Barbary Coast (film)

Last updated
Barbary Coast
Barbary Coast 1935 poster.jpg
1935 Theatrical Poster
Directed by Howard Hawks
Written by Ben Hecht
Charles MacArthur
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn
Starring Miriam Hopkins
Edward G. Robinson
Joel McCrea
Frank Craven
Cinematography Ray June
Edited by Edward Curtiss
Music by Alfred Newman
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • October 13, 1935 (1935-10-13)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1 million [1]
Edward G. Robinson and Miriam Hopkins Edward G. Robinson-Miriam Hopkins in Barbary Coast.jpg
Edward G. Robinson and Miriam Hopkins

Barbary Coast is a 1935 American historical and drama film directed by Howard Hawks. Shot in black-and-white and set in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, the film combines elements of crime, Western, melodrama and adventure genres, featuring a wide range of actors, from good guy Joel McCrea to bad boy Edward G. Robinson, and stars Miriam Hopkins in the leading role as Mary 'Swan' Rutledge. In an early, uncredited appearance, David Niven plays a drunken sailor being thrown out of a bar.



On a foggy night in 1850, Mary Rutledge and retired Colonel Marcus Aurelius Cobb arrive in San Francisco Bay aboard the clipper Flying Cloud . She had come to wed a wealthy owner of a gold mine, but he has lost his mine when the roulette wheel landed on red 13 times at the Bella Donna. The men at the wharf reluctantly inform her that her fiancé is dead, murdered most likely by Louis Chamalis, the powerful owner of the Bella Donna restaurant and gambling house. Mary is upset, but quickly pulls herself together and asks the way to the Bella Donna.

Mary meets Chamalis and agrees to be his companion, not only for business reasons (as an attraction, she helps draw in customers), but for personal pleasure as well. Chamalis gives her the name 'Swan', and she becomes his female escort. She accompanies him on promenades in town, and he showers her with extravagant gifts. Their relationship sours quickly because Swan is angered by Chamalis's destructive power-mongering. She does not, however, mind running a crooked roulette wheel and cheating the miners out of their gold.

Colonel Cobb purchases a printing press, with the intention of starting a respectable newspaper for the people of San Francisco. His first issue includes an article criticizing an unpunished murder by Chamalis and his entourage. When Chamalis finds out, he threatens to destroy Cobb's printing press and burn down the building, but is halted by Swan. Chamalis demands that Cobb never print anything attacking him. The colonel unwillingly complies.

Swan becomes disillusioned with her life in San Francisco. Her distant behavior irks Chamalis. One morning, she sets out on horseback. When it begins to rain heavily, she seeks refuge in a seemingly abandoned cabin, where she meets poet and gold miner Jim Carmichael. Swan is taken with him, but lies about her current situation after hearing his criticisms of the city. He gives her his book of poems as a memento.

Carmichael decides to return to New York. Because of fog the ship will not leave for a few days. He meets Chamalis' helper, Old Atrocity, who, seeing his bags of gold is happy to show him to the Bella Donna. Carmichael is surprised to find Mary working there. He is served drugged liquor and plays roulette at her table. He loses his composure, insults 'Swan' and eventually loses his money.

Carmichael wakes the following morning in the Bella Donna's kitchen. His eloquent speech impresses Chamalis, who hires him on the spot as a waiter. Carmichael's presence perturbs Mary, who offers him money to depart. Carmichael refuses, wishing to earn the fare on his own.

Cobb puts up a poster telling about a murder Chamalis ordered and how the Bella Donna cheats customers. Seeing it, Chamlis' henchman "Knuckles" Jacoby shoots both the man who put it up and the publisher when he tries to defend him. Dying, Cobb orders his assistant to print the truth. A vigilante group is formed and hangs Knuckles.

Devastated by Cobb's death, Mary acknowledges her love for Carmichael, and works the roulette table so that he wins back the gold he previously lost. Chamalis finds out and sets out to kill Carmichael. The lovers decide to leave together. They find a rowboat and attempt to board the ship in the harbor. They have trouble seeing in the fog, but can hear Chamalis pursuing them. He shoots and injures Carmichael, and corners them beneath a pier. Mary begs him, as proof of his love for her, not to kill Carmichael. Chamalis agrees, but tells her he does not want her anymore. The sheriff arrives with a mob, and Chamalis allows himself to be taken away. Mary returns to Carmichael's side aboard the ship as it prepares to set sail.



The film is based on the bestseller The Barbary Coast (1933) by Herbert Asbury. [2] When the first draft of the script was submitted to Joseph Breen, he commented to Samuel Goldwyn that "The whole flavor of the story is one of sordidness, and low-tone morality." [2]

After months of revisions by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, the story changed from a story of an area of San Francisco where men came to find pleasure in drinking, prostitution, and gambling to a love story. [2] Breen commented to Will Hays that it was now a love story "between a fine, clean girl" and a sentimental young man and that there was "no sex, no unpleasant details of prostitution" and contains "full, and completely compensating, value [...] the finest and most intelligent picture I have seen in many months". [2]


Andre Sennwald of The New York Times found the film entertaining. [3] Time felt it was "painfully uninspired". [4] Scholastic , a magazine for youth recommended the film for its "authentic background and characters of the days of gold-discovery". [5] Newsweek complained that the plot from the original book was thrown away. [6] Canadian Magazine assured Canadians that the film had "nothing to do with the cheap, tawdry 'coast' " from the novel. [7] Chicago threatened to ban the film. Goldwyn edited a few scenes, and the film was allowed to be exhibited there. [2] The Chicago Legion of Decency condemned Barbary Coast. The Bishop of Los Angeles, John Cantwell, saw the movie with four other priests and enjoyed it; none found it immoral. [2]

Writing for The Spectator in 1935, Graham Greene declared the film a triumphant success, describing it as "melodrama of the neatest, most expert kind, well directed, well acted and well written". Despite the film's use of what Greene regarded as a conventional plot, he lauded the "fresh and interesting" use of flawed characters to "make something real out of the hocus-pocus". [8]

Related Research Articles

<i>San Francisco</i> (1936 film) 1936 film by D. W. Griffith, W. S. Van Dyke

San Francisco is a 1936 musical-drama disaster film directed by Woody Van Dyke, based on the April 18, 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The film stars Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy. The very popular singing of MacDonald helped make this film a major hit, coming on the heels of her other 1936 blockbuster, Rose Marie. Famous silent film directors D. W. Griffith and Erich von Stroheim worked on the film without credit. Griffith directed some of the mob scenes while von Stroheim contributed to the screenplay.

Charles Gordon MacArthur was an American playwright, screenwriter and 1935 winner of the Academy Award for Best Story.

<i>Abe Lincoln in Illinois</i> (film) 1940 film by John Cromwell

Abe Lincoln in Illinois is a 1940 biographical historical drama film that depicts the life of Abraham Lincoln from his departure from Kentucky until his election as President of the United States. In the UK, the film is known by the alternate title Spirit of the People. The film was adapted by Grover Jones and Robert E. Sherwood from Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. It was directed by John Cromwell.

Virginia Grey American actress

Virginia Grey was an American actress who appeared in over 100 films and a number of radio and television shows from the 1930s to the early 1980s.

<i>Come and Get It</i> (1936 film) 1936 American drama film directed by Howard Hawks and William Wyler

Come and Get It is a 1936 American drama film directed by Howard Hawks and William Wyler. The screenplay by Jane Murfin and Jules Furthman is based on the 1935 novel of the same title by Edna Ferber.

Doug McClure American actor (1935–1995)

Douglas Osborne McClure was an American actor whose career in film and television extended from the 1950s to the 1990s. He is best known for his role as the cowboy Trampas during the entire run from 1962 to 1971 of the series The Virginian.

Adele Jergens American actress

Adele Jergens was an American actress.

Barbary Coast, San Francisco Red-light district in San Francisco (1849-1917)

The Barbary Coast was a red-light district during the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries in San Francisco that featured dance halls, concert saloons, bars, jazz clubs, variety shows, and brothels. Its nine block area was centered on a three block stretch of Pacific Street, now Pacific Avenue, between Montgomery and Stockton Streets. Pacific Street was the first street to cut through the hills of San Francisco, starting near Portsmouth Square and continuing east to the first shipping docks at Buena Vista Cove.

<i>Frisco Kid</i> 1935 film by Lloyd Bacon

Frisco Kid is a 1935 film starring James Cagney and directed by Lloyd Bacon. The supporting cast features Margaret Lindsay, Ricardo Cortez, Lili Damita, and Barton MacLane.

Fritzi Brunette American actress

Fritzi Brunette was an American actress.

Lenore Coffee American screenwriter, playwright, novelist

Lenore Jackson Coffee was an American screenwriter, playwright, and novelist.

Joseph Kane American film director

Jasper Joseph Inman Kane was an American film director, film producer, film editor and screenwriter. He is best known for his extensive directorship and focus on Western films.

<i>Barbary Coast Gent</i> 1944 film by Roy Del Ruth

Barbary Coast Gent is a 1944 film set in 1880s San Francisco's Barbary Coast and Nevada starring Wallace Beery. The movie was directed by Roy Del Ruth and features Binnie Barnes, Beery's brother Noah Beery, Sr., John Carradine, and Chill Wills. It is also known as Gold Town, Honest Plush Brannon and The Honest Thief.

Victor Potel American actor

Victor Potel was an American film character actor who began in the silent era and appeared in more than 430 films in his 38-year career.

Robert Homans American actor

Robert Edward Homans was an American actor who entered films in 1923 after a lengthy stage career.

<i>Star of Midnight</i> 1935 film by Stephen Roberts

Star of Midnight is a 1935 American mystery-comedy film directed by Stephen Roberts and James Anderson. It was released by RKO Pictures. William Powell was loaned out in the film from MGM to star with Ginger Rogers.

<i>The Three Musketeers</i> (1935 film) 1935 film by Otto Brower, Rowland V. Lee

The Three Musketeers is a 1935 film directed by Rowland V. Lee and starring Walter Abel, Heather Angel, Ian Keith, Margot Grahame, and Paul Lukas. It is the first English-language talking picture version of Alexandre Dumas's 1844 novel The Three Musketeers.

<i>Temptation</i> (1946 film) 1946 American drama film noir directed by Irving Pichel

Temptation is a 1946 American film noir thriller film directed by Irving Pichel and starring Merle Oberon, George Brent, Charles Korvin and Paul Lukas. The film was based on Robert Smythe Hichens's 1909 novel Bella Donna.

<i>Easy to Love</i> (1934 film) 1934 film by William Keighley

Easy to Love is a 1934 American Pre-Code romantic comedy film starring Genevieve Tobin, Adolphe Menjou, Mary Astor, and Edward Everett Horton. This was William Keighley's solo directorial debut. He and Tobin would marry in 1938. The film is based upon the 1930 play As Good As New by Thompson Buchanan.


  1. "FILM UNITS WILL EXPAND: Outlay for Year $25,000,000 Production Plans of United Artists and Reliance Pictures Disclosed". Los Angeles Times. Aug 21, 1935. p. A1.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Gregory Black, Hollywood Censored, Cambridge University Press, 1994. 218–220
  3. Andre Sennwald, "'Barbary Coast,' a Thumping Melodrama of the Gold Rush Days", The New York Times , Oct, 14, 1935, p. 21
  4. "Cinema: The New Pictures: Oct. 21, 1935", Time , Oct. 21, 1935, p. 45
  5. Scholastic , Nov. 2, 1935, p. 28 (quote obtained from Gregory Black, Hollywood Censored, Cambridge University Press, 1994. 218–220)
  6. Newsweek , Oct. 19, 1935, p. 25 (quote obtained from Gregory Black, Hollywood Censored, Cambridge University Press, 1994. 218–220)
  7. Canadian Magazine , Oct. 1935, p. 42 (quote obtained from Gregory Black, Hollywood Censored, Cambridge University Press, 1994. 218–220)
  8. Greene, Graham (1 November 1935). "Barbary Coast/Episode/The Passing of the Third Floor Back". The Spectator . (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome . p.  32. ISBN   0192812866.)