Monday, September 14, 2009

Ruth Chatterton Survives the San Francisco Earthquake

San Francisco was not the first movie to show the devastating effects of the San Francisco earthquake. In fact, Ruth Chatterton's Jenny in this week's Frisco Jenny also made it out of the wreckage. However, unlike the latter movie, the earthquake begins this movie, setting up a chain of events that drive our heroine to unwed motherhood and prostitution.  Of all the movies we've seen so far, this one had the most traditional "code" feeling. Jenny may become wealthy as a madam, but she had no happiness, and justice is served in the end (I won't reveal the ending). 

Our discussion focused on comparison to a few other movies we had seen in the past. First, we considered Female, also starring Ruth Chatterton. While that too results in a rather traditional ending, the character does not get her "just desserts" (if you will), and she is going to live happily, in spite of her rather unfettered lifestyle.  We also ended up looking at the earthquake scene again, and then comparing it to the earthquake scene in San Francisco.  We were fascinated that, in the latter, the earthquake is shown almost entirely in close up. A broken wagon wheel here, some falling bricks there, a face looking up - all seen almost exclusively from Blackie Norton (Clark Gable's) perspective, making for a very personal, very emotional set of scenes.  Frisco Jenny avoids close-ups, and Jenny is almost entirely removed from the action once she sees her father killed by falling debris.  Thus, the earthquake here IS the actor. Wellman combines stock footage with studio shots to show the destruction of the City from quake and fire.  It works beautifully, but is less a city of people than the latter film will be. When we return to Jenny, it is at least seven months later, and Jenny has concerns other than rebuilding the City. (Too bad she didn't run into Jeannette MacDonald in her distress. Imagine how much happier her life would have been!!)

Here is a trailer:



Next week, we venture on to precode Loretta Young!  Join us then.

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