Monday, August 23, 2021

#2,604. San Francisco (1936)


Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, San Francisco opens on New Years’ Eve, the final moments of 1905. Blackie Norton (Clark Gable) has lived in San Francisco his entire life, and owns “The Paradise”, the city’s most popular nightclub. 

Though he has a good heart, Blackie has always been a bit of a scoundrel, and not even his childhood friend, Father Tim (Spencer Tracy), can make him change his ways. 

Then Blackie meets Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald), a wannabe opera singer from Colorado. Despite her squeaky-clean persona (she’s the daughter of a parson), Blackie falls head-over-heels in love with Mary, and hires her to perform at his club. But will Mary stay at "The Paradise", or was she meant for bigger and better things? 

Gable plays Blackie as larger-than-life, a guy everyone knows and most people love, while Jeanette MacDonald is given ample opportunity to show off her amazing singing voice (her rendition of the tune “San Francisco” is a highlight). And even though the character of Father Tim is something of a cliché (the kindly but streetwise priest who tries to get the hero to see the error of his ways), Tracy delivers a subdued, restrained performance that makes you buy everything he says hook, line, and sinker. 

And then there’s the story at the center of it all; much like 1933’s Deluge, San Francisco is an early disaster film (an opening title card mentions the earthquake that destroyed the city in April of 1906, and the movie concludes with this very tragedy). Yet because the characters are so engaging, - the events so well-played – you completely forget about the catastrophe to come. So when the earthquake does strike (and it strikes hard), we’re as devastated as the characters themselves.

San Francisco delivers the goods in every way imaginable (it’s even a rousing musical at times) and is the kind of grand, lavish entertainment that MGM turned out in the ‘30s and beyond. Don’t miss it!
Rating: 9 out of 10

No comments: