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Story of the great fire of 1871. Fictional story of two sons of Mrs. O'Leary (the owner of the cow which started the fire), one a rogue (Power) the other a lawyer (Ameche). One of the most expensive films of its time ($1.8 million). Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
The film is delicious in that brassy, over-blown 20th Century Fox way. Among the absurdities is Alice Faye singing "In Old Chicago" in a town that was 35 years old. Yet it's amazing that so much of the actual fire's history is accurately portrayed, such as Mrs. O'Leary's "peg-leg" neighbor who sounded the alarm for the immediate DeKoven St. neighbors. Some of the bigger shots are copied right from lithographs of the period. But then most of the politics is totally fraudulent.
Women extras were not allowed to appear in dangerous situations in '30s Hollywood so watch closely during the street scenes where there are runaway horses and racing fire engines. The "ladies" scrambling around are clearly tall men in Victorian drag. It's a hoot.
Those viewers of a certain age may remember a Sunday evening TV program in the '50s with Walter Kronkite called "You Are There" which put you into historical events. The episode featuring the Chicago Fire cannibalized this Fox film and lifted much of the disaster footage.
There are so many parallels to the previous year's big MGM success "San Francisco" (1936) with Clark Gable and Jeanette McDonald. Here we have Alice Faye also singing in a saloon, a disaster during the night, "dirty politics" with an attempt to clean out the slum zone, little kids in danger during the fire, buildings being dynamited to contain the blaze, the hero searching for days for his lost love among the victims, and so forth.
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