Fog Over Frisco (1934)

Fog Over Frisco (1934)


Trust-fund-baby Arlene Bradford (Bette Davis) likes to party hard with shady characters. Arlene even gets her squeaky clean fiancé, Spencer Carlton (Lyle Talbot, Plan 9 from Outer Space), involved in some illegal rackets. When Arlene suddenly vanishes without a trace, a nosy reporter (Donald Woods, Anthony Adverse) and Arlene’s kid sister (Margaret Lindsay, Jezebel) team up to find the reckless heiress.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“Say, she must be respectable. I’ve never seen her before.”

To my surprise, Fog Over Frisco, directed by William Dieterle (Portrait of Jennie), has a small but vociferous fanbase. I always meet people who think highly of this Warner Bros. cheapie. I, on the other hand, found this movie erratic and uninteresting.

Some viewers have gone so far as to compare it to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho. It’s true that both movies are about women looking for missing sisters. But for me, at least, it is a real stretch of imagination to link this potboiler to Hitchcock’s groundbreaking masterpiece. In my opinion, Fog Over Frisco is simply not very good.

I liked the large cast of character actors, and the movie was definitely well-directed by German director Dieterle, but there is too much going on in this 68-minute film. Robert N. Lee’s (Little Caesar and The Kennel Murder Case) overly-busy script could have used more screen time. As I suggested before, there are way too many characters and too many subplots. It all felt so rushed, so underdeveloped, so pointless.

Strangely enough, the film’s biggest fan was Bette Davis herself. The actress told biographer and confidant Whitney Stine (Mother Goddman and Conversations with Bette Davis), “The part (in Fog Over Frisco) was one I adored.”

I don’t get it. Top-billed Davis has only a handful of scenes and she disappears before you can say, “What a dump!” Donald Woods and Margaret Lindsay are the real stars of the film. Mind you, she’s probably the best thing about the movie — Davis is photographed well (by Tony Gaudio, The Letter) and she’s letter-perfect as a Paris Hilton-like socialite. I just thought that the movie wasted Davis’s colossal talents.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Bette Davis’s enthusiasm notwithstanding, Fog Over Frisco is a forgettable B-movie. Director Dieterle referred to the film as “another potboiler” and he was right. You’ll be the judge. With Alan Hale (Captain Blood), Dennis O’Keefe (The Leopard Man), Hugh Herbert (Fashions of 1934) and William Demarest (The Jolson Story). Director-actor Irving Pichel (The Most Dangerous Game) plays a kingpin. B&W, 68 minutes, Not Rated.


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