Old San Francisco (1927)

Genres - Crime, Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama  |   Release Date - Sep 4, 1927 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 89 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Technically a silent film, Old San Francisco was actually a Vitaphone film, meaning it featured a musical soundtrack and some sound effects, but no dialogue. That's probably all for the best, as much of that dialogue would likely have been steeped in a racism that modern audiences would find difficult to swallow. As it is, the portrayal of the Chinese characters in the film will likely offend many. The screenplay in general is quite lurid, presenting a melodramatic story that has little credibility as drama but that is nonetheless entertaining on its own terms. Old San Francisco is not an especially good film, but it does stand as an example of the standard level of expertise that the makers of silent films had achieved just as their decline was being brought on by the talkies. Director Alan Crosland's work is not exceptional for the time, but it very effectively tells the story it has to tell through its visuals, showing how the silent film vocabulary was capable of a very special kind of beauty and intensity. By modern standards, the climactic earthquake -- which is ludicrously set up in terms of story -- is artificial, but it was pretty impressive for 1927. The cast is quite good, with the striking Dolores Costello and noble Josef Swickard very valuable, and Warner Oland appropriately evil.