Saturday, February 27, 2010


By now, you've probably heard about the earthquake that struck Chile in the early hours of this morning. Truth be told, I can't think of any Studio Era Holywood movies that dealt with Chile. For the most part, when Hollywood went to South America, they either flew down to Rio, or went to Argentina (Don Ameche in Down Argentine Way or Greta Garbo in The Temptress). So, that leaves us with movies about earthquakes.

The obvious first movie to think of is San Francisco, one of the movies that dealt with the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. However, California isn't the only part of the world subject to seismic activity. The other edge of the Pacific is, too, and Japan got hit by an earthquake in Penny Serenade. The earthquake sequence is small, but pivotal to the plot: it causes Irene Dunne's character to have a miscarriage, and apparently makes her unable to bear children of her own at all, which leads her and husband Cary Grant to adopt a child, which is the main thrust of the movie.

There are earthquakes in Italy too, although Hollywood movies dealing with geologic activity in Italy have generally dealt with the volcano Mount Vesuvius, thanks to its eruption having led to the destruction of Pompeii. However, The White Sister, originally made as a silent with Lilian Gish and remade with Helen Hayes, deals with an earthquake in Naples.

Real earthquakes have also figured in the history of Hollywood. In March, 1933, an earthquake struck Long Beach, California, not too far from Hollywood. One of the movies which was filming at the very moment the earthquake struck was Gold Diggers of 1933, specifically the "Shadow Waltz" number seen in the photo here with the ridiculously curving staircases. It apparently caused quite a scare for all those dancing violinists on the stairs.

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