It’s a busy night at Bello’s nightclub in San Francisco, California. A man has just arrived from the airport in a hurry, with a pretty hefty stack of stolen bonds in tow.
Also visiting the club is Arlene Bradford (Bette Davis), a popular socialite who used to spend a lot more time at Bello’s before announcing her engagement to Spencer Carlton (Lyle Talbot). Now she’s cleaned up her act, but has brought both Spencer and her stepsister, Val (Margaret Lindsay), to the club for a “fun” night of music and dancing. Not quite the uptight Spencer’s idea of fun.
Soon after they arrive, Arlene and her posse are joined by Tony Sterling (Donald Woods), a reporter. Meanwhile, Mr. Bello (Irving Pichel) is outside, slipping the stolen bonds into Arlene’s car — and she knows it. Cleaning up her act, as it turns out, as been nothing more than an act, and she’s about to find herself in a world of trouble.
Fog Over Frisco was directed by William Dieterle. The film is based on a short story, The Five Fragments by George Dyer.
Fog Over Frisco is a fascinating little mystery, clocking in at just over an hour though it could have easily held my attention for two. There are a few turns to the plot that were, to me, quite unexpected, keeping the tension high as the depth and nature of Arlene’s involvement in the racket is revealed. In combination with the film’s fast pace, this made it impossible for me to look away from the screen at any moment.
In addition to its complicated drama of gangsters, bonds, and violent crimes, Fog Over Frisco offers a very corrupt portrait of the news business. *SPOILERS* Tony finds Arlene’s body in the trunk of her own car and, rather than the calling the police, calls his editor. The editor then tells him not to tell anyone — not the police, not even the family in whose garage the car is parked! — so they can get the exclusive scoop. It’s a disgraceful and horrifying way of handling the story, and leads to great consequence when Val, still believing her sister is alive, is kidnapped after falling for faked letter from “Arlene” sent by the murderer. *END SPOILERS*
Cast-wise, Bette Davis is the perfect fit for the brash, fast-talking, thrill-seeking Arlene. She’s full of energy and gives just the type of performance I’ve come to expect from her early work. She was impressive even in these smaller, new-to-Hollywood roles. Davis herself was quite happy with this film, too. “The part in Fog Over Frisco was one I adored,” she shares in her book with Whitney Stine, Mother Goddam. “It also was a very good script, directed superbly by Deiterle.”
Margaret Lindsay is also a good fit for her role of Val, the straight-and-narrow sister who tries her best to help Arlene and keep her out of trouble. Lindsay’s role has a lot of highs and lows, requiring sweetness, caring, concern, bravery and fear in various measures. She handles it all wonderfully. Such an underrated actress.
My one complaint about Fog Over Frisco is that the ending is somehow to fast and a little too talky. There’s a burst of action near the end that comes suddenly and only lasts a moment. The rest of the film’s final few minutes are left for Lindsay to state, step by step, what really happened to Arlene before sharing a cutesy moment with Tony. But this is one small complaint toward an otherwise very enjoyable crime drama.
The score: 4/5