In Old Chicago; Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox, all rights reserved, motion picture, 1937 

This clip is from the closing scene of this highly imaginative retelling of the O’Leary legend and the Chicago fire. In this version, Kate O’Leary (portrayed by Alice Brady, who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress) is inexplicably called Molly. She has been transformed into a middle-aged widow with three grown children, and, though she owns a cow from which she draws milk, she earns her living running a fancy hand laundry that caters to the well-to-do. Her son Dion (Tyrone Power) becomes an unprincipled saloon owner, while his brother Jack (Don Ameche) is the reform-minded mayor, and the two clash. They are reconciled when they join to fight the fire, though Jack is crushed to death by a collapsing building that he and Dion have valiantly helped General Sheridan blow up in a desperate attempt to contain the spread of the flames. The conversion-through-disaster plot was by this time an established convention, central to both the 1872 fire novel Barriers Burned Away (see the “Fanning the Flames” library) and the 1936 MGM motion picture, San Francisco. Among many other factual liberties taken by the script is that cattle (presumably from the Union Stock Yard, which was then outside of the city and far from the path of the fire) stampede through town, conveniently crushing the villain.

The film does attribute the start of the conflagration to Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, which upsets the lamp when the attention of Gretchen, the German-born wife of the third son, Bob, is distracted. At the close of the film, on view here, the chastened Dion has been reunited with his mother and his sweetheart (Alice Faye), the good-hearted and sweet-voiced star performer in his saloon. They have taken refuge in a small boat in the lake by the Sands, the shoreline just north of the Main Branch of the Chicago River, where many other refugees also gather, as Chicago blazes away brilliantly in the background. Molly and Dion have the upbeat last word on the O’Learys and Chicago.

Found In

excerpt from In Old Chicago, motion picture, 1937
Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox, all rights reserved

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