AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Old San Francisco
Director: Alan Crosland (Dir)
Release Date:   4 Sep 1927
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 21 Jun 1927
Duration (in mins):   88
Duration (in feet):   7,961
Duration (in reels):   8
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Cast: Players in prologue: Lawson Butt (Captain Enrique de Solano Y Vasquez)  
    Walter McGrail (Vasquez grandson)  
    Otto Matiesen (Vasquez grandson)  
    Martha Mattox (Mother)  
    Tom Santschi (Captain Stoner)  
  [In order of appearance:] Josef Swichard ([Don] Hernandez Vasquez )  
    Dolores Costello (Dolores Vasquez)  
    Anders Anders Randolph (Michael Brandon)  
    Chas. E. Mack (Terrence O'Shaughnessy)  
    Warner Oland (Chris Buckwell)  
    Angelo Rossitto (Chang Loo)  
    Anna May Wong (Chinese girl)  
    John Miljan (Don Luis)  
    Willie Fung (Laughing man in brothel)  
    Sojin (Lu Fong)  

Summary: In 1769, Captain Enrique de Solano Y Vasquez claims a large section of land in California for Spain and establishes a vast rancho on the Pacific Coast. The Vasquez rancho prospers until 1848, when gold is discovered at Sutter's Mill. By 1849, the nearby city of San Francisco is thriving, but the Vasquez rancho, now owned by Enrique's grandsons, suffers because the workers have fled for the gold fields. One night, Captain Stoner, commander of one of the family’s ships, rides into the hacienda and shoots the elder Vasquez grandson. The younger son, Hernandez, subsequently kills Stoner, but the family goes into further decline. By 1906, Hernandez is an old man living at the hacienda with his grand daughter Dolores. One day, attorney Michael Brandon pays a call with his nephew, Terrence O'Shaughnesy. The kind Terry immediately becomes smitten with Dolores, but is forced to leave abruptly when Hernandez refuses Brandon's offer to buy the rancho. The next day, in San Francisco, when Brandon tells his client, Chris Buckwell, that Hernandez refuses to sell, the ruthless Buckwell orders him to start foreclosure proceedings, dismissing Terry's objections. Buckwell, known as a fierce opponent of the burgeoning Chinese population, pressures local Chinese leaders to sell their property outside Chinatown, incurring their enmity. Unknown to them and his wealthy white associates, Buckwell is actually half-Chinese himself and has a secret passageway in his cellar that enables him to travel underground to Chinatown, where he assumes a Chinese persona. Only a devoted Chinese girl and his dwarf brother, Chang Loo, whom he cruelly chains in the cage, know Buckwell's secret. When Terry goes to the hacienda to help Dolores and her grandfather, Hernandez is reluctant to trust him and says that Don Luis, the son of an old friend, will come to their aid. Terry quickly leaves after realizing Hernandez intends for Don Luis to marry Dolores. However, after Luis reacts badly to Hernandez's plea for financial help, Dolores convinces her grandfather to let her seek Terry's aid. Knowing that Terry was going to the Poodle Dog café in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, Dolores takes a carriage to town, but is shocked when she finds a drunken Terry carousing with some loose women. As she abruptly leaves the café, she is observed by Buckwell, who is attracted to her and tells Brandon that he himself will handle matters regarding the Vasquez rancho. The next day, while Dolores and Hernandez talk of finding someone to help them, they see Buckwell in their chapel, pretending to be praying. Both Hernandez and Dolores are impressed with his charm and apparent devotion and gratefully accept his offer of assistance. After her grandfather goes to the city, Dolores sadly thinks of Terry and makes a wish that she could see him again. Just then he comes to the Hacienda to beg her forgiveness, explaining that he was distraught over her engagement to Don Luis. She then reveals that she is not engaged and forgives him. Later, as Buckwell had suggested, Hernandez comes to his house to show Brandon the Spanish land grant papers. Just as Brandon explains that Hernandez is lucky to have the patronage of such a powerful man as Buckwell, Terry arrives and warns Hernandez that he cannot trust Buckwell, who secretly has been plotting to obtain the Rancho by having him turn over the land grant papers. Realizing that Terry is speaking the truth, Hernandez leaves. Meanwhile, Buckwell has arrived at the hacienda and attempts to force himself on Dolores, but is stopped by the arrival of her grandfather. Some time later, surveyors come to the rancho and begin staking out the property. When they refuse to leave, despite Hernandez' protests, Dolores hands the Vasquez family sword to her grandfather, who convinces them to leave. That night, Buckwell returns to the Hacienda but is greeted with anger by Hernandez, who has a fatal heart attack as he attempts to draw his sword. Shaken by the old man’s death, Buckwell is unnerved when he looks at Dolores, imagining that her ancestors stand guard beside her. In the moonlight, Buckwell's face reveals the secret of his heritage to Dolores, who now recognizes that he is a "Mongol." After Hernandez’ funeral, Dolores reveals Buckwell's secret to Terry, who suggests that she can stop him by telling the leaders of Chinatown, who will mete out the justice of their race. They then go to Chinatown and inform leaders Lu Fong and Chang Sue Lee. Their revelation is overheard by the Chinese girl, who arranges for Terry and Dolores to be kidnapped and taken to Buckwell's house. The next day, when the leaders of Chinatown confront Buckwell with Dolores' accusation, Buckwell dismisses the allegation and insists that Dolores is actually a guest in his house. He then has Dolores brought into his study to repudiate her charges. Knowing that Terry's life is in danger if she does not confirm Buckwell's lies, she says that she had spoken falsely. However, when she realizes that Buckwell can no longer make a signal to the Chinese girl to kill Terry, she recants, saying that she can prove that he is Chinese because he has a Chinese shrine in his cellar where he has hidden his Mongolian brother. Over Buckwell's protests, the group takes him to the cellar, where they see Chang Loo. Before the others can capture Buckwell, however, he escapes, taking Dolores with him. He and the Chinese girl then take her to a brothel owned by Chang Sue Lee, intending to sell her to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, with the help of Chang Loo, Terry navigates the underground tunnels leading from Buckwell's house to Chinatown. Just as Dolores is about to be sold, Buckwell taunts her, prompting her to pray. Moments later, a devastating earthquake strikes San Francisco, toppling buildings and killing many, including Buckwell, but sparring the lives of Dolores and Terry. Some time later, the couple lives happily with their daughter in a rebuilt San Francisco. 

Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
  The Vitaphone Corp.  
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Alan Crosland (Dir)
  Gordon Hollingshead (Asst dir)
Writer: Anthony Coldewey (Scr)
  Darryl Francis Zanuck ([Story] By)
  Jack Jarmuth (Titles by)
Photography: Hal Mohr (Photog)
Art Direction: Ben Carré (Art dir)
  Victor Vance (Art titles)
Film Editor: Harold McCord (Ed)
Costumes: "Alpharetta" (Cost)
Music: Hugo Riesenfeld (Mus score compiled by)
  The Vitaphone Symphony Orchestra ([Mus] Synchronized by)
  Josiah Zuro (Conducting)
Special Effects: F. N. Murphy (Elec eff)
Country: United States
Language: English

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. 10/5/1927 dd/mm/yyyy LP23957 Yes

Physical Properties: Si:

Genre: Melodrama
Sub-Genre: Historical
Subjects (Major): Chinese Americans
  Racial impersonation
  San Francisco (CA)
  San Francisco earthquake, 1906
Subjects (Minor): Brothers
  Gold rushes
  Irish Americans
  Land rights
  Secret passageways

Note: The print viewed, which was broadcast on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel, bore the following modern title cards: "This film has been preserved by UCLA Film and Television Archive in conjunction with the project American Moviemakers: The Dawn of Sound coordinated by the Museum of Modern Art Department of Film." Another title card stated that Old San Francsico was "restored in cooperation with The Library of Congress" with support from The AFI/NEA Preservation Grants Program and AT&T. Actor Angelo Rossitto's surname was misspelled "Rossita" in the onscreen credits. As noted in the Var review, Charles Emmett Mack (1900--1927), billed onscreen as "Chas. E. Mack," died prior to the film's premiere. The actor died in an automobile accident on 17 Mar 1927, during production of the 1927 film The First Auto (see above).
       After the opening credits, an introductory title card reads: "Under the proud banner of Spain, Governor Portola, heading a small band of Franciscan Padres and soldiers of Philip, came, in 1769, upon a land-locked harbor that was destined to become the site of the metropolis of the Pacific." After the written introduction, a brief scene set in 1769 establishes the claiming of the Vasquez rancho. The prologue then advances to 1848. After the death of the elder Vasquez grandson, in 1849," the action shifts to the main story, set in 1906, when San Francisco was a bustling metropolis.
       Within the film, stock footage of San Francisco during the early part of the twentieth century is shown, as well as stock footage of vineyards and a cattle ranch. Although the film was silent, it was exhibited with a Vitaphone sound-on-disk synchronized score. According to modern sources, the sound effects audible within the earthquake sequence, including crashing buildings and occasional screams, were added three days after the picture's New York premiere. The score and sound effects were included in the print viewed.
       A restaurant called "The Poodle Dog" was the setting of some of the film's action. There was a famous San Francisco restaurant called "The Poodle Dog" that occupied several different locations from its opening in 1849 until the early 1980s. One of the locations, at Bush and Eddy Streets, was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. It is not known if the restaurant in the film is supposed to represent the actual restaurant. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   3 Jul 1927.   
MPN   8 Jul 1927.   
MPW   25 Jun 1927.   
New York Times   22 Jun 1927   p. 33.
Variety   29 Jun 1927   p. 18.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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