Barbary Coast - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Barbary Coast Reviews

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½ June 16, 2013
When we put aside the obvious talent involved in making of this, Barbary Coast is just another movie which almost completely depends on Edward G. Robinson's screen persona, legendary even in that time when it was still fresh and rising. There were many filmmakers who counted on him being one of the rare constants in the history of motion pictures, but what's peculiar is how many of the weaker ones than the two he got here managed to get through with it. I mean, you'd think Ben Hecht (who wrote it together with Charles MacArthur) and Howard Hawks would have had more fun with him on board! Still, this is one of the rare instances where Hawks missed because he aimed too high. He was always one of the most careful ones in that respect, so the reasons for that probably lie on the side of his partner.

One can say that this was thematic exorcize for the westerns he made in every upcoming decade of his distinguished carrier. The setting is San Francisco of the nineteen century (during The Gold Rush) where Mary Rutlege (Miriam Hopkins) from the civilized New York settles to be married, following the previously existing arrangement. On arrival, she is shocked to find out her groom to be was shot dead by chief local gangster Louis Chamalis, a shock increased with the knowledge that all of his money was also confiscated by the man. Even there, we begin to suspect her motifs. Our doubts are confirmed when she accepts platonic relationship with him, for a chance to enjoy some of the luxury.

This is not a first collaboration between writer-director tandem. They did Scarface, the best of the early gangster pictures and Twentieth Century, which I thought was a little overrated, but still enjoyable on its own terms. Both of those pictures, even with the shortcomings of the later, always looked like they are coming out of the same mind. That synchronicity, or the lack of it, is the key reason Barbary Coast was the first of their collaboration which could be called a failure. When Hecht goes on one of his ramblings about the importance and lost honor of journalistic profession, Hawks looks interested. It brings us picture's best sequences, most of them involving the head of the printing paper Colonel Cobb, played by Frank Craven in a supporting performance of the film. But there are parts of this script Hawks doesn't seem to take seriously, and we can't be to harsh on him because of that.

Somewhere in the middle, we are presented with Jim Carmichael (Joel McCrea), an idealist who spent last 3 years alone in the wilderness, trying to use the best of The Gold Rush. As he becomes more and more of a conscious call for Mary, we can almost feel Hawks snoring in his chair. From than on, it is a situation of two pictures in one, battling for the domination. McCrea is perfectly fine in all of his misplacement, but that doesn't do the picture much good, and Hopkins is at her routinely convincing and uniquely sexy in calm moments, but is left entirely on her own in dramatic ones, coming out as a bad stage actress appearing on the screen.

The strongest feeling Barbary Coast leaves us with is lifelessness, a flaw even Hawks' biggest detractors can't find in his best work. He collaborated with Hecht again, most famously in His Girl Friday, when they recreated the early magic. This one remains for the fans only.
May 24, 2012
Director Howard Hawks rarely made misfires, even LAND OF THE PHARAOHS was a great movie, but this Edward G. Robinson movie about the wild and wooly California coast during the gold rush era of the 1850s is curiously lackluster. Basically, it concerns a ruthless underworld boss, the mail-order bride that goes to work for him, and the innocent drifter that she falls in love with much to the chagrin of the crime boss.

As greedy Luis Chamalis, Robinson wears an ear ring and owns the biggest casino in San Francisco called the Bella Donna. Miriam Hopkins is Mary Rutledge and she has come on a square-rigged ship from New York to marry Dan Morgan, but she learns on her arrival that her fiancélost all his gold as well as his life at the Belle Donna gambling tables. Dan was a poor shot and poor shots do not live long in San Francisco. She refuses to leave town and winds up working the roulette wheel for Chamalis, the very same roulette wheel that brought about the death of her fiancé. Luis nicknames her Swan because she is as soft and desirable as a swan. Eventually, Chamalis demands love and attention from Mary, but she denies him these affections.

One day Mary takes a horse and rides in the country, but she is caught in a soaking downpour and takes refuge in a cabin. As it turns out, the man in the cabin has just settled in is a Jim Carmichael (Joel McCrea) and he is just passing through, too. This young prospector has dug sacks of gold out of the earth and is heading into town. No sooner does Jim see Mary than he falls desperately in love with her. He stumbles into the Bella Donna and loses all his gold on the roulette wheel. Mary feels guilty because she has cheated Jim, just as her fiancé was cheated. At the same time, Luis--who rules the town--with the help of a cold-blooded killer, Knuckles (Brian Donley) suppresses the local newspaper editor Col. Marcus Aurelius Cobb (Frank Craven) from publishing derogatory stories about him.

Things take a turn for the worst for Luis when Knuckles murders a miner Sawbuck McTavish (Donald Meek) and eye witnesses see him. Earlier, Luis got Knuckles out of a tight spot by calling in a favor from a drunken judge, but Knuckles is not so lucky this time around. Not only does he kill Sawbuck, but he also kills Cobb. The newly formed vigilante committee led by Jed Slocum (Harry Carey, Sr of ANGEL AND THE BADMAN) and his followers hang Knuckles on the spot and go after Luis. Meanwhile, Mary and Jim try to escape from the jealous Luis. Just as it appears that the hero and heroine are going to bite the dust, the vigilantes show up and prove the standard moral that crime does not pay and haul off Luis.

There is nothing particularly outstanding about this Hawks movie. The dialogue by two Hawks collaboraters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur is nothing special and neither is this movie. Hopkins makes an unsympathetic heroine until she falls from fellow New Yorker Jim. Walter Brennan steals the show as Old Atrocity, a sneaker grifter, who is never up to anything good.
October 17, 2011
Hawks lets the characters shine. Idealistic as this may be it doesn't suffocate or suffer from it. Hawks fingerprints are all over it with excellent production.
April 12, 2011
Fun old-school melodrama that gives Edward G. Robinson plenty of chance to ham it up.
March 26, 2011
Totally fascinating movie. It doesn't work but you can see exactly how/what makes Hawks and Wyler movies so good normally. It has some great parts. Great actors. But it gives up on itself halfway through. I think this is one of my favorite Robinson films.
August 10, 2010
Gold rush San Francisco as a crude capitalist hell (but with Hawksian charm, and a remarkable ending). Of course, while journalism, poetry, and love may counteract crudity (though this is less and less evident), they can't stop capitalism (which, financing crudity, guarantees its return/advance).
½ July 19, 2010
Colorful MGM melodrama stars Miriam Hopkins as a kind of proto-Scarlett O'Hara - expecting to marry a rich miner after arriving in San Francisco during the height of the Gold Rush, she finds him dead and the fortune in the hands of disreputable gambler and underworld boss Robinson. Determined to live in high style, she throws in with him by fronting his crooked roulette wheel, but chafes at his advances. Eventually, she finds true love in the form of idealistic poet/philosopher/prospector McCrea, but not before he's thrown for a loop after he finds out about her checkered past. Great old-timey atmosphere, an almost pre-requisite 'power of the press' subplot that Hetch and MacArthur were known for, a classic Walter Brennan performance, solid directing by Hawks - but above all, Robinson's towering take on a 'Little Caesar' of the 19th century is what gives the film great appeal. Only drawback is the sudden and pat conclusion that seems hastily and clumsily sketched out.
June 9, 2010
One of the great unsung classics of old Hollywood. It has everything one could want -- action, romance, drama, humor and great storytelling!
May 25, 2010
Interesting movie which looks terribly watered down from the Hayes Code from what it was supposed to be. Miriam Hopkins plays a bride-to-be of a man living in San Francisco. She finds out as soon as she gets off the ship though, that the man is dead. She soon uses her charm to woo the top men in town likie Edward G Robinson to some social standing. She soon finds out though, that Robinson is a prick, and major problems ensue (yes, another man is involved). Nothing too original, although you can easily suspect where the script has been altered. Hopkins is a roulette wheel dealer at the bar (where she accepts "plays" and not "bets"). Was she supposed to be good time girl in the original script? And WTF is that ending all about? Bah Eddie, you wimped out on us :(
November 24, 2009
Director Howard Hawks rarely made misfires, even LAND OF THE PHARAOHS was a great movie, but this Edward G. Robinson movie about the wild and wooly California coast during the gold rush era of the 1850s is curiously lackluster. Basically, it concerns a ruthless underworld boss, the mail-order bride that goes to work for him, and the innocent drifter that she falls in love with much to the chagrin of the crime boss.

As greedy Luis Chamalis, Robinson wears an ear ring and owns the biggest casino in San Francisco called the Bella Donna. Miriam Hopkins is Mary Rutledge and she has come on a square-rigged ship from New York to marry Dan Morgan, but she learns on her arrival that her fiancélost all his gold as well as his life at the Belle Donna gambling tables. Dan was a poor shot and poor shots do not live long in San Francisco. She refuses to leave town and winds up working the roulette wheel for Chamalis, the very same roulette wheel that brought about the death of her fiancé. Luis nicknames her Swan because she is as soft and desirable as a swan. Eventually, Chamalis demands love and attention from Mary, but she denies him these affections.

One day Mary takes a horse and rides in the country, but she is caught in a soaking downpour and takes refuge in a cabin. As it turns out, the man in the cabin has just settled in is a Jim Carmichael (Joel McCrea) and he is just passing through, too. This young prospector has dug sacks of gold out of the earth and is heading into town. No sooner does Jim see Mary than he falls desperately in love with her. He stumbles into the Bella Donna and loses all his gold on the roulette wheel. Mary feels guilty because she has cheated Jim, just as her fiancé was cheated. At the same time, Luis--who rules the town--with the help of a cold-blooded killer, Knuckles (Brian Donley) suppresses the local newspaper editor Col. Marcus Aurelius Cobb (Frank Craven) from publishing derogatory stories about him.

Things take a turn for the worst for Luis when Knuckles murders a miner Sawbuck McTavish (Donald Meek) and eye witnesses see him. Earlier, Luis got Knuckles out of a tight spot by calling in a favor from a drunken judge, but Knuckles is not so lucky this time around. Not only does he kill Sawbuck, but he also kills Cobb. The newly formed vigilante committee led by Jed Slocum (Harry Carey, Sr of ANGEL AND THE BADMAN) and his followers hang Knuckles on the spot and go after Luis. Meanwhile, Mary and Jim try to escape from the jealous Luis. Just as it appears that the hero and heroine are going to bite the dust, the vigilantes show up and prove the standard moral that crime does not pay and haul off Luis.

There is nothing particularly outstanding about this Hawks movie. The dialogue by two Hawks collaboraters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur is nothing special and neither is this movie. Hopkins makes an unsympathetic heroine until she falls from fellow New Yorker Jim. Walter Brennan steals the show as Old Atrocity, a sneaker grifter, who is never up to anything good.
September 17, 2009
Barbary Coast is entertaining enough, but pretty forgettable. The story, of a young woman coming to San Francisco seeking fortune and marriage who finds herself mixed up in criminal activities, is pretty predictable and ho-hum. Edward G. Robinson is fascinating to watch, as usual. And he does a great job not being upstaged his ridiculous hairdo and earring. Miriam Hopkins is likable enough, but never propels the story into anything more than mildly diverting. If you're a fan of old Westerns and crime stories, this is a decent mix of the two. Otherwise, this is nothing more than a typical Sunday afternoon time waster.
October 17, 2008
Walter Brennan och i någon mån Edward G Robinson gör att det trots allt finns en anledning att se en annars rätt likgiltig film.
½ August 20, 2008
Not a masterpiece, but a fun way to spend a rainy day, with Edward G. Robinson and Miriam Hopkins trying to out-act each other amid the fog and mud of 19th century San Francisco.
jjnxn
Super Reviewer
½ July 2, 2008
A bit heavy on the ham in a couple of places but entertaining nontheless, Edward G. is fine as always although he should have rethought the earring. He and Miriam are a fine pair even though he despised her offscreen.
March 13, 2008
Tragic story of obsession. Very, very good, with one of Brennan's best roles and a wonderful turn from Edward Robinson. Hawks made so much good stuff that the oddities -- like this, or I Was a Male War Bride -- are easy to forget. Don't forget this one.
January 14, 2008
A Howard Hawk film starring Edward G. Robinson. One of the better films in the 30's.
½ January 12, 2007
A classic with another fine performance from Edward G. Robinson.
½ December 10, 2006
Quite a poor movie to say the least..... Certainly not worth the time to watch it.
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