San Francisco

Billed as a “musical drama disaster film”, this 1936 movie was mentioned in Movie Palace Mysteries as one that anyone from or in San Francisco should see. Since the author’s blog ( didn’t cover this flick, of course we knew we had to see it and do a quick post on it. The film cast is incredible – Jeanette MacDonald as Mary Blake (a singer of course), Clark Gable as Blackie (a saloonkeeper of course), and Spencer Tracy as – what else? – Father Mullen, Blackie’s good friend. The whole movie is a lead up to the 1906 earthquake, and it’s quite an enjoyable albeit predictable. Mary is a down on her luck singer of sterling character who’s given a job by Blackie at his saloon, located in the somewhat disreputable Barbary Coast. Of course, she’s a big hit with his customers as she sings “San Francisco”, while in costume that shows her quite lovely legs (scandalous in 1906). Mary has always wanted to sing opera at the Tivoli, and is offered a chance (we learn that Burley, one of Blackie’s customers just happens to have an interest in the Tivoli). Blackie is less than keen on the idea, and there is a scene in which he attempts to foist his less than honorable intentions on Mary. She leaves, of course, off to the Tivoli. Blackie goes to hear her sing, and decides that she is where she needs to be. However, Mary loves Blackie and asks him to marry her. Naturally, this is where things get out of hand — Blackie wants to again take advantage of Mary (even more revealing costume), and Father Mullen chastises him. At that point, Mary leaves and goes to Burley who also wants to marry her She meets Burley’s mother (a fine character played by Jessie Ralph) who is sympathetic, and has a talk with Mary about what’s important in life. On the eve of the Chicken Ball (the prize for the winning business owner is $10,000), we learn that Blackie’s business is in jeopardy (it was raided because of Burley). Mary and Burley, along with many others from the Barbary Coast, attend the ball where Mary (she’s of sterling character, rememeber?) sings on behalf of Blackie so he can get the winnings. She wins, and he throws the money in her face (the blackguard!). This of course, is the evening of April 17, just before the earthquake. Mary leaves, Blackie leaves in the other direction, and then — catastrophe! The real centerpiece of the movie, and frankly, the best reason to see it, is the earthquake. Remember that this is a 1936 film — and the effects are simply amazing — shuddering buildings, shaking floors with people tumbling about, cars being thrown. For several minutes, we are in the middle of this tragedy. No spoilers, but then again, you can guess how it ends. While the plot is predictable, both the music (this is a Jeanette MacDonald movie after all) and the special effects are the best reasons to see the film We give it Worth the Search.

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