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Movie Review

Hollywood has turned the local cineplex into a disaster area. Erupting volcanoes. Doomed ocean liners. But could a major studio make a quality film incorporating a natural disaster without exploiting it? One that develops engaging characters before engaging the special effects? Better yet, could that motion picture avoid profanity and sex while turning its beleaguered cast reverently toward God? Not only could such a film be made ... it was!

In 1936, MGM released San Francisco, a drama/musical starring Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy. The year is 1906. Gable portrays Blackie Norton, a suave, self-reliant dance hall owner with a heart of gold. Tracy's amiable priest, Father Mullin, is Blackie's long-time friend and sparring partner (in the boxing ring and in matters of faith). When Mary (MacDonald), a Christian girl with an angelic singing voice, comes to the Barbary Coast in search of an opera career, she becomes the object of Blackie's affection. These and other relationships create a drama and tension escalated in the film's final 25 minutes when the most devastating earthquake in U.S. history levels San Francisco.

The writing extols virtues such as honesty, modesty, keeping one's word, serving the community and respecting others. Without compromising, Mullin nurtures his friendship with Blackie while praying patiently for his soul. The proudly independent Blackie may speak of religion as a "trap" for "suckers," but such talk only serves to set up a heartwarming finale. Cautions are few. Alcohol use, a handful of somewhat intense earthquake scenes, and Mary's short-lived acceptance of a marriage proposal from an unbeliever provide the only caveats.

Will a generation raised on music videos and interactive software be willing to revisit Hollywood's "golden age"? They may need a little coaxing, but teens will be glad they made the trip to San Francisco. Though sixty years old, the film's Oscar-winning earthquake effects hold up even today ... and its uplifting, socially relevant messages are timeless!

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Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, Spencer Tracy, Jack Holt, Jessie Ralph


W.S. Van Dyke ( )





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Bob Smithouser

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