barriers Burned Away' benefits from the brisk efficient direction of Woodrow 'One-Take Woodie' Van Dyke. There are some interesting performances in supporting roles, notably James Mason (the American character actor) as a crook, and William V Mong doing a Lon Chaney turn with a pegleg. We get the usual nonsense (now discredited in real life) about the Chicago Fire being started by Mrs O'Leary's cow, but in this movie the family's name is changed to Leary (to avoid lawsuits?). The fire sequences are exciting. Still, I dislike the fact that we're being asked to care about fictional characters in a situation where many real people died. Also, it's not widely known that the Chicago Fire occurred on the *same* day as a forest fire in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. (There had been a very dry summer.) The Peshtigo fire killed more people, and covered a much larger area ... yet it's the Chicago fire that people remember, probably because it caused a higher dollar amount of property damage. Whenever anyone mentions the Chicago fire, I'm dismayed that the Peshtigo victims are largely forgotten. But 'Barriers Burned Away' is well-photographed and briskly edited. I'll rate this movie 7 out of 10.

The opening titles of this movie give a story credit to E.P. Roe. He was a clergyman whose novel 'Barriers Burned Away' was published in 1872 (shortly after the Chicago fire) and was immensely popular for at least 30 years afterward. Some aspects of this film's story resemble that novel, but only marginally. Roe's novel was 300 pages long, its action begins nearly a year before the Chicago fire, and it contains a great deal of evangelist material that would alienate modern audiences. Very little of his story -- apart from the fire -- is in this 1925 film.

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