|Taking a cue from M.G.M, who had a huge hit 1 year earlier with "San Francisco", Darryl Zanuck, at Twentieth Century Fox, hoped to outdo Metro with his own big city romantic melodrama and screen holocaust. He tried to borrow Clark Gable and Jean Harlow for the leads, but M.G.M's Louis B. Mayer refused. Zanuck chose Tyrone Power to play Dion O'Leary. When Jean Harlow died, the role of saloon singer Belle Fawcett went to, at the suggestion of Tyrone Power and the film's director, Henry King, to Alice Faye. To round out the cast Don Ameche was cast as the crusading brother, Jack, to Diones charming heel.
"In Old Chicago" finds Molly O'Leary burying her husband on the Great Plains, and bringing her 3 sons to Chicago, where she becomes a washwoman to raise them. 1871-The oldest son, Jack becomes a crusading lawyer; Dion is a crooked politician and saloon owner, and the youngest, Bob, drives a laundry wagon for his mother through the "Patch", the slummy area where the O'Learys live.
Dion becomes attracted to singer Belle Fawcett, working in the cabaret of political boss Gil Warren, and sweeps her off her feet and into a business partnership. Together they open an ornate new saloon, The Senate, which is in competition with Warren's place, The Hub. Instead of fighting them, Warren comes to Dion with an offer. He will close The Hub in return for Dions political support in the race for Mayor, and tosses in a $10,000 check as an added inducement. Dion accepts the terms, then doublecrosses Warren by secretly backing his brother on the reform ticket, with the vote of The Patch in his pocket, makes certain that Jack wins.
In the dark about Dion's dealings until learning about them from Belle, Jack tries to clean up The Patch and his brothers shenanigans by using Belle's testimony. Jack finds himself outfoxed, though, when Dion marries Belle and then pints out that a wife can't testify against her husband. The two brothers fight in the Mayors office as Belle prepares to leave town. Molly O'Leary learns of the fight and Dion's marriage to "that cabaret girl," and, forgetting to put the wooden bar between the cow's legs, she rushes from her barn to admonish her feuding son's. The cow upsets a lantern, starting the great fire that would level Chicago.
As the flames begin to consume the city, Dion rushes back to warn Jack that Warren's men have been spreading the word that the Mayor himself started the blaze as a way to destroy The Patch. Rushing ahead of a lynch mob, whipped into a frenzy by Warren, Dion finds his brother with General Sheridan, planning to stop the fire by dynamiting blocks of buildings. Dion tries to reason with the advancing mob, and then grabs a torch and races to blow up his own saloon. When he is felled by a brick, his torch is picked up by Jack who, with Dions pal, Pickle Bixby, tries to carry on Dion's task....... The finale of this movie proves the theory about how "they don't make 'em like that anymore"
"In Old Chicago" is a lively entertainment, one of the best from this period at Fox. With spirited performances by a superb cast and a 20 minute climatic fire sequence. It cost $150, 000 to stage and burned for 3 days on the Fox backlot. Alice Brady won an Oscar for her performance as Molly O'Leary. The DVD has the longer "Roadshow" version.
|Pictures: Twentieth Century Fox|
|IN OLD CHICAGO|