Saturday, April 18, 2009

April 18, 1906: The San Francisco Earthquake.

On April 18, 1906, an earthquake along the San Andreas Fault almost destroyed the city of San Francisco, and shook the land from Oregon down to Los Angeles. 3000 people died in San Francisco.

Much of the city was destroyed by fire. It is estimated that it would have been about an 8.0 earthquake measurement on the Richter scale. That's big.

Out of such tragedy, we sometimes get terrific movies.

In 1936, the movie "San Francisco" was released dramatizing the 1936 earthquake. Its depiction of the earthquake is one of the best special effects scenes ever. It was directed by Woody Van Dyke, who also directed many of the Myrna Loy and William Powell "Thin Man" films.

The movie starred Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Jeanette MacDonald. It was the top grossing film of 1936 and is a terrific movie. Supposedly both D.W. Griffith and Erich Von Stroheim contributed to the screenplay without credit.

The story has Clark Gable as the charming and lovable scoundrel running a local saloon and cavorting with saloon-girls. His pal from childhood is Spencer Tracy, now a Catholic Priest. Then into the wild streets of that City arrives Jeanette MacDonald, the preacher's daughter from Idaho with the voice of an angel.

The movie also has a surprising social-justice angle. Clark Gable, the rough saloon-owner turns out to be a man of the people, working for the little guy. The rich folks who live on Nob Hill are shown as the landlords who cram working people into firetraps and let them die.

The movie also has two separate performances by Jeanette MacDonald of that wonderful song of the same name.

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