When a death row prisoner tells him he wouldn't have led a life of crime if only he had had one friend as a child, Father Edward Flanagan decides to do something about. An advocate of child... See full summary »
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 <email@example.com>
The character of Blackie Norton was inspired by Wilson Mizner, a fellow writer of Robert E. Hopkins and Anita Loos, who had worked on Broadway and at Warner Brothers and had died several years earlier, He was a notorious huckster, con artist and womanizer, with connections in gambling and underworld circles. See more »
When Blackie is looking at the facade of a building crumbling, you can quickly see the giant hand of an FX technician pushing the facade away from the miniature building at the top right. See more »
[referring to Mary Blake]
Well, there's no law against an opera singer being slender, young and beautiful.
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Gable, MacDonald, and Tracy as San Francisco topples around them
As in the '70s, disaster films were all the rage in the '30s, with "Hurricane," "The Rains Came," "In Old Chicago," and, of course, 1936's "San Francisco" which certainly sent the other studios running to destroy anything they could. The film stars Clark Gable, Jeannette MacDonald, and Spencer Tracy as three citizens of that beautiful city on April 18, 1906, when the big earthquake struck.
Gable plays Blackie Norton, a quintessential role for him - a tough, charming rogue who runs The Paradise Club. MacDonald is the lovely and talented Mary Black who arrives there looking for work, and Spencer Tracy is Father Tim, who is Blackie's conscience (so he ignores him) and Mary's moral compass. Mary is torn between two loves - her love for Blackie and her love for opera. Burley (Jack Holt) wants her contract from Blackie so he can star her at the Tivoli Opera, but in all things, she suppresses her own desires so that she can stay with Blackie. She finally does leave but returns...only to leave again after an ugly confrontation between Blackie and Father Tim. Things get a lot uglier at an annual contest - and that's when the chandelier starts moving back and forth.
It's amazing what the films in the pre-computer age were able to do with special effects because the earthquake in "San Francisco" is dazzling, spectacular, and downright scary. Given the horrors of 9/11 and Katrina, one is drawn into the devastation and suffering as people search for loved ones, watch their houses fall, go crazy, and see their beloved city dynamited because there's no water to stop the raging fires. 70 years later, it's all way too close to home.
As good as he always was with Gable, Spencer Tracy did not have much of a role as the good father, but he's excellent. MacDonald poses a problem. Normally, she plays a diva or spitfire, and she did those roles beautifully. But Mary Blake is a modest and religious woman who speaks softly and sublimates her own desires for the man she loves. It doesn't ring true, and it doesn't work opposite the volatile Blackie of Gable's. If Mary had been more like other roles she played, MacDonald probably would have had good chemistry with him. As it is, they don't make much of a couple. Her singing is pretty until she hits the opera stage - with the combination of the tinny sound system in those days and the way women were trained on high notes then, the end result isn't good. She sings "The Jewel Song," which she often did in concert, the finale of "Faust," and "Sempre Libera." MacDonald was a lyric coloratura and suited to the demands of the opera stage in the '30s, but today she sounds dated as standards have changed.
This is a great film to see to appreciate the artistry of the early technicians. The effects in "San Francisco" hold up against anything that came 40 years later. The ending is pure Hollywood hokum, but very stirring. It gave this viewer goosebumps. Don't miss Hollywood at its very best.
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