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FLAME OF THE BARBARY COAST (director: Joseph Kane; screenwriters: from a story by Prescott Chaplin/Borden Chase; cinematographer: Robert de Grasse; editor: Richard L. Van Enger; music: R. Dale Butts; cast: John Wayne (Duke Fergus), Ann Dvorak (Ann ‘Flaxen’ Tarry), Joseph Schildkraut (Boss Tito Morell), William Frawley (Wolf Wylie), Virginia Grey (Rita Dane), Russell Hicks (Cyrus Danver, Owner San Francisco Star), Virginia Grey (Rita Dane), Al Murphy (Horshoe Brown), William Frawley (Wolf Wylie); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joseph Kane; Republic; 1945)
“The script is so lame and murky that even the Duke doesn’t seem interested in his character.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Joseph Kane’s (he’s the noted B film director of the Roy Rogers series) first big-budget film comes at the expense of Republic Pictures, as the studio attempts at making a classy pic for their tenth anniversary that ends in a disaster. It’s based on the story by Prescott Chaplin and the script is by Borden Chase. The script is so lame and murky that even the Duke doesn’t seem interested in his character. The only thing interesting is the luminous black and white photography by Robert de Grasse, who comes up with some grand tracking shots of the casino action.

Duke Fergus (John Wayne) is a rube Montana rancher who comes to the Barbary Coast, the San Francisco shoreline, in the early part of the 20th-century to collect $500 from the sophisticated casino owner of the El Dorado Tito Morell (Joseph Schildkraut). It’s money owed him for a horse. Duke gets the dough and with the help of the nightclub’s headliner ‘Flaxen’ Tarry (Ann Dvorak) beats the house at the wheel. Tito then suckers him into a rigged card game and the Duke loses back his fortune.

After briefly returning to his Montana ranch and selling his herd for a gambling stake, the Duke learns how to play cards from experienced dealer Wolf Wylie (William Frawley). On his return to the Barbary Coast, Duke wins a fortune from all the gambling houses on Pacific Street and builds a casino The Silver Dollar to compete against his rival. Duke buys out Flaxen’s contract from Tito and puts her songbird talent to work in his joint– she also becomes his main squeeze. The 1906 earthquake not only destroys the Duke’s place but severely injures Flaxen with paralysis. When she recovers, they leave for the pure air of Montana and the Duke earns once again an honest living by hard work.

The period costume melodrama wasn’t even mildly interesting, and the filmmaker’s version of the San Francisco earthquake hardly made a stir. Dvorak sings a number of songs that are just as undemanding as the film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”