Blu-Ray Review | San Francisco | 1936
While there's an argument to be made that Airport and its imitators like The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno are the templates of the modern disaster film, you'd have to go all the way back to 1936 with W.S. Van Dyke's lavish MGM disaster spectacle, San Francisco to see the formula's cinematic origins. Setting a love story in front of the impending San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the film was such a runaway success that 20th Century Fox nearly lifted the storyline wholesale for In Old Chicago the very next ear, with both films getting nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
San Francisco feels like something of a relic now. Gable's character is such an abusive cad (an element that received some pushback from the screenwriters after seeing how Van Dyke was directing the film) that it's difficult to become invested in the love story, and Gable reportedly hated his leading lady so much that he would often eat garlic before having to kiss her on camera, which explains their overall lack of chemistry. Gable was a born movie star, but it's pretty clear none of the actors were particularly invested (Gable is said to have only done the film because he was in debt to Louis B. Mayer after the studio head paid off one of his many mistresses). It's really only of interest now due to its influence on the disaster genre, combining turgid melodrama with the grand backdrop of a natural disaster. Mark this one as "for Oscar completists only."