This film left no doubt that MGM was the most formidable studio in Hollywood. Star power, a great, rowdy story, and one of the most awesome special effects sequences in the history of film made SAN FRANCISCO a blockbuster. The pairing of Gable and Tracy here is historic: Tracy envied
Gable's roguish charm and romantic image; Gable thought Tracy the finest actor on screen.
Gable stars as the brassy, colorful boss of the infamous Paradise beer garden, who ensnares starving MacDonald into a contract singing for him, although she also gains fame with Nob Hill patrons of the San Francisco Opera and amazingly finds time to inspire churchgoers, trilling in priest Tracy's
choir. Yes, Jeanette overdoes it a bit, and why not? She's The Belle of San Francisco. Until the special effects, this is a Lifetime Achievement period piece for McDonald, with the rough 'n' ready leads battling over her soul and other extremities. It almost holds the picture together while we're
waiting for the Big Rumble.
And rumble it does: the great old historic sites of San Francisco are shown breaking to pieces under the strain of the tremendous earthquake. City Hall collapses, fountains disintegrate, and office and residential buildings sway and tumble as the quake grips the entire city. Everywhere people are
looking for lost loved ones. A long view of the city shows widespread fires breaking out, and a series of quick shots show firemen helpless to combat them because the water mains are broken. A second tremor begins, and this time the very streets split. But when The King finds Jeanette, she's still
SAN FRANCISCO is the biggest film Van Dyke ever directed, a work he maintains at a fantastic pace, hustling along his actors to keep time with the gaudy, bawdy era he presented in the background. Although Van Dyke certainly earned the credit for his astounding, technically flawless film, his
mentor and the father of American silent film (and creator of almost all the techniques used thereafter in the sound era), D.W. Griffith, appeared at MGM one day and Van Dyke asked "the master" if he cared to direct any of the scenes in the film. He did, but just which scene the great Griffith
directed is still in debate. One report had it that he directed one of MacDonald's operatic scenes, another one of the mob scenes at the Paradise club. But it was also rumored that the he directed the gem of this golden film, the incredible 20-minute earthquake and fire sequence, or at least that
portion which was not achieved by the special effects of Gillespie and the uncredited James Basevi.
Van Dyke did not forget others of the silent era and tried to put to work many of the silent stars who were then unemployed and suffering during that year of the Great Depression, including Flora Finch; one-time Vitagraph star Naomi Childers; Jean Acker, who had been Rudolph Valentino's first wife
and a leading lady in her own right during the silent days; King Baggot and Rhea Mitchell, whom Van Dyke had directed in the 1918 silent film THE HAWK'S LAIR. Even silent film director Erich von Stroheim got into the act, writing some additional dialogue for Loos's script.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: This film left no doubt that MGM was the most formidable studio in Hollywood. Star power, a great, rowdy story, and one of the most awesome special effects sequences in the history of film made SAN FRANCISCO a blockbuster. The pairing of Gable and Tracy he… (more)