San Francisco (1936)

I’m embarrassed to admit this is the first Clark Gable movie I’ve seen. What a freakin’ mensch that guy was! Gonna have to watch some more for sure. And the Gable/Tracy combo makes for some great screen-pal energy–which is raised to the third power when Jeannette MacDonald is added to the triangular mix: the tough rascal, the tougher priest, and the sublime lady. From the standpoint of our focus on the priest’s role, Spencer Tracy’s Fr. Mullin has much less screen time than his Fr. Flanagan in Boys Town; but in San Francisco the priest’s impact is arguably more profound–or at least operating more within Kierkegaard’s sphere of the religious, rather than within the more commonplace sphere of the ethical. Each appearance by Fr. Mullin represents a key turningpoint in the film’s development of the relationship between Blackie Norton (Gable) and Mary Blake (MacDonald) as well as Blackie’s progress from hard-headed unbelief towards a collision with faith. Perhaps the two key parallel scenes in this regard are (1) when we are first introduced to Fr. Mullin engaging in some recreational boxing with Blackie and knocking him down and (2) when Fr. Mullin intervenes to stop Blackie from exploiting Mary, and gets punched in the face by Blackie (see the above YouTube clip). The film has some odd time disjunctures (it sometimes seems as if much time is passing, but at other times it seems only a day or two has passed). The earthquake and its aftermath which bring the film to a close also seem oddly timed. But ultimately it is quite a charming, fascinating film with a struggle of faith vs. unbelief–and an interesting priestly presence–at its core.

Overall grade: A-
The Priest Factor: A-

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  1. Rachel Gray says

    What a great idea to review a bunch of priest movies for this year! I've never heard of "San Francisco" and I'm totally going to watch it now. I especially like that you grade the priest factor of the movies too.

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