An elaborate and liberally budgeted entertainment, the pictorial climax is the Chicago fire of 1871. This portion envisaging mob panic, desperate efforts to stop the fire by dynamiting, etc, is highly effective.
It is historically cockeyed in the placement of its main characters, and its story [by Niven Busch] is mere rehash of corrupt political mismanagement of a growing American city. But as a film entertainment it is socko.
The O’Leary family plays the most important part in the story, even to the point where one of the sons is projected as mayor of the city at the time of the fire, and another is pictured as the dishonest political boss, saloonkeeper and villain.
First portion (80 minutes) carries the characters to the eve of the great fire. Scores of elaborate scenes establish the primitive type of architecture of the frame-built, rambling town with its unpaved, muddy streets. Most of the action is laid in gaudy saloons and beer halls. Chicago is pictured as a dirty and corrupt city, a Sodom on the brink, ready for the torch of annihilation. Second part contains views of the holocaust, and a devastating series of actual and processed shots.
Alice Brady and Alice Faye give the outstanding performances. Brady is Mrs O’Leary, an honest, hardworking laundress with a pleasing Irish brogue. Tyrone Power as the film’s heavy is good in his romantic scenes with Faye, who appears as a musical hall singer. Latter is especially effective when singing several musical numbers, tuned by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel, of which ‘In Old Chicago’ is the best. Don Ameche is a vehement political reformer and Brian Donlevy plays a dive keeper and crooked politician.
1937: Best Supp. Actress (Alice Brady), Assistant Director (Robert Webb).
Nominations: Best Picture, Original Story, Score, Sound