Barbary Coast (1935)

“San Francisco is no place for a bad loser — man or woman.”

Accompanied by a retired colonel (Frank Craven), a single woman (Miriam Hopkins) sails to San Franciso during the Gold Rush, hoping to marry a wealthy man sight unseen. After learning her fiance has been killed in a lawless dispute, the local crime-boss (Edward G. Robinson) offers Hopkins work in his corrupt saloon, hoping she’ll come to love him — but Hopkins instead loses her heart to a poetic goldminer (Joel McCrea).


Howard Hawks directed this cryptically titled historical drama which manages to cover an enormous amount of dramatic territory — mistaken identities, unrequited love, gold-digging, goldmining, feminism, vigilante justice, corruption, and freedom of speech, to name just a few topics — in its 91 minute running time. Robinson is suitably cast as a power-hungry crime-lord who wants to possess the most beautiful creature to enter “his” town in recent years — speaking of which, there are some uncomfortably dated moments early in the film when much is made of Hopkins being an enormously desirable WHITE woman (after the camera has panned past attractive women with darker skin), as well as a scene openly mocking Chinese immigrants’ presumed beliefs about wearing a braided queue to get into heaven (see here for a more accurate history of this hairstyle). With these caveats aside, the cinematography is atmospheric, and the story is reasonably engaging — particularly the critical subplot about Craven’s attempts to start an honest newspaper in a town that would rather keep its law and order tactics secret. (The more things change…)

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Atmospheric cinematography

  • Walter Brennan as Old Atrocity

Must See?
No, though Hawks fans will surely want to check it out.


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