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Friday, May 30, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO (1936)


While you wait for the inevitable earthquake to strike, helmer Woody Van Dyke & scripter Anita Loos manage to keep things relatively lively as nice girl Jeanette MacDonald (stunning under Oliver Marsh ’s lensing) chooses between raffish Clark Gable of the Barbary Coast and Mama’s boy Jack Holt of Nob Hill. (Gable is entering his plush phase and his face has noticeably thickened, but he gets to do more character acting than usual and is unexpectedly touching toward the end.) There’s more opera than you recall (real stuff, too, Gounod & Verdi) though it's Spencer Tracy ’s priest pal who proves to be insufferable. But the production is almost impossibly lux in M-G-M’s grandest manner, and when the catastrophe hits, we’re off to the races. Except for some panoramic miniature shots of the city in flames, the effects hold up amazingly well, with some brilliant fast montage stuff that makes you think you’ve seen more calamity than you actually have.

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