Monday, September 4, 2017

Gable and MacDonald Team up for “San Francisco” the September Film Classic in Bigfork

Take two stars like Gable and MacDonald then add Spencer Tracy to the mix for creating the "first" disaster film about of the San Francisco earthquake and you have a super 1930's movie.  It is titled "San Francisco" and is one of MGM’s best movies of 1936. It had seven Oscar nominations, and one win for sound recording.  The movie made $5 million total, with over $2 million in profits. That’s a blockbuster in star-power, money-power, and quality. It had lots of singing, a great love story, and action. I can’t figure anything more a movie “goer” of the period could want or need. This movie was before computerized effects, so they had to make some of the sets that would shake, rattle, and roll just like an earthquake. There was also a great ending in the original release that later releases unfortunately omitted because management thought it dated the film. The movie will be shown Thursday, September 14th in Bigfork on the big screen of the Edge Center by Jack Nachbar.  It will be accompanied by Jack’s presentation providing a better understanding of the film and the time period of the picture's release.

The plot doesn’t need much description except to say Clark Gable was the bad guy, Spencer Tracy is a priest (sound familiar), and MacDonald an aspiring and very talented young singer. There is a lot between the beginning and end of the film that you’ll just have to come and see it to appreciate. It will be great to just see how much Hollywood could do with a “disaster film” and not have computer effects to help the action.

William Clark Gable (1901-1960) was a heart-breaker with the ladies on and off the sets of movies. But he did not like his leading lady in this film Jeanette MacDonald very much. Regardless, the film got made with great results and a few pranks by Gable at MacDonald’s expense. And in fact, it was MacDonald that wanted Gable for the part in the first place.

Gable started his career in silent films as an extra and his good looks and “bad-guy” persona did him well in the “talkies.” He had three Oscar nominations and won once for “It Happened One Night”.  He was a success on and off the stage. He is considered one of the most consistently good investments in films. Off stage he was loved by his fans and has the distinction of being the last star to play opposite Marilyn Monroe.  In Quigley's publishing annual Top Ten Money Makers Poll he appeared 16 times and was named seventh-greatest male star of American Classic cinema by the American Film Institute.

Jeanette Anna Macdonald (1903-1965) was an American singer and actress who is best remembered for her musicals of the 1930's singing opposite the likes of Maurice Chevalier and Nelson Eddy.  She stared in 29 feature films in the 30's and 40's and recorded numerous songs. Her films were nominated four times for best picture Oscars.

Nelson Eddy is most often thought of singing opposite Jeanette in movies, but was not available for “San Francisco” so she picked Gable as her choice for leading man in this disaster movie.

Jeanette is credited with introducing opera to the movies and was one of the most influential sopranos of her time inspiring a generation of singers in that era.

Spencer Bonaventure Tracy (1900-1967) was known for his natural style and versatility on the screen. He won two Oscars from a list of nine nominations. Spencer was a good friend of Clark Gable and enjoyed working with him His only problem with the work was that he never got equal billing with Gable. That eventually took its toll of their working together and ended the two appearing in films together.

Tracy acted in 75 films in his career and gained the respect of his peers for his performances. In 1999 the American Film Institute ranked Tracy as the 9th greatest male star of Classic Hollywood Cinema. 

The critics as well as audiences liked the results that MGM got in producing this movie. A reviewer of that period, Frank S. Nugent, writing for the New York Times titled his June 27, 1936 column: ‘San Francisco’ at the Capitol, Is a stirring Film of the Barbary Coast.  

The review says, “Out of the gusty, brawling, catastrophic history of the Barbary Coast early in the century, Metro-Goldwin-Mayer has fashioned a prodigally generous and completely satisfying photoplay. "San Francisco" is less a single motion picture than an anthology. During its two-hour course on the Capitol's screen it manages to encompass most of the virtues of the operatic film, the romantic, the biographical, the dramatic and the documentary. Astonishingly, it serves all of them abundantly well, truly meriting commendation as a near-perfect illustration of the cinema's inherent and acquired ability to absorb and digest other art forms and convert them into its own sinews.”

You can see this movie free of charge. An appropriate snack will be served courtesy of Jack and his wife/projectionist, Lynn.  Place: The Edge Center for the Arts, Bigfork. Date and time: Thursday September 14 at 6:30PM. It will be worth going to Bigfork, because Jack will give you lots of background about the movie and a cartoon of the period will give you some laughs.

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