AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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In Old Chicago
Alternate Title: Chicago
Director: Henry King (Dir)
Release Date:   15 Apr 1938
Premiere Information:   World premiere in New York: 6 Jan 1938
Production Date:   mid-Jun--early Sep 1937
Duration (in mins):   115
Duration (in feet):   10,002
Duration (in reels):   12
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Cast:   Tyrone Power (Dion O'Leary)  
    Alice Faye (Belle Fawcett)  
    Don Ameche (Jack O'Leary)  
    Alice Brady (Molly O'Leary)  
    Andy Devine (Pickle Bixby)  
    Brian Donlevy (Gil Warren)  
    Phyllis Brooks (Ann Colby)  
    Tom Brown (Bob O'Leary)  
    Sidney Blackmer (General Phil Sheridan)  
    Berton Churchill (Senator Colby)  
    June Storey (Gretchen)  
    Paul Hurst (Mitch)  
    Tyler Brooke (Specialty singer)  
    J. Anthony Hughes (Patrick O'Leary)  
    Gene Reynolds (Dion O'Leary, as a boy)  
    Bobs Watson (Bob O'Leary, as a boy)  
    Billy Watson (Jack O'Leary, as a boy)  
    Madame Sultewan (Hattie)  
    Spencer Charters (Beavers)  
    Rondo Hatton (Body guard [Rondo])  
    Thelma Manning (Carrie Donahue)  
    Ruth Gillette (Miss Lou)  
    Eddie Collins (Drunk)  
    Scotty Mattraw (Beef king)  
    Joe Twerp (Stuttering clerk)  
    Charles Lane (Booking agent)  
    Clarence Hummel Wilson (Lawyer)  
    Frank Dae (Judge)  
    Harry Stubbs (Fire commissioner)  
    Joe King (Ship's captain)  
    Francis Ford (Driver)  
    Robert Murphy (Police officer)  
    Wade Boteler (Police officer)  
    Gustav von Seyffertitz (Man in Jack's office)  
    Russell Hicks (Man in Jack's office)  
    Bess Flowers (Woman with Senator Colby)  
    Harrison Greene (Man with Senator Colby)  
    Rice and Cady (Dutch comedians)  
    Jack Cheatham    
    Eleanor Prentiss    
    Jane Ray    
    Muriel Scheck    
    Louise Seidel    
    Hope Taylor    
    June Terry    
    Valerie Traxler    
    Lurline Uller    
    Marion Weldon    
    Dorothy White    
    Mary Louise Kopp    
    Billie Lee    
    Patricia Lee    
    Patsy Lee    
    Mary Lorraine    
    Patty Parrish    
    Patsy Perrin    
    Julie Cabanne    
    Harriette Haddon    
    Norah Gale    
    Edna Mae Jones    
    Jean Joyce    
    Adelaide Kaye    
    Crystal Keate    
    Jacqueline Kopp    
    Kathryn Barnes    
    Sue Barstead    
    Doris Becker    
    Patsy Bedell    
    Barbara Booth    
    Dale Dee    
    Jeanette Bates    
    John Roy    

Summary: In 1854, Irish immigrant Patrick O'Leary, traveling by covered wagon with his wife and three young sons to Chicago, is killed when he races a train and the wagon crashes down an embankment. Before he dies he tells his sons Jack, Dion and Bob to build and grow with Chicago, which he predicts will one day be the hub of the country. In the city, Patrick's wife Molly opens a successful French laundry. In 1867, her cow Daisy kicks Bob into an embrace with Gretchen, a servant girl, and they soon marry. Dion, a gambler, falls in love at first sight with Belle Fawcett, the newly arrived singer at The Hub, a saloon in the disreputable part of town known as The Patch. After several unsuccessful attempts to approach Belle, Dion appears in her dressing room, wrestles her to the ground, kisses her ear and succeeds in interesting her in his proposition that together they open up a saloon to rival The Hub. Their saloon, The Senate, proves to be very popular, and Gil Warren, the owner of The Hub, offers to close down and gives Dion $10,000 for his support in his campaign for mayor. Dion, however, secretly organizes a committee to call upon his brother Jack, an idealistic lawyer, to run as a reform candidate. Jack accepts but warns Dion that if he wins, he will wipe out corruption in The Patch. To prevent Warren from winning, Dion arranges a brawl on election day so that Warren's repeat voters are locked up, and he forces Warren's unscrupulous poll watchers and judges to leave town for the day. Jack is elected, and he immediately declares war on The Patch, planning to have the area, which he calls a fire trap, condemned and torn down so that it can be rebuilt with steel. When Jack convinces Belle, who is now engaged to Dion despite Molly's spirited objections to her occupation, to help, Dion angrily reveals that he got Jack elected and tells Belle that if she is with the reformers, she will not be seeing much of him. The day before Belle is to testify against Dion, he proposes to her and convinces Jack to marry them that night. After the wedding, he states that now Belle cannot testify against her husband, whereupon Jack socks Dion and promises to ruin him. Meanwhile, at the O'Leary house, when Molly learns from Gretchen about the fight, she leaves Daisy nursing a heifer. Daisy responds to a sharp tug from the heifer by kicking over a lantern, and a fire starts in the barn. Because it has not rained in three months, the fire spreads quickly throughout the town, while rumors, fed by Warren, spread throughout The Patch that Jack has started the fire to burn The Patch out. After Bob tells Dion that Daisy caused the fire, they try to warn Jack of the mob that has formed to get him, and although Jack hits Dion upon seeing him, the three brothers are soon united in trying to keep the fire on the South side of the river away from the gas works. As Jack, defying the mob, lights a fuse to dynamite a building in The Patch and make a fire break, Warren's bodyguard shoots him. The subsequent explosion causes the cattle to break out of the stockyards, and as they race through the streets, Warren is trampled. On the South shore of the river, among countless homeless people, Dion finds Belle, who has saved Molly. When Belle turns away from him, Molly berates her until Belle hugs him. As they watch the fire in the distance, Dion and Molly affirm that the dream of Patrick and Jack to see a great city built will be fulfilled. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Production Text: Darryl F. Zanuck's Production
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Henry King (Dir)
  Edwin H. Curtis (Dial dir)
  Robert Webb (Asst dir)
  Robert Herndon (2d asst dir)
  Ed O'Fearna (Asst dir for 2d unit)
Producer: Kenneth Macgowan (Assoc prod)
Writer: Lamar Trotti (Scr)
  Sonya Levien (Scr)
  Niven Busch (Story)
Photography: Peverell Marley (Photog)
  K. Green (Cam op)
  J. Van Wormer (Asst cam)
  Eddie Petzoldt (Gaffer)
Art Direction: William Darling (Art dir)
  Rudolph Sternad (Art dir)
Film Editor: Barbara McLean (Film ed)
  Richard Billings (Asst cutter)
  Bobby Fritch (Asst cutter)
Set Decoration: Thomas Little (Set dec)
Costumes: Royer (Cost)
  Albert Conti (Ward)
  Arthur M. Levy (Cost supv)
  Bob Lee (Ward man)
  Ollie Hughes (Ward girl)
  Western Costume Company (Cost supplied by)
  The United Costumers (Cost supplied by)
Music: Louis Silvers (Mus dir)
  Jule Styne (Vocal supv)
  Frank Tresselt (Mus casting)
Sound: Eugene Grossman (Sd)
  Roger Heman (Sd)
  W. R. Snyder (Sd rec)
  Bob Bertrand (Boom man)
  H. Richards (Cableman)
Special Effects: Fred Sersen (Spec eff scenes staged by)
  Ralph Hammeras (Spec eff scenes staged by)
  Louis J. Witte (Spec eff scenes staged by)
  H. Bruce Humberstone (Spec eff scenes dir by)
  Daniel B. Clark (Spec eff scenes photog by)
Dance: Jack Haskell (Dance dir)
  Geneva Sawyer (Dance dir)
  Nick Castle (Dance dir)
Make Up: Gale Roe (Hair)
  Ben Nye (Makeup)
Production Misc: Booth McCracken (Unit mgr)
  Ed. Ebele (Prod mgr)
  Max Larey (Scr clerk)
  Theresa Brachetto (Scr clerk)
  Jack Percy (Grip)
  Al Bumpus (Asst grip)
  N. Hanley (Asst grip)
  Duke Abrahams (Props)
  Gene Fowler (Research work)
  Rose Steinberg (Script clerk for 2d unit)
  C. Fremdling (Asst prop)
  Clarence Collins (Best boy)
  Walter Whaley (Casting dir)
  Sid Jordan (Supv of horses)
  Charles E. McCarthy (Press rep)
  Harry Brand (Publicity dir)
Stand In: Jack Raye (Stunts)
Country: United States

Songs: "In Old Chicago," music and lyrics by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel; "I'll Never Let You Cry," "I've Taken a Fancy to You" and "Take a Dip in the Sea," music and lyrics by Lew Pollack and Sidney D. Mitchell; "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," music and lyrics by James Bland.
Composer: James Bland
  Mack Gordon
  Sidney D. Mitchell
  Lew Pollack
  Harry Revel

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 24/2/1938 dd/mm/yyyy LP7943

PCA NO: 3639
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording

 
Genre: Drama
  Drama
  Drama
Sub-Genre: with songs
  Disaster
  Historical
 
Subjects (Major): Brothers
  Chicago (IL)--History
  Family life
  Fires
  Gamblers
  Irish Americans
  Reformers
  Romance
  Saloons
  Singers
 
Subjects (Minor): Covered wagons
  Cattle
  Death by animals
  Elections
  Explosions
  Homelessness
  Immigrants
  Laundries
  Marriage
  Mayors
  Mobs
  Political corruption
  Proposals (Marital)
  Rumors
  Servants
  Shootings
  Stockyards
  Weddings

Note: After the opening credits, a title card reads: "We acknowledge with appreciation the assistance of the Chicago Historical Society in preparation of the historical background for this production." According to a LAT article, following the great success of M-G-M's San Francisco (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.3891), which featured a long sequence of earthquake and fire scenes, Darryl Zanuck, Twentieth Century-Fox's vice-president in charge of production, decided to make a film based on another historical disaster, the Chicago fire. According to a NYT article on the film, the Chicago fire, which occurred on 9 Oct 1871, burned four square miles of buildings, destroyed $2,000,000 worth of property and killed at least 300 people. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, soon after the fire started, Chicago businessman Charles H. Coles investigated the barn where the fire was rumored to have originated and found no evidence of an overturned lamp. Concerning the origination of the film's story, according to the legal records, Warner Bros. had registered two titles with the MPPDA title registration committee that pertained to the Chicago fire ahead of Twentieth Century-Fox; after Warners dropped The Chicago Fire in Oct 1936, Twentieth Century-Fox, which had that title on the reserve list, assigned two writers, Niven Busch and Richard Collins, to write separate story outlines under that title. According to Var and LAT news items, Collins' work was based on the novel Barriers Burned Away by E. P. Roe (New York, 1872). Although Gene Fowler sat in on some conferences with Busch and did some research work, he did no actual writing for this film. After Busch completed his original story, he worked with Sonya Levien on a treatment; Levien and Lamar Trotti then wrote a screenplay based on Levien and Busch's treatment. As the legal records state that nothing in the film was based on Roe's novel, it does not appear that any of Collins' work was used in the final film. Although Twentieth Century-Fox publicity stated that Busch's story was originally entitled "We the O'Learys," a communication in the legal records notes, "there never was a story 'We, the O'Learys' by Niven Busch nor by anybody else. The idea that Niven Busch had written an original story 'We the O'Learys' was developed by someone in our organization after the story and screenplay had been completely written, and this person or persons believed that it would be a clever idea to utilize the name of 'The O'Learys' and give Busch's original story a more catch title than 'The Chicago Fire.'"
       According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, when the final script was submitted to the PCA for approval, PCA Director Joseph Breen wrote a five page letter in which he detailed many "offensive or questionable details" that led him declare that the material "is not acceptable under the provisions of the Production Code." The major offending details that Breen listed concerned the depiction of prostitutes and "Miss Lou" as a madame and the description of "Belle's" apartment to suggest that she is a prostitute and that she uses her home "to ply her trade." Zanuck agreed to make Breen's changes and stated that it was never the studio's intention to characterize "Belle" as a prostitute.
       The film was known as Chicago during pre-production, and in Jun 1937, Twentieth Century-Fox was granted the right by the MPPDA to use the title In Old Chicago over the protest of Columbia, which earlier had bought the rights to "Chicago" from Pathé, according to a FD news item. According to a HR news item dated 1 Jun 1937, M-G-M and Twentieth Century-Fox negotiated a swap to send Jean Harlow to Twentieth Century-Fox for the female lead in this film and Tyrone Power to M-G-M for Madame X . Harlow, however, died on 7 Jun 1937. According to HR news items, Janet Beecher tested for the role of "Mrs. O'Leary," and June Storey replaced Virginia Field, who was then able to play a more important role in Ali Baba Goes to Town (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.0056). According to a HR news item dated 13 Jul 1937, Jack Haskell resigned as dance director, and he was replaced by his assistants, Geneva Sawyer and Nick Castle. The news item noted that Sawyer was the only woman dance director in the studios. According to HR , Andy Devine and Alice Brady were borrowed from Universal, and the legal files note that location shooting was done at Oakdale, CA and near Yuma, AZ. Although the song, "Strolling with My Lady Love," by Lew Pollack and Sidney D. Mitchell, was submitted to the PCA for approval in connection with this film, it was not used in the final film.
       NYT stated that this had the largest budget of any Twentieth Century-Fox film, and a review noted that the cost was about $2,000,000. The fire sequence, which, according to Time , at twenty-five minutes, was longer than the hurricane sequence in Hurricane (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.2034), cost $500,000, according to a press release. NYT notes that the wardrobe budget was $80,000. According to publicity for the film, Western Costume Co. could not supply all the costumes necessary, so the studio had to go to all the other costume companies in Los Angeles and even to some in New York. According to information in the legal files, a lantern manufacturer wrote to the studio stating that the best authorities claim that it was a lamp, not a lantern, that the cow tipped over to start the Chicago fire and that a lantern would extinguish itself when tipped over. Herbert Levy, Walter Strohm and two assistants tested the claim, however, and found it false.
       According to Var , the film was originally exhibited in two parts with an intermission after about eighty minutes, taking the story to the eve of the fire. According to information in the legal records, Philip Wylie wrote a serialization of the screenplay, which was published in newspapers including DN (L.A.) (3 Jan--25 Jan 1938), and a condensation of the screenplay was published in The Ten Best Pictures of the Year by Frank Vreeland. In addition, the first twenty-five sequences were published in a textbook for use in schools and colleges by The Macmillan Co. The film received Academy Awards for Supporting Actor (Alice Brady) and Assistant Director (Robert Webb), and nominations for Best Picture, Writing--Original Story (Niven Busch), Music--Best Score (Louis Stevens) and Sound Recording. The film ranked sixth on the FD poll of critics of America.
       According to modern sources, Zanuck originally wanted Clark Gable for the male lead. Modern sources also state that although H. Bruce Humberstone, who received screen credit as the director of special effects scenes, took out ads in trade journals claiming that he directed the fire sequence, in reality, he directed the scenes of going to the fire, but not the actual fire scenes. Modern sources list the following additional cast members: Harry Hayden ( Johnson, Jack's secretary ), Vera Lewis ( Witness ), Minerva Urecal ( Frantic mother ) and Ed Brady ( Wagon driver ). Radio versions were broadcast on the Philip Morris Program (10 Dec 1943) and the Lux Radio Theatre (9 Oct 1944), and in 1957, Twentieth Century-Fox Television Productions produced "City in Flames," based on the same story and screenplay, as an episode for The 20th Century-Fox Hour ; the program was produced by Sam Marx, directed by Albert S. Rogell and starred Anne Jeffreys and Kevin McCarthy. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   8 Jan 1938.   
Daily Variety   31 Dec 37   p. 3.
Film Daily   26 May 37   p. 16.
Film Daily   26 Jun 37   p. 1.
Film Daily   4 Jan 38   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   14 May 37   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Jun 37   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Jun 37   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   21 Jun 37   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Jun 37   p. 23.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Jul 37   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Aug 37   p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter   31 Dec 37   sect I, p. 3; sect II, pp. 20-21, p. 90.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Jan 38   pp. 4-5.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Jan 38   pp. 5-21.
Los Angeles Examiner   8 Jul 1937.   
Los Angeles Times   12 Oct 1936.   
Motion Picture Herald   4 Sep 37   pp. 48-49.
Motion Picture Herald   8 Jan 38   p. 48.
New York Times   27 Jun 1937.   
New York Times   10 Oct 1937.   
New York Times   19 Dec 1937.   
New York Times   7 Jan 38   p. 15.
Time   17 Jan 38   pp. 44-45.
Variety   12 Oct 1936.   
Variety   21 Nov 1936.   
Variety   5 Jan 38   p. 16.

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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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