The San Francisco earthquake in film and song

The San Francisco earthquake in film and song April 17, 2006

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the famous San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. Apart from the quake’s political and scientific significance, it is also noteworthy as one of the earliest disasters of its sort that was caught on film; early silent films of the fire and the ruins are available on DVD and at the Internet Archive and Library of Congress websites.

On a more pop-cultural level, the disaster came up in songs like ‘Put the Blame on Mame’, which Rita Hayworth’s character sings in Gilda (1946); and, as Mark Steyn notes today, Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald starred in a musical about the disaster called San Francisco (1936) — tagline: “It started out like any other day!” — and the theme song from that film was making political waves half-a-century later. Reportedly, survivors of the earthquake got sick and left the theatre during the earthquake sequence, when San Francisco premiered a mere 30 years after the event it depicts. I don’t know how many other films have depicted it; the IMDB lists only Frisco Jenny (1932), which apparently has an impressive special-effects quake, and concerns a woman who goes on to run a “bawdy house”.

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