Romantic drama combines with humor, starpower combines with lavish spectacle and the walls come tumbling down! This Academy Award-winning extravaganza's street-splitting, brick-cascading, fire-raging recreation of the cataclysmic earthquake remains "one of the greatest action sequences in the history of the cinema, rivaling the chariot race in both Ben-Hurs" (Adrian Turner, Time Out Film Guide).
Clark Gable plays rakish Barbary Coast kingpin Blackie Norton. Jeanette MacDonald portrays a singer torn by her love for Blackie and her need to succeed among the operagoing elite. Earning the first of nine career Best Actor Oscar nominations, Spencer Tracy is a priest who supplements spiritual advice with a mean right hook. He urges Blackie to change. But if love and religion can't reform Blackie, Mother Nature will.
SAN FRANCISCO was one of the most successful picture of the 1930s, and the sources of its popularity are readily apparent to this day. Both Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy are excellent, with Gable playing Blackie Norton, a dashing, brawling, gambler with a big heart, and Tracy playing Nob Hill snob Jack Talbot, who vies with Blackie for the attentions of beauty Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald). MacDonald's voice is as good as gold as she sings the title song, arias, popular music, and religious tunes. MGM built genuine reproductions of preearthquake San Francisco for the sets, including landmarks that were destroyed in the 1906 natural disaster. The special effects are accomplished with an aplomb equal to anything produced previous to the digital era, re-creating the quake with alarming and frightening realism. And, unlike many subsequent disaster films, SAN FRANCISCO's plot is sufficiently engaging to make the film worthwhile even without the climactic catastrophe. With it, W.S. Van Dyke's SAN FRANCISCO becomes a fabulous melodrama that should not be missed.
The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 serves as the background for this passionate romance between an opera singer and a Barbary Coast saloon owner. Academy Award Nominations: 6, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor--Spencer Tracy, Best Original Story. Academy Awards: Best Sound Recording.