Fog Over Frisco (1934) – Bette Davis Blogathon

04 Apr

Fog-Over-FriscoIn her early films at Warner Bros, Bette Davis is like a dynamo or a ball of fire, bursting across the screen: Fog Over FriscoPetrified ForrestIt’s Love I’m AfterMarked Woman. I wonder if it’s because she had so much pent up energy owing to the lack of meaty roles to sink her teeth into. Or perhaps it’s her youthful ambition and drive coming through. Whatever it is, she positively crackles in the early and mid-thirties.

One such film is Fog Over Frisco, a zippy crime drama (and I do mean zippy; it’s only 68 minutes long), where Bette Davis plays a beautiful socialite, blithely mixed up with gangsters and illicit affairs. She lasts about twenty-five minutes, but she’s the one who makes the story go.

Arlene Bradford (Bette Davis) is a notorious party girl who has just become engaged to Spencer Carlton (Lyle Talbot) and has supposedly calmed down from her wayward days. Her step-father, Mr. Bradford, (Arthur Byron), doesn’t believe it, while Arlene’s step-sister, Val (Margaret Lindsay) sticks up for her. But Arlene has not reformed and is working with the criminal Jake Bellos (Irving Pichel), who steals bank securities and passes them to Arlene to dispose of. She gives them to Spencer, who works at her step-father’s bank, and he gives her cash and then bit by bit disposes of them. He’s not happy about it, but Arlene has him wound around her finger.

But when her mysterious lover comes into the picture, she returns her engagement ring to Spencer, gives the gangsters the heave-ho and plans to run off with the man she really loves…except he doesn’t love her anymore and wants his love letters back. Meanwhile, to add to the list of future suspects, Mr. Bradford has discovered what Spencer has been doing for Arlene and blames her for the whole mess and the scandal that could envelope the bank, saying she ought to be shot. On cue, Arlene goes missing, but the only person who initially seems interested in looking for her is Val, until she gets abducted. There is also an assortment of newspapermen, policemen and one very nosy butler (suspiciously knowledgeable about things) and bank executives (including Douglass Dumbrille) who end up circling the case. All in 68 minutes! It’s a fun ride.

Everyone has an angle in this film, except loyal Val. Policemen (led Alan Hale) are interested in the missing securities and the gang responsible for stealing them. The gangsters, of course, have their own angle; the mystery lover has his. The newspapermen (led by Hugh Herbert and William Demarest) are out only for a good story. Even Val’s would-be boyfriend, Tony Sterling (Donald Woods), puts a good scoop over helping Val, which leads to Val getting abducted. The bank executives are mostly worried about the potential scandal for the bank and even Mr. Bradford, who ends up being right about Arlene, is not hugely sympathetic. As the daughter of the woman who ran out on him, it’s clear that he considers Arlene to be just like her mother (though he may have a point) and not really his own daughter. Only Val remains truly sympathetic and loyal.

Bette Davis is decidedly up to no good

Bette Davis is decidedly up to no good

Margaret Lindsay made at least four films with Bette Davis: JezebelBordertownDangerous, and Fog Over Frisco (there might be more I’m unaware of). She clearly doesn’t have the zip and sparkle that Bette Davis brings to the screen, but it’s always a pleasure to see her in a film, especially in this one, where she is the only one with purely good motivations.

My one criticism is that the film ends too quickly. Everything is wound up at a breathless pace, which is perhaps understandable given the pace of the film, but it still could have used a few extra minutes to let us – and the characters – absorb everything.

Fog Over Frisco came just before Of Human Bondage and Bette Davis supposedly accepted the role of Arlene to show Jack Warner she was “a team player” to convince him to lend her to RKO so she could play Mildred. Fog Over Frisco is also the first film where she worked with Tony Gaudio as cinematographer and she always had happy memories of making this film, even if she does get killed off before the movie is half over. But she appears to be relishing the role of an amoral socialite who gets a thrill from fooling the police and getting her own way. When she visits Spencer and shows him the securities in her purse and his response is “Not again!” there’s a gleam in her eye and you know there’s going to be trouble.

This post is part of the “Bette Davis Blogathon,” hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. For more posts covering the whole spectrum of Bette Davis’ extraordinary career, click here.



Posted by on April 4, 2016 in Movies


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

21 responses to “Fog Over Frisco (1934) – Bette Davis Blogathon

  1. Michaela

    April 4, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    I just saw this film two days ago and I was surprised by how much I liked it. The quick pacing kept my attention, and there were some twists I wasn’t expecting. The shots of Davis’s dead body were somewhat jarring, too. Definitely a pre-Code! Nice post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 4, 2016 at 1:02 pm

      No, I totally wasn’t expecting the shot of her in the trunk, either! It was quite a shock. You’re right; usually crime dramas aren’t that mysterious, but this one does a good job of keeping you guessing. It’s impressive how efficient the story is, too.


  2. Judy

    April 4, 2016 at 1:12 pm

    It’s a while since I’ve seen this pre-Code, but I remember being shocked by Davis’ death when I was expecting her to be the main star, and also by the behaviour of journalist Donald Woods and the way he is happy to delay discovery of a crime in the interests of a scoop – even though I think he does become more heroic later on, if I’m remember it right. Enjoyed your review of this early Davis film!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 4, 2016 at 3:29 pm

      Thanks! Characters are awfully cutthroat in this film, aren’t they? For a while I was out of sympathy with Donald Woods, too…it seemed so shockingly callous. At least he seemed to realize it later.

      But it does give the film an interesting edge – all these people with their own agendas not paying attention to the human element (I was surprised when Lyle Talbot committed suicide, too). It’s an unexpected film.


  3. Eric Binford

    April 4, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    I didn’t like the film. Too much plot, too many characters. You are, however, so right about Davis. She’s almost manic during most of her pre-stardom phase. I agree, it’s pent up anger and frustration (with her career).

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 4, 2016 at 8:36 pm

      Manic – yes, that’s a good word for her. She almost pops of the screen. It’s amazing to think Warner Bros. didn’t see the benefit in giving her good roles and that she always had to fight so hard for anything.

      I definitely respect your opinion of the film; it’s not the most clear movie, but I liked the breathless energy (partly from Bette Davis and partly from the snappy script) and sense of giddy forward momentum, like a roller coaster barely in control.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Eric Binford

        April 5, 2016 at 2:12 pm

        Agreed. It took Warners an awfully long time just to figure out what to do with Davis. The same thing happened to Bogart! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • christinawehner

          April 5, 2016 at 2:53 pm

          That’s a good point about Bogart. Maybe they thought they didn’t have room for more stars – with Cagney and Robinson and Raft – or just couldn’t think beyond their immediate stars and vehicles for them? They must have really been at a loss with Bogart with all those B films he appeared in.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. B Noir Detour

    April 5, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Must add this to my to-see list. Thanks for the review, and good read of early Davis!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Silver Screenings

    April 5, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Whoa – this really does sound like a zippy 68 minutes! But it sounds completely worth it, especially if Bette Davis is in it. It was interesting to read that she took the part to prove to the Warners she was a team player. I really like films where everyone has an Agenda – you never know what will happen next.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 5, 2016 at 11:18 am

      Bette Davis really added a lot – it might not have been half so fun without her! But the fact that everyone seems to be working at cross-purposes, as you say, really keeps things lively and from settling into entirely predictable crime drama.

      It’s incredible how much they pack into such a short time!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. girlsdofilm

    April 5, 2016 at 10:49 am

    Zippy – now that’s an adjective I don’t use often enough! The idea of Davis being a team player is hilarious – whilst I don’t contest that she could put differences aside to make the best picture possible she’d also stand up for what she believed in. I wonder how long she managed to ‘fool’ Warner for.
    Really enjoyed this post – thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      April 5, 2016 at 11:25 am

      Thanks! That didn’t originally occur to me, but as you describe it, it is a funny thought! Maybe Jack Warner willed himself into believing she was a team player…or else was so relieved she was willing to do at least one film without putting up a fight. 🙂


  7. In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood

    April 19, 2016 at 7:18 am

    Hi Christina. Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon, and thanks for covering this film, as I feel that it’s quite underrated.

    I would also like to let you know that I’ve been asked to co-host a blogathon dedicated to Olivia in celebration of her centenary in July, and we’re aiming for a big reception, so I would love to invite you to join in. The link is below with more details.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood

    May 3, 2016 at 8:30 am

    Hi Christina. I thought I would drop by to let you know that I’ve just announced my Second Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon, and would love to invite you to participate. The link is below with more details.

    Liked by 1 person


What Are Your Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: