San Francisco is a 1936 drama-adventure film directed by Woody Van Dyke, based on the April 18, 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The film, which was the top grossing movie of that year, stars Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, and Spencer Tracy. The then very popular singing of MacDonald helped make this film a hit, coming on the heels of her other 1936 blockbuster, Rose Marie. The Internet Movie Database reports that famous silent film directors D. W. Griffith and Erich von Stroheim contributed to the screenplay without screen credit. Griffith also helped direct the famous earthquake sequence.
"Blackie" Norton (Clark Gable), a saloonkeeper and gambler in the notorious Barbary Coast, Norton owns the Paradise Club on Pacific Street. He hires a promising but impoverished classically-trained singer from Benson, Colorado, Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald). She becomes a star attraction at the Paradise, and a romance develops between Blackie and Mary. The Professor (Al Shean) can tell Mary has a professionally trained voice. Mat (Ted Healy) feels Mary is not going to stay on the "Coast." Complications arise when she is offered an opportunity to sing in the opera. Mary is hired by the Tivoli Opera House on Market Street. She becomes involved with Nob Hill scion Jack Burley (Jack Holt). Meanwhile, Blackie's childhood friend, Roman Catholic Father Tim Mullen (Spencer Tracy), keeps trying to reform him, while the other nightclub owners attempt to convince Norton to run for the City and County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors in order to protect their crooked interests. Norton knocks out a heckler during a speech in Golden Gate Park. Blackie wants to stop Mary singing at the Tivoli, he hears her and does not stop the opera. Mary meets Burley's mother (Jessie Ralph) at her Nob Hill mansion. She tells Mary, she started out as Massie, the washerwoman in 1850 on Portsmouth Square; then, she married the elder Burley. Despite Father Tim's best efforts, Blackie remains a jaunty Barbary Coast atheist. However, Father Tim tells Mary that the new church organ was paid for by Blackie. Mary returns to the Paradise and is dressed skimpy; Father Tim takes her from the Paradise and Blackie. On order of Burley, April 17, 1906 the San Francisco Police Department padlocks the Paradise. Mary sings the song San Francisco and wins the Chicken's Ball for the Paradise; Blackie refuses the prize money. Then, at 5:13 a.m. April 18, 1906, the earthquake hits and then the fires erupt. The water mains are broken. Mat has been taken from the destroyed Hall of Justice on Washington Street; a nurse tells Blackie, Mat will not survive, as Mat says he was wrong about Mary. Blackie goes to Nob Hill and sees Mrs. Burley (she senses her son has died, and Blackie saw the dead Burley) as the US Army troops from the Presidio prepare to blow up the mansions as fire breaks. Father Tim takes Blackie to Golden Gate Park. Blackie sinks to his knees and finds God upon discovering that Mary survived. Men yell, "The fire's out!" and "We'll build a new San Francisco!" The people (a surprisingly multi-racial group, given the era of the film) march from Golden Gate Park, arm-in-arm, singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the smoldering ruins dissolve into the "modern" San Francisco of the mid 1930's.
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