In Old Chicago is a 1938 American drama film directed by Henry King. The screenplay by Sonya Levien and Lamar Trotti was based on the Niven Busch story, "We the O'Learys." The film is a fictionalized account about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and stars Alice Brady as Mrs. O'Leary, the owner of the cow which started the fire, and Tyrone Power and Don Ameche as her sons. It also stars Alice Faye and Andy Devine. At the time of its release, it was one of the most expensive movies ever made.


The O'Leary family are travelling to Chicago to start a new life when Patrick O'Leary tries to race a steam train in his wagon. He is killed when his horses bolt. His wife Molly and their three boys are left to survive on their own. In town she agrees to prove her skills as a laundress when a woman's dress is accidentally spattered with mud. She quickly proves herself and builds up a laundry business in an area known as "the Patch". Her sons are educated. One, Jack, becomes a reforming lawyer, but another, Dion, is involved in gambling. While washing a sheet, Mrs O'Leary discovers a drawing, apparently created by Gil Warren, a devious local businessman. Her sons realise that it reveals that he has a plan to run a tramline along a street that he and his cronies intend to buy up cheaply.

Dion becomes enamoured with a feisty saloon-bar singer, Belle, who works for Warren. After a stormy courtship they become lovers. Meanwhile, Bob, the youngest O'Leary son, who helps his mother, is in love with Gretchen, an innocent German girl. They meet in the barn watched by the O'Leary's cow Daisy and plan to marry. Mrs O'Leary approves of the match, but expresses disdain for the loose-living Belle.

Dion and Belle bribe the local politicians to set up a saloon on the street where the tramline will pass. Dion makes a deal to support Warren's political career and carve up business in the town. However, Dion's dishonest practices lead to conflict with his brother Jack when one of Dion's cronies is arrested for multiple voting. Dion later decides to support his brother rather than Warren in the election, convinced he can cut out Warren altogether and reign-in Jack's reformist zeal. He is increasingly attracted by the daughter of the corrupt local senator, leading to conflicts with Belle. Bob and Gretchen marry and have a baby.

At a Warren election rally a fight breaks out, arranged by Dion. All Warren's election workers are arrested. Jack is elected mayor. He soon announces a campaign against corruption, targeting his brother's fiefdom in the Patch, which he intends to demolish. Belle and Dion separate when Jack asks her to support him. When he realises Belle might testify against him, Dion asks her to marry him, making her testimony inadmissible. As mayor, Jack marries the couple, but knocks Dion out in a fist fight as soon he realises he has been deceived.

Mrs O'Leary is told about the fight while helping Daisy's calf to suckle. In her distress, she leaves a lamp in the barn, and Daisy knocks it over. A fire breaks out. Soon the whole of the Patch is on fire. Dion, Warren and their cronies are convinced that Jack has set the fire. Warren's men look for Jack, seeking revenge. Advised by Philip Sheridan, Jack plans to create a firebreak by dynamiting buildings to stop the fire reaching the gasworks, but Warren's gang try to stop him. When Dion learns from Bob how the fire really started, he rushes to Jack's aid. In the struggle Jack and Dion fight off the gang and set off the dynamite, but Jack is shot by one of Warren's thugs and then killed by a falling building. Warren attempts to flee but is trampled to death by stampeding cattle from the stockyards.

Dion and Bob help to save Gretchen and the baby, while Belle rescues Mrs O'Leary. They all manage to escape to the river. Belle and Dion are reconciled, while Mrs O'Leary predicts that the city will be rebuilt and flourish after her son's sacrifice for its future.


  • Tyrone Power as Dion O'Leary
  • Alice Faye as Belle Fawcett
  • Don Ameche as Jack O'Leary
  • Alice Brady as Mrs. Molly O'Leary
  • Phyllis Brooks as Ann Colby
  • Andy Devine as Pickle Bixby
  • Brian Donlevy as Gil Warren
  • Tom Brown as Bob O'Leary
  • Berton Churchill as Senator Colby
  • Sidney Blackmer as General Phil Sheridan
  • J. Anthony Hughes as Patrick O'Leary
  • Paul Hurst as 'Mitch' Mitchell
  • June Storey as Gretchen O'Leary
  • Madame Sul-Te-Wan as Hattie
  • Gene Reynolds as Young Dion
  • Charles Lane as Booking Agent


  • It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
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