Monday, November 26, 2012

Fog Over Frisco

Recently, I briefly mentioned the movie Fog Over Frisco as one I had seen recently and deserved a full-length blog post, even though I didn't have the time for it back then. I'm not too excited about tonight's lineup of novels adapted to movies on TCM, so now would be a good time to write that post about Fog Over Frisco.

Bette Davis gets top billing as Arlene Bradford, one of two half-sisters living in San Francisco with their wealthy father Everett. Arlene is the bad girl, spending time in nightclubs and being seen with less-than-reputable characters, something which gets her name and face in the newspapers, much to her father's chagrin. He's a stockbroker, and has gotten his daughter engaged to one of his young colleagues, Spencer (Lyle Talbot). Arlene's half-sister Valkyr (Margaret Lindsay), however, is Dad's favorite and is being pursued by reporter Tony (Donald Woods), even though she's not so sure reporters are honest. Although Arlene is engaged to Spencer, she doesn't really love him. In fact, she's using him as part of a plot to steal bonds from the east, smuggle them out to San Francisco, and then launder the bonds through the brokerage's Honolulu branch; Arelene is working with gangsters who populate those nightclubs she visits.

Unsurprisingly, those stolen bonds are going to get Arlene in trouble. She plans on leaving Spencer, and leaves a note taped to her mirror, but in the darkness, somebody comes into her bedroom and winds up with the message. And then Arlene goes missing. Everybody is worried for their own, obvious reasons: Valkyr liked her sister and tried to protect her from their father; Dad doesn't want any scandal; Spencer knows the securities fraud is going to catch up with him; Tony is on the trail of a hot story; and the others, well, their motivations will become clear as the story goes on.

Fog Over Frisco is a briskly-paced movie, running about 68 minutes. The second half of the movie is part mystery, as several people have reason to be the ones behind Arlene's disappearance, and this isn't quite revealed until the last reel. It's not quite on the level of, say, The Thin Man, but to be fair I don't think the point of Fog Over Frisco is in the whodunit angle to the extent that it is in The Thin Man. In fact, director William Dieterle packed a lot of action into the 68 mintues: after the disappearance there's a car chase, a boat chase, an attempted kidnapping, and gunplay. Just nowhere near the drinking you'll see in The Thin Man. Bette Davis is a star; everybody else is passable, helped along by entertaining material. One low spot is that there's a clue that's so obvious you'd wonder how any characters could miss it until it's revealed by photographer Hugh Herbert. As for Herbert, his attempts to get the shot provide the comic relief in the film.

Fog Over Frisco is immensely entertaining, if nothing spectacular. If you like early-to-mid 1930s movies, or the work of Bette Davis, you'll love this one. For people new to such vintage movies, I might suggest starting with a mystery like The Thin Man before moving on to this one; or mor shocking pre-Codes like Night Nurse. It's gotten a DVD release as part of the Warner Archive collection, which is a bit of a shame considering how pricey those DVDs are. I personally think Fog Over Frisco would be well served by being included into a box set of Davis' early work.

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