The Bette Davis Project: Fog Over Frisco (1934)

Fog Over Frisco (1934)Synopsis:

A trust-fund-baby, Arlene Bradford (Bette Davis), likes to party hard with people of dubious moral character. Arlene even gets her squeaky clean fiancé Spencer Carlton (Lyle Talbot, Plan 9 from Outer Space) involved in some illegal racquet. 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:

To my surprise, Fog Over Frisco, directed by William Dieterle, has a small, but vociferous fanbase. I always meet people who think highly of this Warner Bros. cheapie. Some viewers have gone so far as to compare it to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho (1960). I assume that the comparison of the two movies stems from the fact that both are about women looking for missing sisters. However, for me, at least, it is a real stretch of imagination to link this potboiler to Hitch’s masterpiece. This movie is simply not very good.

The problem lies in Robert N. Lee’s over-complicated script  — too many characters, too many twists and turns. It all feels so rushed, so underdeveloped, so pointless. I liked the large cast of character actors, and it was competently shot by director Dieterle (Juarez and The Man Who Came to Dinner), but as I said before, there is too much going on in a 68-minute film.

Strangely enough, the film’s biggest fan was Davis herself. She told biographer and friend Whitney Stine, “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 could say “what a dump!” (Woods and Lindsay are the real stars of the film). Go figure! Mind you, she’s probably the best thing about the movie. She is photographed well (by Tony Gaudio, The Letter) and she’s letter-perfect as a Paris Hilton-like socialite.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

I hate to disagree with Davis — I’m more in line with Dieterle’s views, who referred to Fog Over Frisco as “another potboiler.” You be the judge. Director-actor Irving Pichel plays a kingpin. With Alan Hale (The Adventures of Robin Hood), Dennis O’Keefe (The Leopard), Hugh Herbert, and William Demarest (The Jolson Story). B&W, 68 minutes, Not Rated.

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