In Old Chicago (1938)

115 mins | Drama | 15 April 1938

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HISTORY

After the opening credits, a title card reads: "We acknowledge with appreciation the assistance of the Chicago Historical Society in preparation of the historical background for this production." According to a LAT article, following the great success of M-G-M's San Francisco (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.3891), which featured a long sequence of earthquake and fire scenes, Darryl Zanuck, Twentieth Century-Fox's vice-president in charge of production, decided to make a film based on another historical disaster, the Chicago fire. According to a NYT article on the film, the Chicago fire, which occurred on 9 Oct 1871, burned four square miles of buildings, destroyed $2,000,000 worth of property and killed at least 300 people. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, soon after the fire started, Chicago businessman Charles H. Coles investigated the barn where the fire was rumored to have originated and found no evidence of an overturned lamp. Concerning the origination of the film's story, according to the legal records, Warner Bros. had registered two titles with the MPPDA title registration committee that pertained to the Chicago fire ahead of Twentieth Century-Fox; after Warners dropped The Chicago Fire in Oct 1936, Twentieth Century-Fox, which had that title on the reserve list, assigned two writers, Niven Busch and Richard Collins, to write separate story outlines under that title. According to Var and LAT news items, Collins' work was based on the novel Barriers Burned Away by E. P. Roe (New York, 1872). Although Gene Fowler sat in on ... More Less

After the opening credits, a title card reads: "We acknowledge with appreciation the assistance of the Chicago Historical Society in preparation of the historical background for this production." According to a LAT article, following the great success of M-G-M's San Francisco (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.3891), which featured a long sequence of earthquake and fire scenes, Darryl Zanuck, Twentieth Century-Fox's vice-president in charge of production, decided to make a film based on another historical disaster, the Chicago fire. According to a NYT article on the film, the Chicago fire, which occurred on 9 Oct 1871, burned four square miles of buildings, destroyed $2,000,000 worth of property and killed at least 300 people. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, soon after the fire started, Chicago businessman Charles H. Coles investigated the barn where the fire was rumored to have originated and found no evidence of an overturned lamp. Concerning the origination of the film's story, according to the legal records, Warner Bros. had registered two titles with the MPPDA title registration committee that pertained to the Chicago fire ahead of Twentieth Century-Fox; after Warners dropped The Chicago Fire in Oct 1936, Twentieth Century-Fox, which had that title on the reserve list, assigned two writers, Niven Busch and Richard Collins, to write separate story outlines under that title. According to Var and LAT news items, Collins' work was based on the novel Barriers Burned Away by E. P. Roe (New York, 1872). Although Gene Fowler sat in on some conferences with Busch and did some research work, he did no actual writing for this film. After Busch completed his original story, he worked with Sonya Levien on a treatment; Levien and Lamar Trotti then wrote a screenplay based on Levien and Busch's treatment. As the legal records state that nothing in the film was based on Roe's novel, it does not appear that any of Collins' work was used in the final film. Although Twentieth Century-Fox publicity stated that Busch's story was originally entitled "We the O'Learys," a communication in the legal records notes, "there never was a story 'We, the O'Learys' by Niven Busch nor by anybody else. The idea that Niven Busch had written an original story 'We the O'Learys' was developed by someone in our organization after the story and screenplay had been completely written, and this person or persons believed that it would be a clever idea to utilize the name of 'The O'Learys' and give Busch's original story a more catch title than 'The Chicago Fire.'"
       According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, when the final script was submitted to the PCA for approval, PCA Director Joseph Breen wrote a five page letter in which he detailed many "offensive or questionable details" that led him declare that the material "is not acceptable under the provisions of the Production Code." The major offending details that Breen listed concerned the depiction of prostitutes and "Miss Lou" as a madame and the description of "Belle's" apartment to suggest that she is a prostitute and that she uses her home "to ply her trade." Zanuck agreed to make Breen's changes and stated that it was never the studio's intention to characterize "Belle" as a prostitute.
       The film was known as Chicago during pre-production, and in Jun 1937, Twentieth Century-Fox was granted the right by the MPPDA to use the title In Old Chicago over the protest of Columbia, which earlier had bought the rights to "Chicago" from Pathé, according to a FD news item. According to a HR news item dated 1 Jun 1937, M-G-M and Twentieth Century-Fox negotiated a swap to send Jean Harlow to Twentieth Century-Fox for the female lead in this film and Tyrone Power to M-G-M for Madame X . Harlow, however, died on 7 Jun 1937. According to HR news items, Janet Beecher tested for the role of "Mrs. O'Leary," and June Storey replaced Virginia Field, who was then able to play a more important role in Ali Baba Goes to Town (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.0056). According to a HR news item dated 13 Jul 1937, Jack Haskell resigned as dance director, and he was replaced by his assistants, Geneva Sawyer and Nick Castle. The news item noted that Sawyer was the only woman dance director in the studios. According to HR , Andy Devine and Alice Brady were borrowed from Universal, and the legal files note that location shooting was done at Oakdale, CA and near Yuma, AZ. Although the song, "Strolling with My Lady Love," by Lew Pollack and Sidney D. Mitchell, was submitted to the PCA for approval in connection with this film, it was not used in the final film.
       NYT stated that this had the largest budget of any Twentieth Century-Fox film, and a review noted that the cost was about $2,000,000. The fire sequence, which, according to Time , at twenty-five minutes, was longer than the hurricane sequence in Hurricane (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.2034), cost $500,000, according to a press release. NYT notes that the wardrobe budget was $80,000. According to publicity for the film, Western Costume Co. could not supply all the costumes necessary, so the studio had to go to all the other costume companies in Los Angeles and even to some in New York. According to information in the legal files, a lantern manufacturer wrote to the studio stating that the best authorities claim that it was a lamp, not a lantern, that the cow tipped over to start the Chicago fire and that a lantern would extinguish itself when tipped over. Herbert Levy, Walter Strohm and two assistants tested the claim, however, and found it false.
       According to Var , the film was originally exhibited in two parts with an intermission after about eighty minutes, taking the story to the eve of the fire. According to information in the legal records, Philip Wylie wrote a serialization of the screenplay, which was published in newspapers including DN (L.A.) (3 Jan--25 Jan 1938), and a condensation of the screenplay was published in The Ten Best Pictures of the Year by Frank Vreeland. In addition, the first twenty-five sequences were published in a textbook for use in schools and colleges by The Macmillan Co. The film received Academy Awards for Supporting Actor (Alice Brady) and Assistant Director (Robert Webb), and nominations for Best Picture, Writing--Original Story (Niven Busch), Music--Best Score (Louis Stevens) and Sound Recording. The film ranked sixth on the FD poll of critics of America.
       According to modern sources, Zanuck originally wanted Clark Gable for the male lead. Modern sources also state that although H. Bruce Humberstone, who received screen credit as the director of special effects scenes, took out ads in trade journals claiming that he directed the fire sequence, in reality, he directed the scenes of going to the fire, but not the actual fire scenes. Modern sources list the following additional cast members: Harry Hayden ( Johnson, Jack's secretary ), Vera Lewis ( Witness ), Minerva Urecal ( Frantic mother ) and Ed Brady ( Wagon driver ). Radio versions were broadcast on the Philip Morris Program (10 Dec 1943) and the Lux Radio Theatre (9 Oct 1944), and in 1957, Twentieth Century-Fox Television Productions produced "City in Flames," based on the same story and screenplay, as an episode for The 20th Century-Fox Hour ; the program was produced by Sam Marx, directed by Albert S. Rogell and starred Anne Jeffreys and Kevin McCarthy. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
8 Jan 1938.
---
Daily Variety
31 Dec 37
p. 3.
Film Daily
26 May 37
p. 16.
Film Daily
26 Jun 37
p. 1.
Film Daily
4 Jan 38
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
14 May 37
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jun 37
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jun 37
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jun 37
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jun 37
p. 23.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jul 37
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Aug 37
p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Dec 37
sect I, p. 3; sect II, pp. 20-21, p. 90.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jan 38
pp. 4-5.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jan 38
pp. 5-21.
Los Angeles Examiner
8 Jul 1937.
---
Los Angeles Times
12 Oct 1936.
---
Motion Picture Herald
4 Sep 37
pp. 48-49.
Motion Picture Herald
8 Jan 38
p. 48.
New York Times
27 Jun 1937.
---
New York Times
10 Oct 1937.
---
New York Times
19 Dec 1937.
---
New York Times
7 Jan 38
p. 15.
Time
17 Jan 38
pp. 44-45.
Variety
12 Oct 1936.
---
Variety
21 Nov 1936.
---
Variety
5 Jan 38
p. 16.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Scotty Mattraw
Clarence Hummel Wilson
Patty Parrish
Edna Mae Jones
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
Darryl F. Zanuck's Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dial dir
Asst dir
2d asst dir
Asst dir for 2d unit
PRODUCER
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Story
PHOTOGRAPHY
Asst cam
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst cutter
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost
Cost supv
Ward man
Ward girl
Cost supplied by
Cost supplied by
MUSIC
Mus dir
Vocal supv
Mus casting
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff scenes staged by
Spec eff scenes staged by
Spec eff scenes staged by
Spec eff scenes dir by
Spec eff scenes photog by
DANCE
Dance dir
Dance dir
MAKEUP
Hair
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Prod mgr
Scr clerk
Grip
Asst grip
Asst grip
Research work
Script clerk for 2d unit
Best boy
Casting dir
Supv of horses
Publicity dir
STAND INS
Stunts
SOURCES
SONGS
"In Old Chicago," music and lyrics by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel
"I'll Never Let You Cry," "I've Taken a Fancy to You" and "Take a Dip in the Sea," music and lyrics by Lew Pollack and Sidney D. Mitchell
"Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," music and lyrics by James Bland.
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Chicago
The Chicago Fire
Release Date:
15 April 1938
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York: 6 January 1938
Production Date:
mid June--early September 1937
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
24 February 1938
Copyright Number:
LP7943
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
115
Length(in feet):
10,002
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
PCA No:
3639
SYNOPSIS

In 1854, Irish immigrant Patrick O'Leary, traveling by covered wagon with his wife and three young sons to Chicago, is killed when he races a train and the wagon crashes down an embankment. Before he dies he tells his sons Jack, Dion and Bob to build and grow with Chicago, which he predicts will one day be the hub of the country. In the city, Patrick's wife Molly opens a successful French laundry. In 1867, her cow Daisy kicks Bob into an embrace with Gretchen, a servant girl, and they soon marry. Dion, a gambler, falls in love at first sight with Belle Fawcett, the newly arrived singer at The Hub, a saloon in the disreputable part of town known as The Patch. After several unsuccessful attempts to approach Belle, Dion appears in her dressing room, wrestles her to the ground, kisses her ear and succeeds in interesting her in his proposition that together they open up a saloon to rival The Hub. Their saloon, The Senate, proves to be very popular, and Gil Warren, the owner of The Hub, offers to close down and gives Dion $10,000 for his support in his campaign for mayor. Dion, however, secretly organizes a committee to call upon his brother Jack, an idealistic lawyer, to run as a reform candidate. Jack accepts but warns Dion that if he wins, he will wipe out corruption in The Patch. To prevent Warren from winning, Dion arranges a brawl on election day so that Warren's repeat voters are locked up, and he forces Warren's unscrupulous poll watchers and judges to leave town for the day. Jack ... +


In 1854, Irish immigrant Patrick O'Leary, traveling by covered wagon with his wife and three young sons to Chicago, is killed when he races a train and the wagon crashes down an embankment. Before he dies he tells his sons Jack, Dion and Bob to build and grow with Chicago, which he predicts will one day be the hub of the country. In the city, Patrick's wife Molly opens a successful French laundry. In 1867, her cow Daisy kicks Bob into an embrace with Gretchen, a servant girl, and they soon marry. Dion, a gambler, falls in love at first sight with Belle Fawcett, the newly arrived singer at The Hub, a saloon in the disreputable part of town known as The Patch. After several unsuccessful attempts to approach Belle, Dion appears in her dressing room, wrestles her to the ground, kisses her ear and succeeds in interesting her in his proposition that together they open up a saloon to rival The Hub. Their saloon, The Senate, proves to be very popular, and Gil Warren, the owner of The Hub, offers to close down and gives Dion $10,000 for his support in his campaign for mayor. Dion, however, secretly organizes a committee to call upon his brother Jack, an idealistic lawyer, to run as a reform candidate. Jack accepts but warns Dion that if he wins, he will wipe out corruption in The Patch. To prevent Warren from winning, Dion arranges a brawl on election day so that Warren's repeat voters are locked up, and he forces Warren's unscrupulous poll watchers and judges to leave town for the day. Jack is elected, and he immediately declares war on The Patch, planning to have the area, which he calls a fire trap, condemned and torn down so that it can be rebuilt with steel. When Jack convinces Belle, who is now engaged to Dion despite Molly's spirited objections to her occupation, to help, Dion angrily reveals that he got Jack elected and tells Belle that if she is with the reformers, she will not be seeing much of him. The day before Belle is to testify against Dion, he proposes to her and convinces Jack to marry them that night. After the wedding, he states that now Belle cannot testify against her husband, whereupon Jack socks Dion and promises to ruin him. Meanwhile, at the O'Leary house, when Molly learns from Gretchen about the fight, she leaves Daisy nursing a heifer. Daisy responds to a sharp tug from the heifer by kicking over a lantern, and a fire starts in the barn. Because it has not rained in three months, the fire spreads quickly throughout the town, while rumors, fed by Warren, spread throughout The Patch that Jack has started the fire to burn The Patch out. After Bob tells Dion that Daisy caused the fire, they try to warn Jack of the mob that has formed to get him, and although Jack hits Dion upon seeing him, the three brothers are soon united in trying to keep the fire on the South side of the river away from the gas works. As Jack, defying the mob, lights a fuse to dynamite a building in The Patch and make a fire break, Warren's bodyguard shoots him. The subsequent explosion causes the cattle to break out of the stockyards, and as they race through the streets, Warren is trampled. On the South shore of the river, among countless homeless people, Dion finds Belle, who has saved Molly. When Belle turns away from him, Molly berates her until Belle hugs him. As they watch the fire in the distance, Dion and Molly affirm that the dream of Patrick and Jack to see a great city built will be fulfilled. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.