While the O’Leary family is traveling to Chicago to find a new life, the family patriarch is killed in an accident, leaving his wife Molly (Alice Brady) to make the trip alone with her two young sons Jack (Don Ameche as an adult, Billy Watson as a child) and Dion (Tyrone Power as an adult, Gene Reynolds as a child). When the family finally arrives in Chicago, Molly starts building a reputation for being an excellent laundress right away. Her laundry business helps her provide a good life for her sons. Jack got a good education and becomes a lawyer. Dion, on the other hand, takes the less respectable route in life and becomes a gambler who falls in love with saloon singer Belle Fawcett (Alice Faye), who his mother does not approve of.
Eventually, Jack sets his sights on having a career in politics and Dion has gotten involved with the unscrupulous politician Gil Warren (Brian Donlevy). Naturally, their different paths in lives cause a great deal of tension between the two brothers. All of their animosity comes to a head the night of the big Chicago fire of 1871. Jack, who has just been elected mayor of Chicago, is blamed by some of Dion’s cohorts who think Jack is trying to run them out of town and go after him. Meanwhile, Jack is trying to control the fire, only to have his efforts interrupted by Dion’s colleagues. But when Dion finds out what’s going on, can he save his brother?
I really wanted to like In Old Chicago more than I did. Since I liked Alexander’s Ragtime Band, which also starred Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, and Don Ameche, I had high hopes In Old Chicago, but I much preferred Alexander’s Ragtime Band. The cast wasn’t bad and its production values are very high, but the basic plot is nothing new and framing it around the great Chicago fire didn’t make it any more interesting for me. But the fire scenes were, indeed spectacular. Even with stars like Power, Faye, and Ameche, the real stars of In Old Chicago are the effects specialists who planned the fire scenes. On the whole, it’s not a terrible movie, just one I was indifferent about except for the fire scenes.