The legend in Chicago goes that it was one of Mrs. O’Leary’s cows that started the great Chicago fire in 1871. This film gives a little more history and drama to that infamous family.
We meet the O’Leary’s in a covered wagon heading toward Chicago. The young boys get excited at the sight of a train and encourage their father to race it. Bad idea. The horses get spooked, break away from the wagon and drag poor old dad for a while. With his dying breath, he tells his sons that they will be great men of Chicago.
So yeah, early on we see these people don’t have the best luck with animals.
In Chicago, Mrs. O’Leary makes money by running a washing business and her sons grow up to become hardworking men. Jack (Don Ameche) becomes an honest lawyer who’s proud of his work but doesn’t alway get paid since he represents families down on their luck. Dion (Tyrone Power) is a rogue, enjoys the saloon life and pursues the beautiful dancer Belle (Alice Faye). His techniques are brash, intrusive and should get him arrested, but every time Belle’s ultra-stereotype-black-girl-helper runs to get a police officer she returns to the couple making out.
As the story unfolds, Dion opens the best saloon in town, The Senate, and runs his competitor into running for mayor, asking Dion to help with his campaign. The problem is that Jack is running as well, so it seems that the brothers will be competing. Or will they? Whatever, watch and find out. In the end, we know there will be the great Chicago fire.
At the time, this was the most expensive film ever produced. The depictions of the great fire is probably what made this film so expensive. The fires are daring and frightening. The chaos in the streets is done wonderfully.
The musical numbers aren’t anything special, but I did finally learn the words to In Old Chicago. Wait, wasn’t this motif used the previous year in San Francisco? You know, named after the song in it about the city and in the end a great disaster strikes. Way too similar, it even has the protagonist do that long walk among desperate displaced people looking for someone. My suggestion, go with the city you’re most connected to. If you feel equally impartial to both, San Francisco is better and doesn’t feel like a copycat.