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USA 1936
Directed by
W S Van Dyke
116 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

San Francisco

San Franciso interpellates quite a bit of Jeanette MacDonald’s operatic warblings into what is otherwise a fairly standard story of disreputable-but-honorable nightclub world vs City Hall corruption and throws in a good portion of social history, culminating in the real-life earthquake of 1906 that destroyed much of the titular city. The result, scripted by Anita Loos from a story by Robert E. Hopkins is an enjoyable yarn delivered with admirable clarity by director W.S. Van Dyke,

Clark Gable plays Blackie Norton, the proprietor of The Paradise, a music hall/night club on the Barbary Coast, San Francisco’s red-light district. He’s a tough cookie but also a friend of the working man and much like Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca (1942). his cynical exterior masks a heart of gold, something that his old friend, Father Mullin (Spencer Tracy) knows. When he gives a job to a singer named Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald), true love strikes and the inevitable comes to pass albeit after a rocky road is traversed.

Ah, but what grand treatment of the inevitable it is as the repentant Blackie falls to his knees to thank God for sparing Mary who comes to him, a vision of angelic beauty in evening gown as a massed choir of survivors sing
The Battle Hymn of the Republic (“Glory, Glory, Alleluia”)..

Gable is in fine form as his usual irresistible playboy persona, MacDonald makes for an engaging counterpoint to his rough-hewn charm and the re-creation of the earthquake is impressively realized for its day. Whilst MacDonald's singing is the most dated aspect of the film, taken in context it still holds up very well.

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