Frisco Jenny was orphaned by the 1906 earthquake and fire and has become the madame of a prosperous bawdy house. She puts her son up for adoption and he rises to prominence as district ...
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William A. Wellman
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Frisco Jenny was orphaned by the 1906 earthquake and fire and has become the madame of a prosperous bawdy house. She puts her son up for adoption and he rises to prominence as district attorney dedicated to closing down such houses. When her underling Dutton proposes telling the DA that Frisco Jenny is his birth mother, she kills the underling not to cause trouble for her son now the successful DA, she must face execution. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
This is an excellent early film by Wellman, filled with all sorts of lovely detail and efficient film-making. The opening tracking shot through the swinging doors of the whorehouse sets the key note for what will be a pretty stylish little film. The opening scenes in the house are musical and full of bustle, rich in their suggestion of off screen space.
The film is chock full of little musical touches that lend it rhythm and style, like the scene in which Chatteron finds out about her lover's death--Wellman finishes it with a sweet rendition, by nearby musicians, of "My Gal Sal", a very effective and surprising bit of counterpoint. And look at the interesting way he has of presenting all the observers of Chatterton's trial, in a series of little pan shots from one to the the other, each shot tied to the rhythm of Donald Cook's speech. You get the sense that Wellman's creative energy was really flowing here.
Chatterton is always good but particularly so here. Orry-Kelly's gowns really suit her and cinematographer Sid Hickock films her and the gowns well. There are a few frames here worthy of MGM. In her final scene, Wellman strips her of all make-up, a pretty unusual approach for the time, but typical of Wellman, who took pride in deglamorizing his actresses when the film called for it. It was a pretty brave scene for Chatterton. She and Wellman were both difficult to work with but liked each other, oddly enough.
Lots of fun character bits. Donald Cook (resident Warner Brothers good guy) is better than usual. James Murray, from King Vidor's "The Crowd" has an early role as the father of Chatterton's child. I like Harry Holman as the john whose pocket gets picked and Wellman regular Nick Copeland as the drunk in the bar.
This is an underrated film. I made a point of seeing it because Wellman, himself, who could be hard on himself, liked it a lot. He was right--it's top notch.
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