Saturday, June 14, 2008

San Francisco

San Francisco; Drama/ Disaster movie, USA, 1936; D: W. S. Van Dyke, S: Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, Spencer Tracy, Jack Holt, Jessie Ralph

San Francisco. The people are celebrating the new year, 1906. Blackie Norton, owner of the notorious night club "Paradise" hires the young Mary as his new singer, but his childhood friend, Priest Mullin thinks she should make a career as an opera singer, and not as an entertainer in such shabby place. She indeed goes to Jack Burley's opera and performs there, but decides to return to Blackie and marry him. But she leaves Blackie when he hits Mullin for trying to prevent her show. Then the earthquake hits and destroys the city. Blackie finds Mary alive and regains faith in God.

One of Hollywood's first major big budget disaster films, "San Francisco" was nominated for 6 Oscars, including best picture, director and screenplay, but today it seems hopelessly dated and mild, a story that spends too much time on the bland romance between Blackie and singer Mary and too little on the major 1906 earthquake itself. Out of it's 115 minutes of running time, 95 minutes in total are spent on routine melodrama: even though Clark Gable is great as the cynical Blackie who doesn't have faith and Jeanette MacDonald as Mary, only a few occasional good moments give it real spark, like when Blackie demands to see her legs before he gives her a job in his night club. Some 20 minutes before the end, the earthquake finally appears and it seems as if a whole new director replaced the old one and suddenly gave the film incredible freshness: that sole sequence is simply brilliant, equipped with numerous details, from whole buildings collapsing, walls falling on people, pianos crashing through the windows up to mass panic of citizens. If the first 95 minutes of the film were as exciting as those last 20, it would have been a real classic, not just a routine drama.


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