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San Francisco (1936)

1 rating: 5.0
Classics movie directed by Hugh Harman, Susan F. Walker, and W.S. Van Dyke

"San Francisco, open your Golden Gate...." If the classic city anthem isn't part of your life already, it will be after a viewing of this 1936 hit, a wonderful blend of cornpone, spectacle, and song. It's set in 1906, the year the earthquake flattened … see full wiki

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1 review about San Francisco (1936)

One of the muscles of Clark Gable.

  • Nov 2, 2007
Before there was a Las Vegas, there was San Francisco: "sin city," the most corrupt town in the U.S.A., according to Father Tim Mullin (Spencer Tracy). It was filled of illegal gambling dens, like the one run by Blackie Norton (Clark Gable), Mullin's boyhood friend whom he has been trying to reform for years. When Norton hires Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald) to sing in his club, she seeks the guidance of Father Mullin to help her survive this den of iniquity. The plot is a rather forthright formula story of a tug-of-war romance between bad boy Blackie Norton and mama's boy Jack Burley, scion of a well-to -do family for the affections of singer Mary Blake. It's also a story of good vs. evil, the good being Father Mullen and the bad obviously being Norton.

Romance don't come like this no more and out of all the films that I've seen with Gable, this is his other shining moment, along with "Gone With The Wind". McDonald is one beautiful lady and she sings frequently in the film in that soprano operetta vocal style that apparently was popular back then, and there is even an overlong sequence where she plays Marguerite in Gounod's "Faust" and brings Blackie rather incredibly to tears. In a thankless role. Tracy is a natural actor and symbolizes the film's heavy religious overtones resulting in a most unbelievable conversion at the end. There is the scene where Jeneatte McDonald is having a 1 on 1 conversation with her future mother in law. Mrs. Bailey tells her that the "aristocracy" of San Francisco is not what people think. "They are a wild and crazy bunch living a sinful life with party's that last for days! She says. So you see the film wanted us to feel how society viewed others in those days.

Interesting enough, the special effects showing San Francisco April 18, 1906 Earthquake engulfed in flames following the quake and its aftermath were high tech in 1936 (a special effects tour de force for art directors Arnold Gillespie and his unaccredited associate James Basevi) and are still effective today. The quake takes place at a key point in the film toward the end. Because the audience becomes enthralled in what is taking place on the screen, the quake is totally unexpected--though waited for since the beginning of the movie. Director W.S. Van Dyke does a masterful job of bringing the quake to bear at just the right moment for full effect. Today's disaster flicks such as The Day After Tomorrow (Widescreen Edition) should take a lesson from this film because that won me over.

One of my favorite's scenes was when Blackie, was desperately searching for Mary in the rubble, at long last finds religion and prays to God for his sweetheart's salvation. At the end, an unidentified bit player shouts defiantly "We'll build a new San Francisco!" -- and by golly, they do!

Thanks Claire for sharing one of your favorites with me.

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