In Old Chicago (1937)

In Old Chicago
Tyrone Power and Alice Faye

'In Old Chicago' is a spectacular and entertaining movie drama made in 1937, giving a fictional account of the birth of modern Chicago, directed by Henry King and starring Alice Brady, Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, Alice Faye and Andy Devine. It was one of the first "disaster" movies and the most expensive movie Fox had made up to that date. The spectacular fire scene, which runs for about 20 minutes, was staged on the Fox backlot over the course of three days and alone cost about $500,000.

The movie was well received by the public and was one of the top 5 box office hits of 1938. It received six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, and won two Oscars: Best Supporting Actress for Alice Brady and Best Assistant Director for Robert D. Webb.

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The movie tells the story of the O'Leary family who move into the city of Chicago during the 1860's. The two sons grow up to be powerful figures in the wild old city but grow up on opposite sides of the law. Their rivalry really takes off when their mother's cow starts the 1871 fire that burns down much of the old city.

There are many parallels with the previous year's big MGM success 'San Francisco' starring Clark Gable and Jeanette McDonald. There is a saloon singer, a disaster during the night with little kids in danger, the hero searching for days for his lost love among the victims, and many more. The similarities are no coincidence. 20th Century-Fox head, Darryl F. Zanuck wanted to make a similar disaster movie using the great Chicago fire as the backdrop and with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow as the stars. Gable was unavailable and Jean Harlow died in June 1937, so Zanuck turned to a strong, youthful trio of tried and trusted leading actors: Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, and Don Ameche.

Tyrone Power plays the role of Dion O'Leary, a smooth good-looking gambler with intelligence and charm. His brother Jack O'Leary, played by Don Ameche, soon runs for Mayor of the city. Alice Faye plays a beautiful singer who falls in love with Dion. Regardless of similarities, both films became blockbuster hits.

'In Old Chicago' is not accurate history but it is certainly a vastly entertaining movie.

Main Cast

Tyrone Power ... Dion O'Leary
Alice Faye ... Belle Fawcett
Don Ameche ... Jack O'Leary
Alice Brady ... Mrs. Molly O'Leary
Phyllis Brooks ... Ann Colby
Andy Devine ... Pickle Bixby
Brian Donlevy ... Gil Warren
Tom Brown ... Bob O'Leary
Berton Churchill ... Senator Colby
Sidney Blackmer ... General Phil Sheridan
J. Anthony Hughes ... Patrick O'Leary
Paul Hurst ... 'Mitch' Mitchell
June Storey ... Gretchen O'Leary
Madame Sul-Te-Wan ... Hattie


Director ... Henry King
Producer ... Darryl F. Zanuck, Kenneth Macgowan
Assistant Director ... Robert D. Webb
Screenplay ... Sonya Levien, Lamar Trotti
Original story ... Niven Busch
Music ... Sidney Clare, Lew Pollack
Cinematography ... J. Peverell Marley
Distribution Company ... 20th Century Fox
Format ... B & W
Release date ... January 6, 1937
Running time ... 96 minutes

Academy Awards

Two Wins:
Best Supporting Actress ... Alice Brady
Best Assistant Director ... Robert D. Webb
Four Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... 20th Century Fox
Music (Scoring) ... Louis Silvers, 20th Century Fox Music Dept.
Sound Recording ... E. H. Hansen, 20th Century Fox Eound Dept.
Writing (Original Story) ... Niven Busch