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Fabulous Musical Disaster Movie
on 30 August 2011
1937:Huge budget from producer Darryl Zanuck and Fox. Comparisons with disaster epics such as MGM's 'San Francisco' (1936) and Sam Goldwyn's idea with 'Hurricane' (1937), are fair but this film deserves to be judged on it's own merits. Admittedly Zanuck wanted Clark Gable (unavailable) and Jean Harlow, who tragically died from kidney failure, as leads, but circumstances dealt him Tyrone Power and Alice Faye. Tyrone was as nervous as Alice who had groomed Tyrone despite her own known anxieties and self-confidence problems. Alice reluctantly had to screen test, the shortest I am aware of (her words were "Get Out" to Tyrone Power). Pass!
Tyrone's part eventually saw him as the handsome rogue brother of Don Ameche. Alice Faye was quoted as saying of leads "All they did was change Don (Ameche) over here and Ty (Power) over there". Playing with friends and an understanding director, Henry King, the film became a huge success. It required a dramatic role for Alice. Her singing prowess was never in question.
Political rivalry between brothers Tyrone Power (Dion) as a likeable scoundrel and brother Don Ameche (Jack O'Leary) as good guy is the basis of the plot. Alice Faye is introduced as Belle Fawcett, a saloon singer who adds to the love friction between the brothers (and their mother) and financial interests of the excellent and devious Brian Donlevy.
Arriving as Irish immigrants to America, the boys did well under mother Molly O'Leary (Alice Brady) who set up her own domestic business before the growth and ambitions of her sons. After political intriguery and romance between Alice and Tyrone (forced but consensual!) the clashes between the brothers head to a climax. This leads to the famous cow and lantern kick over and the fire of Chicago. The scenes are spectacular with period details well attended to. The poignancy of the survivors hopefully seeking lives of their loved ones is touching and memorable. O'Leary family problems are resolved, one way or another. The special effects lend themselves to atmospheric climactic moments with the audience holding their breath as search for friends and family increase in anxiety and intensity.
Of course,as a saloon singer, Alice Faye provides musical interest. 'How Many Miles Back To London Town', 'I've Taken A Fancy To You', 'In Old Chicago', 'Carry Me Back To Old Virginny' are added to the lovely jig, 'The Irish Washerwoman'. Alice Brady took a supporting Oscar award. Monumental film. Brilliant.