In Old Chicago

Inciting Event: After the intro prologue (in which their father is killed just as they finally arrive in Chicago, via covered wagon), the grown brothers Jack and Dion discover a map someone has scribbled on a tablecloth and left with their washerwoman mother. They realize it’s a map indicating where the new rail line will go, and Dion decides to use it to guide him in purchasing land for a saloon. The only problem? The corner he wants to buy belongs to Belle Fawcett, the new singing sensation at an established saloon.

First Plot Point: Dion and Belle—now romantically involved—open their grand new saloon the Senate on the lucrative corner. The rival saloon owner tells Dion he holds no ill will and that he will sell his own saloon if Dion will promise to back him in the coming mayoral election. Dion promises, but then decides to back his own brother Jack (who knows nothing of Dion’s involvement).

Frankly, the plot in this movie is a bit of a mess. But the throughline is clearly the politics—and the two brothers’ involvement on opposite sides. This First Plot Point both establishes Dion as the new de factor leader of the criminal “Patch” section of the city and thrusts both brothers into the Second Act “adventure world” of the political plotline.

First Pinch Point: Dion convinces Jack to run—both by personally talking to him and by secretly sending “the people of Chicago” to entreat him. Even though he’s an antihero, Dion is clearly the story’s protagonist. As such, there isn’t a great “pinch” in this turning point. We get a slight one a bit later when it looks as if no one will vote for Jack, but it’s not particularly well established since it fails to rattle Dion in any measure.

Midpoint: Jack is elected mayor—thanks to Dion’s shenanigans in getting all of the opposition’s voters thrown into jail. Dion is victorious here, but the plot quickly shifts as Jack makes it clear he won’t be Dion’s puppet, but will act against Dion’s interests in the Patch if he has to. Jack tries to convince Belle to change Dion’s mindset, but Dion believes she has turned against him and leaves her.

Second Pinch Point: After Jack brings Dion to trial and subpoenas Belle as a witness against him, Dion pretends to make up with Belle and gets Jack to marry them—only to reveal he did it as a ploy to prevent Belle from testifying against him, since she’s now his wife. Again, we find Dion himself putting most of the “pinch” on here. Still, it does effectively turn the plot against him, as both Jack and Belle abandon him in disgust.

Third Plot Point: After hearing Jack and Dion had a fistfight, their mother hurriedly stops milking the cow—only to have the cow kick over a lantern, light the barn afire, and start the Great Chicago Fire. Dion believes Jack set the Patch on fire on purpose, and he turns all his people against Jack. This isn’t played upon as deeply as it might have been because, at its heart, it’s a fabulous Third Plot Point. Not only do we have the tragic beginnings of one of the most catastrophic urban fires in American history, we also have a brotherly betrayal—on both sides.

Climax: Dion learns his mother’s cow started the fire—and that Jack is innocent. He desperately sets off to save Jack from the Patch mob. Together, he and Jack and their other brother try to blow up the Patch in order to create a firebreak. But Jack is shot and killed.

Climactic Moment: Dion finally finds his mother and Belle out in the river—and makes up with both of them.

Resolution: Really, there is no Resolution to this movie. It ends seconds after the Climactic Moment. As such, it gives us a good example of why most stories need a distinct Resolution. This movie tries to immediately turn the tone of the story from tragic to victoriously hopeful, in order to leave viewers with a good taste in their mouths. But it falls flat because it isn’t given time enough to develop.

Notes: I say the plot in this movie is a bit of a mess—but it’s not because of the structure. If we look solely at the skeleton of its major plot points, it holds together very well. Unfortunately, the actual pacing of the story (in which whole sections of the plot are filled with little more than extraneous musical numbers from the saloon girls) means it suffers tremendously from the lack of actual development between the plot points.

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