San Francisco (1936) - Rotten Tomatoes

San Francisco (1936)

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Movie Info

The MGM historical "spectacular" San Francisco was allegedly based on a three-sentence synopsis, submitted verbally to producer B.F. Zeidman by studio troubleshooter Bob Hopkins. The story begins on the Barbary Coast on New Year's Eve, 1906, as rakish but likeable political boss Blackie Norton (Clark Gable) hires demure young singer Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald) to perform at his rowdy Paradise gambling house. Local priest Father Mullin (Spencer Tracy), Blackie's best friend, disapproves of the exploitation of the lovely Mary, feeling that she's suited for classier surroundings. Jack Hurley (Jack Holt), Nob Hill socialite and Blackie's political rival, agrees with Father Mullin and offers the girl the opportunity to sing with the San Francisco Opera. Blackie, who's fallen in love with Mary but won't admit it to himself, jealously holds on to her contract, forcing Mary to walk out on him. For the rest of the film, Mary is torn between the "respectable" lifestyle offered her by Hurley and the baser creature comforts provided by Blackie. It looks for a while that Hurley has won out, but fate takes a hand in the form of the devastating San Francisco Earthquake of April 18, 1906 (a special effects tour de force for art directors Arnold Gillespie and his uncredited associate James Basevi). Hurley is killed in the holocaust, while Blackie, desperately searching for Mary in the rubble, at long last finds religion and prays to God for his sweetheart's salvation. At the end, an unidentified bit player shouts defiantly "We'll build a new San Francisco!" -- and by golly, they do! The Hollywood censors were not so much bothered by the sexual subtext of San Francisco or its harrowing earthquake finale as they were by a scene in which Father Mullin is knocked down by an unrepentant Blackie. To "purify" this potentially blasphemous sequence, screenwriter Anita Loos quickly added an earlier scene in which Mullin and Blackie, both dressed in turtleneck sweaters, genially duke it out at an exercise gym, whereupon the priest cold-cocks Blackie with the greatest of ease. By establishing that Mullin could have punched out Blackie, but chooses not to in the controversial later scene, not only allows that scene to pass, but also strengthened the priest's character. San Francisco proved to be one of MGM's biggest hits, remaining in almost constant reissue for the next three decades.

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Cast

Clark Gable
as Blackie Norton
Spencer Tracy
as Father Tim Mullin
Jack Holt
as Jack Burley
Margaret Irving
as Della Bailey
Jessie Ralph
as Maisey Burley
Al Shean
as Professor
Frank Mayo
as Dealer
Russell Simpson
as Red Kelly
Bert Roach
as Freddy Duane
Warren Hymer
as Hazeltine
Edgar Kennedy
as Sheriff Jim
Tudor Williams
as Mephistopheles
Spec O'Donnell
as Man Praying
Bob McKenzie
as Messenger
Mae Digges
as Dancer
Nyas Berry
as Dancer
Jim Farley
as Charlie
Pat O'Malley
as Fireman
Otho Wright
as Fireman
Gertrude Astor
as Drunk's Girl
Tom Dugan
as Drunk
Belle Mitchell
as Mary's Maid
William Newell
as Man in Breadline
James Macklin
as Young Man
Tom McGuire
as Bartender
Wilbur Mack
as Bartender
Harry Myers
as Reveler
Edward Hearn
as Parishioner
G. Pat Collins
as Bartender
Harry Strang
as Soldier
Vernon Dent
as Fat Man
Irving Bacon
as Picnicker
Orrin Burke
as Pompous Man
John 'Skins' Miller
as Man on Stretcher
George Guhl
as Bit Man
Edward Earle
as Bit Man
Maude Allen
as Elderly Woman
Carl Stockdale
as Salvation Army Man
Anthony Jowitt
as Society Man
Richard Carle
as Members of Founders' Club
Oscar Apfel
as Members of Founders' Club
Frank Sheridan
as Members of Founders' Club
Ralph Lewis
as Members of Founders' Club
Chester Gan
as Jowl Lee
Cy Kendall
as Headwaiter
Don Rowan
as Coast Type
Sherry Hall
as Well-Wisher
Dennis O'Keefe
as New Year's Celebrant
Charles Sullivan
as Fire Spectator
Beatrice Roberts
as Forrestal Guest
Sidney Bracey
as Burley's Butler
Sam Ash
as Orchestra Leader
Bud Geary
as Man Restraining Blackie after Quake
King Baggot
as Earthquake Extra
Rhea Mitchell
as Earthquake Extra
Flora Finch
as Earthquake Extra
Fritzi Brunette
as Earthquake Extra
Helene Chadwick
as Earthquake Extra
Naomi Childers
as Opera Spectator in Burley Box
Rosemary Theby
as Earthquake Extra
Jean Acker
as Earthquake Extra
Donald Hall
as Earthquake Extra
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Critic Reviews for San Francisco

All Critics (8)

Achieves something that has evaded disaster movies since as long as they've existed: it depicts its disaster in an engrossing, spectacular way, while also making sure that we're not just exulting in mass death.

Full Review… | June 4, 2015
Antagony & Ecstasy

A huge blockbuster, this MGM melodrama is mostly known for its ten-minute recreation of the 1906 Earthquake, but it also has an emotionally engaging story and is extremely well-acted by Gable, Tracy, and Jeanette MacDonald, who sings the famous song.

Full Review… | July 1, 2007
EmanuelLevy.Com

..a big, brawling, boisterous, sentimental, touching, inspiring, thoroughly entertaining motion picture.

Full Review… | June 14, 2006
Movie Metropolis

Dated but classy MGM spectacular.

May 4, 2006
Video-Reviewmaster.com

Gable, Tracy, McDonald singing - and an earthquake. Who could ask for anything more? A typical MGM extravaganza.

July 23, 2004
Journal and Courier (Lafayette, IN)

Engagingly silly epic with soap opera story.

November 5, 2003
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Audience Reviews for San Francisco

San Francisco has the firepower (or should that be the earthquake power) of a very strong lineup. It was the 30s version of the blockbuster and similar to modern blockbusters, the script is a little thin and sensationalist.

John Ballantine
John Ballantine

Super Reviewer

This is a pretty remarkable achievement as far as disaster films are concerned. It actually has an engaging story that doesn't necessarily revolve around the Great Quake of 1906, yet it feels urgent and ominous as the events that you watch all lead up to that inevitable climax. Also, the special effects are pretty amazing considering that this film was made a mere 30 years after the real-life events it's depicting. Definitely worth a watch!

Rico Zamora
Rico Zamora

Super Reviewer

½

Classic MGM spectacle is highlighted by remarkable re-enactment of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. What's more, this romantic drama includes an engaging story as well. Young, classically-trained singer is plucked from obscurity and becomes a success. Complications arise when she is also offered a chance to sing with the Opera, in decidedly classier surroundings. Grand, but dated period film was a huge blockbuster in its day and it's easy to see why. Nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Mark Hobin
Mark Hobin

Super Reviewer

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