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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
San Francisco's Barbary coast has been the screen script location of
numerous films, esp. in the '30s and '40s. The basic story of this film
had been and would be done quite few times. But wait! That's no reason
to skip this film. Of the several such films I've seen, I rate this as
among the most entertaining. That includes the Clark Gable, Spencer
Tracy and Jeanette MacDonald-starring "San Francisco", of nearly decade
before. The very talented young songstress, Suzanna Foster, in her
penultimate Hollywood film, takes on the basic role of Jeanette, her
idol as a girl, as a classy high brow singer, newly arrived from Yankee
land. She's looking for a singing job in S.F., hopefully not in the
worst honky-tonks. Seems her mother died recently, so she's looking for
her much older brother, who moved to S.F. years ago, and hasn't been
heard from in some years. Exotic-looking Turhan Bey, as Dude Forante,
takes the place of Gable, as the charismatic owner of a popular saloon
where Suzanna(Sally) ends up looking for a job. Handsome Alan Curtis,
as Rio, more or less fills the role of Spencer Tracy, as Dude's combo
nemesis and alter-ego. He runs a so-called mission, near Dude's saloon,
which is mostly a front for a gang of extortionists and thieves.
When Dude refuses to pay his protection dues or he is otherwise angry at him, Rio sends his goons to infiltrate Dude's saloon and engineer a brawl. We have two such massive brawls, one shortly before the final scene. Clearly, Rio doesn't like Dude's developing subtle romantic overtures to Suzanna. Besides starting brawls in Dude's place, and trying to woo Suzanna into frequenting the mission, Rio tries to frame Dude as being behind the rumored murder of Suzanna's brother, whose whereabouts have been a mystery. This line of drama began with the trial engagement ring Dude gave Suzanna, which she later discovers is engraved with her brother's name. . Rio arm twists Doc into admitting that he dealt with her brother's body after he was murdered. Suzanna gets ready to leave for Boston, but her roommate: 'Mickey Finn'(Collete Lyons), Dude's brassy leading chorus girl, convinces her that Dude is probably innocent, hence Suzanna accepts a romantic buggy ride with Dude to his ranch, where they talk. Later, Rio says he bought a ticket for Suzanna back to Boston, as Dude is no good for her. Suzanna is still undecided.
In the next scene, Mickey Finn is leading the chorus in a number, when Suzanna appears, having been at the mission. She bursts into a love song, drowning out the chorus. At first, directed to the general audience, it eventually clearly is directed at Dude. At it's conclusion, Dude takes her hand, and leads her outside. Rio hears about this scene from his spy, and is furious. He prepares for an all out assault on Dude's place, and a personal confrontation with Dude. I'm going to stop here, as I don't want to spoil the precipitous dramatic ending. Perhaps you have already guessed part of it. Pay very close attention to the last line in the film! Is this plausible? Should it have ended differently? I think so.
Collete Lyons, who played the sassy Mickey Finn lead songstress, before Suzanna showed up, was in quite a few Broadway, as well as Hollywood productions, especially musicals. She was still good looking at 37, compared to Suzanna'e mere 21 years.She leads in the first chorus song. Suzanna's first song is in line with the typical saloon productions: "I'm a Good Little Bad Little Lady". Not too bad. Later, around Christmas, while at the mission, Suzanna begins singing "Silent Night", precipitating some of the men to chime in with further carols. But, the show stopper song Suzanna sings twice, once as a practice run and again in her extemporaneous love song to Dude and his patrons. It's titled "Beloved", and her second rendition is simply mesmerizing! : not just her singing, but also her acting and very fancy outfit. It sounds to me like a Cole Porter-type song(when he's not being naughty). But, he isn't the composer.
Turhan Bey was a popular exotic-looking and sounding leading man or character actor during the war years, often paired with Maria Montez in a series of sand and sandals escapist films. Although not a singer or dancer, he was previously paired with Suzanna in "Bowery to Broadway" Part Turkish and part Jewish, he left his native Austria when the Nazis took over. As you found in this film, he was noted for his suave demeanor and excellent speaking, perhaps an inheritance from his diplomat father.
Alan Curtis, who played Rio, was a former model, and became a minor leading man. He was quite handsome and personable....Charismatic rotund character actor and cowboy sidekick, Andy Devine, makes a welcomed addition, as Dude's hawker, bouncer and sometimes confident. In the film, Mickey Finn keeps pestering him for a wedding ring, not being classy enough for Dude.
Thanks to the interest of Suzanna's surviving son, you can now view this film on You Tube. It's not in the best of shape, with rather frequent skips, or is it abrupt editing? But, it's good enough for me.
Turhan Bey as "Dude"? Is this the same Turhan Bey that enriched all
those exotic Technicolor adventures opposite Sabu and Maria Montez, the
handsome Hungarian usually cast as Arabian? Indeed it's the same
magnetic actor playing a peace-loving tavern owner who wants to bring
harmony to the booze halls of the Barbary Coast, much to the annoyance
of shifty Alan Curtis, who runs what is ostensibly a "mission" just
down the street, a place rife with miscreants and ne'er-do-wells. Toss
into the mix fresh-faced virginal vocalist Susanna Foster, fresh from
the East and searching for her long-lost brother, and conflicts build,
bolstered by roistering, ebullient turns by such Universal stalwarts as
blustery Andy Devine and crafty Samuel S. Hinds.
Toss into the mix two extended bar-room brawls, plenty of unexpected sentiment and some classy singing, and what results is a Western in the spirits of Destry Rides Again--not quite in the same class, but nevertheless more entertaining than one might except and needing a really good DVD transfer. Go Turhan!
Susanna Foster (Sally) turns up in Frisco and gets a job as a singer at
a club owned by Turhan Bey (Dude). Alan Curtis (Rio) is the local
gangster boss who clashes with Bey. We also get police captain Thomas
Gomez (Dan) prowling around looking to bust some butts. The story
concerns Foster trying to trace her brother.
My goodness me, how boring was that! After 45 minutes, there still isn't any story developing. I even fell asleep for a quarter of an hour during the second half and woke to Foster singing "Come all ye faithful" before the film continued in an extremely tedious fashion until its climax. The singing is the only ray of hope in this film and only when showgirl Collette Lyons (Mickey) is performing.
Before watching this film, I was watching an old repeat of a session of the European Parliament on the TV. That's why I put this film on I needed entertaining. Well, give me the European Parliament. Way more interesting.
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