The original credits include a music score, conductor and orchestra, despite the film being a silent film. The Vitaphone Symphony Orchestra played at the first-run performance in New York, and the credit was also in printed programs distributed to the audience. See more »
One thing you sure have to say about OLD SAN FRANCISCO is that it is a very lovely film to see. The print, though very old, is in almost pristine shape (at least the version they showed on Turner Classic Movies) and the soundtrack exceptional. In addition, the director and cinematographer were absolutely brilliant--making the most of every scene with the most artistic touch for a silent I have seen in a very long time. Delores Costello is simply luminous thanks to them and so many of the scenes were treats for the eyes--such as the scene between Costello and her suitor at the fountain. It just doesn't get much prettier than this.
As for the story, it was nice to see that Hollywood was trying to be sensitive towards Hispanic-Americans, as they are shown in a very sympathetic light. A major problem is that despite being so very pro-minority, none of the people playing these roles are Hispanic--a very common problem in Hollywood until the 1960s (and sometimes beyond). Today such a practice would be condemned--in 1927, it was par for the course. In this film, Delores Costello did a great job acting (she was terrific), but she looked about as Hispanic as Shirley Temple. If you don't believe me that such casting was common, try watching a Charlie Chan or Mr. Moto film---as these characters were repeatedly played by actors of European descent. In fact, Warner Oland who popularized the Chan role is even in this film playing the role of a big dumb jerk who happens to be a Mongolian man posing as a White man! Oh, and most of the Asians in this film are drug dealers, pimps or assorted low-lifes, so I am pretty sure Asian-Americans probably didn't line up to see this film!
The story is about a family of noble Spanish blood living in San Francisco in the early 20th century. Though they have lived there before the Americans arrived, they are continually treated like outsiders as the Anglos and Chinese gangs take advantage of them again and again. Thanks to a nice young Irishman who has fallen for sweet Delores, the family has a benefactor and things might work out for the better....or not! See it for yourself to see if sweet Delores manages to escape the lecherous clutches of the Chinese underworld white slavers and greedy land speculators (for a hint: God doesn't like what is happening and perhaps He'll have to intervene).
Despite the film's many shortcomings and overt racism as well as a sappy ending (all of which can be understood based on the age of the film and prevailing social mores), the film certainly IS exciting--mostly because of its scandalous subject matter and fast pace. This combined with the artistic nature of the film make it a film worth seeing. Just don't let your politically correct friends and co-workers know! The sight of Oland's midget brother kept locked in a cage throughout the film like a dog is just too much to bear.
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