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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Flame of Barbary Coast (1945)

Ann 'Flaxen' Tarry: Come along, King.
Duke Fergus: The name's Duke, lady.
Flaxen: You've been promoted!

- Ann Dvorak, John Wayne

Review By: Jeff Ulmer   
Published: March 10, 2003

Stars: John Wayne, Ann Dvorak
Other Stars: Joseph Schildkraut, William Frawley, Virginia Grey, Butterfly McQueen
Director: Morton Scott

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:30m:56s
Release Date: January 21, 2003
UPC: 017153136005
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B-C+B- D-

DVD Review

"Now the first thing to learn about a deck of cards is how to handle 'em. They're a whole lot like women, usually when you pick one up, you wish you hadn't." - Wolf Wylie

Republic Films staff director Joseph Kane helms this virtual remake of the 1936 Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy film, San Francisco. John Wayne stars opposite Ann Dvorak and Joseph Schildkraut in a tale of a Montana rancher looking to make it big in turn-of-the-century San Francisco.

Arriving on the Barbary Coast to collect a debt after the man he sent to do the job was snookered in the gambling halls, Duke Fergus (Wayne) meets up with Ann 'Flaxen' Tarry, a shapely dancehall singer, and fiancée of casino owner, Tito Morell (Schildkraut). After Flaxen takes the Montanan on a whirlwind tour of the local establishments where he racks up $16,000 in winnings, Tito cleans him out at cards, forcing Duke to leave town.

Not content with playing the sucker, Duke gets some tutoring from the notorious Wolf Wylie (William Frawley), returns to San Francisco to regain his honor and to claim Tito's girl. His luck now changed considerably, Duke manages to muster the cash to build his own casino, a grand affair that outdoes all the competition, but his continued success depends on wooing Flaxen away from her steady gig and onto his stage. At odds with the rest of the joint owners, Duke seems unstoppable until the 1906 earthquake rips its way through town. The priorities of all and the rebuilding of the city create a new challenge for San Franciscans, but Tito and company have their own plans for taking control of in the aftermath of the disaster, and it's up to Duke to come to the rescue.

While Flame of Barbary Coast does have entertainment value, the film is not exactly top-drawer material. The special effects centerpiece is effective, even if it does rely on a lot of stock footage. The principle flaw is a somewhat flat script and equally uninspired direction, which even Wayne's presence can't fully overcome. Dialogue is witty, especially between Wayne and Dvorak, but sours in several key scenes, and the characters are a bit too uneven. Dvorak makes a suitable unattainable, power hungry love interest, but is held back by the writing, and is ill-advisedly handed a number of singing performances that come off fairly lackluster. Schildkraut is perhaps the best of the bunch, playing the jealous lover watching his ego eroded, and I Love Lucy's Frawley brief appearance, as well as Butterfly McQueen reprising her boistrous (and stereotyped) Gone With the Wind servant girl routine, round out the supplemental cast. Flame of Barbary Coast is certainly worth a rental for Duke fans, but has limited lasting appeal.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Flame of Barbary Coast is presented in black & white in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which the packaging offers conflicting information about.

Like many of Artisan's other John Wayne releases, the biggest issue in the image department is the source materials used, which range in quality from decent to not so great. This transfer comes from a number of generations of film, some with a reasonable tonal range and good contrast, to others where the grayscale is quite limited. Black levels are okay in most cases, but there are sections that look quite thin. The image isn't all that sharp, although detail, such as fabrics and ornamentation stands up without cross-coloration or obvious compression artifacts. There is some gate wobble in the transfer, and a good deal of minor print damage—scratches, streaks, blotches and so forth—and while I have my doubts that much, if any, restoration work was done on this, there is evidence that the master print had some major defects removed, which is my only explanation for why a single shot should be made up of three distinctly different sources.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The mono soundtrack is reasonable enough, but does show its age with a number of clicks and pops, static, and overall edginess common to films this old. Dialogue is easily discernable, but background music tends to over saturate. As with the image, the majority of the problems lie in the source.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: There are no extras. The insert lists the 24 chapter stops.

I would note that the disc surface on our review copy is quite mottled in appearance, but this didn't cause any play back issues.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Flame of Barbary Coast is enjoyable enough, though can't be included among the Duke's best work. The presentation here is passable but not inspiring. Fine for completists, but a rental at best for anyone else. I guess we should be thankful the colorized version wasn't included.


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