San Francisco opens on the dawn of a new year. Blackie Norton is a nightclub owner and popular man about town as 1906 begins. During the advent of the holiday, Mary Blake stops into his club looking for a job. The position she was last in has been terminated since a fire took the building. Blackie is smitten on her good looks and beautiful voice, so he gives her a two-year contract. She’s grateful for the position, but secretly has her heart set on an operatic career. It seems that another man in a high standing around the city named Jack Burley is able to give her this dream. He has the power to stage her in a starring role in the Tivoli Opera House, but she is reluctantly trapped in her contract with Blackie. She stays with him during his rise in power as he runs for city government. Slowly, they grow in affection for each other and when Jack Burley offers a professional singing job once again, she declines to stay with Blackie. This proves her love to Mr. Norton and when he attempts to profess his own she is put off by the idea of living out her days with a man who only believes in himself. During their romance she has come to find out his true nature from childhood friend turned priest Father Mullin. Blackie doesn’t t agree in a higher power and only trusts what he can see, unlike Mary and Mullin. This leads Mary to believe he’ll only degrade her purity and the priest agrees. She runs away from him and into the arms of Jack. While living her society life, Blackie’s club is raided and his campaign starts to loose steam. The only promise of security he has left is a concert that will win his money and prestige. It’s at this concert that Mary finds out Jack was behind Blackie’s fall and she wins the concert for Mr. Norton with a beautiful rendition of the song “San Francisco”. Blackie doesn’t want her charity, but before they can finish their fight an earth-shattering earthquake rips through the town. It tears them apart and Blackie searches for the love of his life in the wake of the destruction. Through the crowded streets and homeless throngs of people he finds Mary singing hope into the destitute and he finally sees what people mean when they believe in something greater than themselves.
This shocking production features a trio that guides us through a tale of love and passion only found in big cities. It seems like the movie will follow a predicable romantic pattern until we get to the final act of the earthquake. It comes with such force and is so unexpected that it’s a shock to the gentle mood the story has been elevated thus far. This event puts what’s important in life into perspective with the intense destruction and devastation laid out in the beautifully rendered shattering of the town. It’s easy to see how the characters realize that you don’t know what you have till it’s gone.