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Mary Blake arrives at Blackie Norton's Paradise gambling hall and beer garden looking for work as a singer. Blackie embarrasses her by asking to see her legs, but does hire her. She faints from hunger. Nob Hill Socialite Jack Burley and Maestro Baldini of the Tivoli Opera House see her singing and offer her a chance to do opera, but Blackie has her under a two-year contract which she sorrowfully stands by. Later, when he makes up posters featuring Mary in tights, she does leave for the Tivoli. Blackie gets an injunction against Burley, but knocks out the process server when he hears Mary's performance as Marguerite in "Faust". She asks her to marry him and she agrees to go back to the Paradise as his kind of singer, but Blackie's childhood chum Father Tim intervenes. After Blackie slugs the priest, Mary leaves. She is soon the star of the Tivoli and Blackie's place is closed down. She sings a rousing "San Francisco" on behalf of the Paradise at the annual "Chicken Ball" and wins the ... Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The earthquake actually occurred at 5:13 am. In the movie the timing appears to be in the late evening, not in the early morning. The prologue of the opening credits states the correct time of the earthquake: April 18, 1906 at 5:13 am but it is easy to understand any confusion since with the cinematography at the time, day for night shots were used in exterior sets and with model sets, so that the full impact of the earthquake in progress could be easily seen. Also, it took at least three days for the fire to be extinguished and with the one night shot in those sequences, it appears that the timing of events after the earthquake was much shorter than it actually was. See more »
SAN FRANCISCO (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1936), directed by W.S. Van Dyke, is a predecessor of all those disaster movies Hollywood made famous in the 1970s, but in spite of many, including EARTHQUAKE (1974), nothing comes close to this production, a well written script (by Anita Loos), fine character development and superb cast headed by Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, Spencer Tracy and Jack Holt. However, it's not the first major motion picture to feature earthquake sequence on film. One would have to go back to the silent Warner Brothers production of OLD SAN FRANCISCO (1927) starring Dolores Costello. SAN FRANCISCO is not a remake, simply a story of fictional characters pitted against an actual occurrence set at the turn of the century.
The story begins in San Francisco after New Year's Day, 1906, Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald), an ambitious singer whose specialty is opera, has just lost her apartment due to a fire, and comes to the Barbary Coast looking for work. She obtains a job singing at the Paradise, a café managed by Blackie Norton (Clark Gable), a ruthless proprietor who oversees that his guests get whatever they need: dinner, drinks, entertainment and gambling. Mary later becomes acquainted with Father Tim Mullin (Spencer Tracy), Blackie's best friend since boyhood, and finds comfort in him that she doesn't find in Blackie. In time she learns to love and accept Blackie for what he is, an anti-religious man with a rough exterior who is known, only to Father Tim, for doing good deeds in secret. Problems arise when the aristocratic Jack Burley (Jack Holt), hears Mary sing and arranges an audition, leading to success at the Tivoli Opera House. Blackie decides to run for city council and tries to abolish the Barbary Coast's fire-trap buildings. Since Jack happens to be a major Coast landlord, and very much in love with Mary, he and Blackie soon become rivals. This is soon followed by an on-again, off-again relationship with Mary, Blackie and Jack, before the rumbling and tumbling climax of the San Francisco earthquake on the early morning of April 18th, 1906.
In spite of some faults in SAN FRANCISCO, the movie itself is groundbreaking entertainment, and a big boost for its major lead actors and anyone else responsible for it's production. While Gable and MacDonald dominate the story in its tight 116 minutes, it's Spencer Tracy, in a minor but important supporting role, who was honored an Academy Award as Best Actor. This seems odd considering Tracy not being in every scene. There are times he's just there watching and smiling (such as in the opera segments), and other times he comes off with some good sentimental dialog, then disappears during long stretches before reappearing again. His performance doesn't go without merit, in fact, it never does, but a performance such as this is worthy of a supporting actor category. Gable is also excellent. He succeeds in making his unpleasant character likable. This could very well had been a nomination for Gable, however, he received none. There's good male bonding chemistry between Gable and Tracy, good enough to pair them again in TEST PILOT (1938) and BOOM TOWN (1940). One of their most notable scenes in SAN FRANCISCO occurs when Gable as Blackie has a heated argument and socking Tim a priest. This then controversial segment was kept in the final print by adding a boxing scene earlier in the story as Father Tim and Blackie boxing in the gym together with Tim giving his best pal the final punch. On the plus side are the costume designs and authentic hair styles that capture the era the movie is set. The true highlight, however, happens to be the 20 minute earthquake sequence that's so realistic that it's hard to believe it wasn't done by modern-day computer technology.
While SAN FRANCISCO is virtually a drama, songs and opera segments are plenty, consisting of "Old Acquaintance," "Happy New Year," "Hot Town in the Old Town Tonight," "Love Me and the World is Mine," "San Francisco," "A Heart That's Free," "Hosannah," "San Francisco" (reprise); "Would You?" "The Philippine Dance," "San Francisco," "Nearer as God to Thee" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." MacDonald's opera performance includes segments of "Air Des Bijoux," CARRE from "Faust," "Marguerita" and "Sempre Libera" (by Guiseppi Verdi from LA TRAVIATA). The new songs of "San Francisco" and "Would You?" were written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. The supporting players consist of Jessie Ralph (Maizie Burley, Jack's mother; Shirley Ross (Trixie); Margaret Irving (Della Bailey); with Ted Healy, Harold Huber, William Riccardi, Edgar Kennedy and Warren Hymer.
One final note: For years when "San Francisco" was presented on local television annually on April 18th, the day of the 1906 earthquake, the conclusion consisted of the city's destruction super-imposed by the rebuilt city from different angles and the landmark of the Golden Gate Bridge. By 1982, television prints, future home video copies and presentations on Turner Classic Movies consisted of a slightly different conclusion lifted from the 1948 reissue showing the destroyed city super-imposed by new buildings and nothing else. The original finish was finally restored as part of the "alternate ending" when transferred to DVD, making this the one most highly recommended as the movie itself. (****)
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