In old Zanuck's studio, a big-budget, mediocre cash-in on MGM's SAN FRANCISCO, minus the male star-charisma of the latter.
All the biggest Fox stars of the time were assembled for this nearly $2 million production: Alice Brady won a supporting actress Oscar for her role as Mrs. O'Leary, the woman who supports her family after the death of her husband by taking in washing. She manages to raise her sons into a handsome
rake and political schemer (Power); a crusading lawyer (Ameche); and a young man with no ambitions other than to marry his sweetheart and have babies (Brown). Alice Faye gets to do her saloon singer bit, parading her legs in $1500 jeweled stockings and swooning her way through nostalgic sentiments
with that deep, honeyed voice. There's a lot of political intrigue involving Power, Ameche and crooked mayor Donlevy, but it's all just a build-up to the fire, sparked by a well-placed kick from one of Mrs. O'Leary's cows. Director King's specialty--spectacle--gets a workout, and he has a blast
staging teeming city crowds, brawling saloons, police platoons dismantling riots, runaway horses, stampeding cattle and all the drama the rise of Irish tempers will allow.
CHICAGO makes up in atmosphere and color what it lacks in historical accuracy; the screenplay was based on Niven Busch's We the O'Learys. The fire itself propelled production costs to $1,800,000, and runs for twenty minutes. (Assistant director Robert Webb won an Oscar for his work on the
sequence.) Worth a view along with the great disaster epics of the 1930s, the aforementioned SAN FRANCISCO, THE HURRICANE, and THE RAINS COME. leave a comment