Old San Francisco
Poster - Old San Francisco 01.jpg
theatrical release poster
Directed byAlan Crosland
Written byJack Jarmuth (titles)
Screenplay byAnthony Coldeway
Story byDarryl F. Zanuck
StarringDolores Costello
CinematographyHal Mohr
Edited byHarold McCord
Music byHugo Riesenfeld
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • June 21, 1927 (1927-06-21) (NYC)
  • September 4, 1927 (1927-09-04) (US)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States
English intertitles
Vitaphone sound effects
Box office$638,000[2]

Old San Francisco is a 1927 American silent historical drama film starring Dolores Costello and featuring Warner Oland. The film, which was produced and distributed by Warner Bros., was directed by Alan Crosland.


Chris Buckwell, cruel and greedy czar of San Francisco's Tenderloin District, is heartless in his persecution of the Chinese, though he himself is secretly a half-caste, part Chinese and part European. Buckwell, eager to possess the land of Don Hernández Vásquez, sends Michael Brandon, an unscrupulous attorney, to make an offer. Brandon's nephew, Terrence, meets the grandee's beautiful daughter, Dolores, while Vásquez refuses the offer. Terry tries to save the Vásquez land grants, but when Chris causes the grandee's death, Dolores takes an oath to avenge her father. Learning that Chris is half Chinese, Dolores induces his feeble-minded dwarf brother to denounce him; he captures her and Terry, but they are saved from white slavery by the great earthquake of 1906 that kills the villain.[3]



The film was released in a silent version and in a Vitaphone version, with sound-on-disc recording of music and sound effects only. It was the fifth Warner Brothers feature film to have Vitaphone musical accompaniment. Just one month later, on October 6, Warner Bros. released The Jazz Singer with music, sound effects, and spoken dialogue. Warner Bros. later reused some of the footage from Old San Francisco for the 1906 San Francisco earthquake sequence in The Sisters (1938).[4] This is Charles Emmett Mack's final film appearance; he was killed in an automobile accident six months prior to the film's release.[5]

Reception and box office

The film was a commercial success but it was considered a sub-par feature for its salacious elements. The New York Post called it "violently melodramatic and preposterous in the extreme -- and one of the silliest pictures ever made."[3]

A slightly later reviewer wondered cynically why it had not been censored: "Just as the villain is giving thanks to Buddha, the San Francisco earthquake intervenes to save [Dolores and Terry], thus explaining a catastrophe that cost many lives. Old San Francisco was not censored because it satisfied the one great tenet of the movie censors: 'God is a force in the world that moves to preserve Christian virginity.' "[6]

According to Warner Bros records the film earned $466,000 domestically and $172,000 foreign.[2]

Preservation status

A print of the film still exists at the Library of Congress, George Eastman House and Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, as well as its Vitaphone soundtrack and has been restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in association with other organizations such as the Library of Congress and the Museum of Modern Art. And was released on manufactured-on-demand DVD by the Warner Archive Collection series on September 15, 2009.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Old San Francisco at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ a b c Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 6 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  3. ^ a b "OLD SAN FRANCISCO". TCM. TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES, INC. Retrieved April 15, 2019.
  4. ^ "Old San Francisco at silentera.com database". Silentera.com. Retrieved March 31, 2012.
  5. ^ "Fandango". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved September 10, 2019.
  6. ^ Morris Ernst and Pare Lorentz, (1930). Censored: The Private Life of the Movie, New York: Jonathan Cape. p. 7.
  7. ^ Steffens, James "Old San Francisco" (article) TCM.com