Synopsis by Hal Erickson
It's hard to believe that Darryl F. Zanuck, producer of such anti-prejudice films of the 1940s as Gentleman's Agreement and Pinky, wrote the incredibly racist screenplay of Old San Francisco. After a lengthy prologue detailing the establishment and settlement of San Francisco by the Spanish aristocracy, the story proper begins in 1906 at the hacienda of Don Hernandez Vasquez (Josef Swickard) and his lovely daughter Dolores (Dolores Costello). Having fallen upon hard times, Don Hernandez nonetheless refuses the entreaties of wealthy businessman Michael Brandon (Anders Randolf) to purchase his property. Originally hired by Brandon to persuade the Vasquez family to move out, young lawyer Terrence O'Shaughnessy (Charles E. Mack) changes his mind when he falls in love with Dolores. Meanwhile, Chris Buckwell (Warner Oland), in charge of all illegal activities in Chinatown, offers himself as the "champion" of the Vasquez clan, all the while plotting to grab their land for himself and claim Dolores as his bride. Able to indulge in his skullduggery without fear of retribution from his Chinese victims because of his Caucasian status, Buckwell makes the mistake of revealing to Dolores that he actually has Oriental blood. When Dolores threatens to expose Buckwell as a "half-breed," he kidnaps the girl and attempts to sell her into white slavery. Surrounded by lustful Chinese merchants, Dolores prays for salvation -- whereupon the San Francisco Earthquake destroys everything around her, including Buckwell's criminal empire! Miraculously, both Dolores and Terrence escape from the earthquake unscathed, and in the final scene they are shown arm in arm, overlooking the rebuilt and "redeemed" San Francisco. Though beautifully photographed and consummately produced, Old San Francisco is no classic, nor will it ever be mistaken as a monument for racial tolerance.
earthquake, fire, underworld