Fog Over Frisco (1934) Poster

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By the time you figure everything out the movie has been over for 10 minutes
Brian Ellis30 November 2001
Bette Davis gets top billing even though she isn't in two thirds of the movie? Well, considering how boring the leads were, she deserved it. This films crams a lot into 68 minutes. Red herrings, wild car chases, a butler with a secret and of course Bette Davis as the one who sets it all off, it's all in the film. Davis as Arlene Bradford, seems always in command, that her fate is a little shocking but not unexpected and a little bit delicious. With her short blonde hair and the tight shiny dresses, she is quite a welcome sight. A short fun little film.
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So . . . What Gives?
baker84515 April 2002
Considering the reputations and historicity of Bette Davis and Michael Curtiz, why hasn't anyone issued this marvelously little fast-paced film on video? Davis is lightning-sharp as wicked Arlene, and Margaret Lindsay was an interesting early Warners player. I understand that Jack Warner, in the early days of the talkies, used this film to demonstrate what a director could accomplish with a tight budget and filmic expertise.
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eerily reminiscent of Thelma Todd
kidboots17 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This is a great Warner's crime drama - not as well known as some of the others but deserves to be.

Bette Davis gives a power-house performance as the venal Arlene Bradford, the criminal step-daughter of a powerful banker. To me it proves how determined Miss Davis was to break the mould and to appear in roles she believed in and that would make her stand out.

Bette plays Arlene Bradford, who is secretly working for a criminal (Irving Pichel) who is involved in stolen bonds. Spencer Carlton (Lyle Talbot) a decent but weak employee at Bradfords bank is engaged to Arlene. It is he who is usually called on to dispose of the bonds - obviously he will lose his job if caught.

But Arlene is playing the sap for a sap and has no intention of marrying him. She is in love with someone else and is soon to receive the same callous treatment she dishes out to everyone else.

Arlene disappears just over halfway through the film and the film is then carried by the two lack-lustre leads. Margaret Lindsay as Val, the "good" sister (I have never really got her - but she was a serviceable leading lady for Warners in the 30s) and Donald Woods. The film loses a lot of the verve and excitement it had in the first half.

The supporting players are far more interesting - Irving Pichell as the owner of the nightclub, the wonderfully suave Douglas Dumbrille as the family lawyer. Robert Barret as Thorne, the butler is the most fascination - there is something about him - but you don't find out until the last five minutes.

Bette Davis' role is eerily reminiscent of what happened to Thelma Todd only a year later. She even looks like her in this film.
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Far before its time
marko-15730 October 2007
Mysterious crime, unconventional way of solving it, witty dialog, fast paced events, car chasing, unexpected resolution... are we watching just another detective action film starring Mel Gibson? No, it is 1934 film Fog over Frisco. It is amazing how little has this type of film evolved in last 70 years or so. The only "improvements" we see in modern versions of action films are slimy kissing and love-making scenes, two dozen explosions and rolling stock of a smaller country destroyed. Oh, yeah, done to include something for everyone and to extend the film time to standard one and a half hour.

Well Fog over Frisco is what a good action film should look like. It is absolutely enough to have a bit more than a hour to tell everything. Of course, Dieterle could easily make a film a bit longer and the plot more understandable, but this amazing pace is what makes this film even more special. You are moving in the spiral of events so fast that it is necessary to see it twice to get everything straight.

But this is not all. We see some really exceptional acting here. Bette Davis makes from one seemingly tiny role more than some leading character actors did in the whole acting career. She is absolutely convincing as Arlene, a spoiled and bored rich girl and you can never see Bette in another film to be so beautiful, glamorous, amusing and enchanting. No wonder that most men in film really seem to be in love with her. Margaret Lindsay, who plays a real head role of her step-sister Val, isn't match for Ms. Davis, however she did her part correctly. Other notable performances include Donald Woods playing Tony and Hugh Herbert playing Izzy, who are convincing as a witty reporter - funny photographer pair.

This film is one of the most underestimated films in the whole history of Hollywood and is a must-see for 1930s film period.
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good who-dunnit with B Davis
ksf-21 July 2009
LOVE the butt-snapping game the reporters play at the city desk of the newspaper. That scene was a little risqué for its time, but the Hayes Code hadn't quite kicked in yet. It's a possible kidnapping of a rich, scheming socialite Arlene Bradford (Bette Davis). William Demarest is the reporter "Spike" who gets the call to check out the story. It's a Warner shortie, at 68 minutes, and just one of the four films Davis made with director William Dieterle in the 1930s. Margaret Lindsay and Donald Woods co-star. Alan Hale Sr. is Chief O'Malley, of course. No movie could be made in the 1930s or 1940s without Hale. Regular TCM viewers will also recognize Douglass Dumbrille as "Josh Maynard"; Dumbrille had made "A Day a the Races" and "The Big Store" with the Marx Brothers. Gordon Westcott plays Joe Bello, and in real life, Westcott died at 32 in a weird polo accident. The newspaper dudes and photographers are all over this story, so apparently being followed by the news hounds is nothing new... Arlene's dad is played by Arthur Byron, and he died only a couple years after making this. Some GREAT scenery of foggy San Francisco. The story moves pretty quickly, so pay attention! The sound and photography are a little shaky, but it does show on Turner Classic Movies now & then. A Fun, quick paced film, even if Bette Davis doesn't appear in much of the film! /ksf-2
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Sucked in by Pandora's Box of Crime
nycritic18 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
FOG OVER FRISCO is getting some interesting comparisons to the work of Alfred Hitchcock, most notably his film PSYCHO. While it can be said that there are some similarities with the sisters where one of them winds up on the wrong side of the tracks and the other gets the unwanted role of having to find out what happened to her, this is where similarities end. Hitchcock wanted to shock the audiences with his story and led us to believe that Janet Leigh, already an established star, would survive the story to the last reel. Yes, there was the element of money her character had taken, the same way Davis' character also gets involved in a plot to steal some securities (I think I have it right, I vaguely recall it being "money in stock form"), but in 1934 Davis was just one of many contract players wading through the mire of these quickies that Warner's was giving her. When her character meets her own fate in FOG OVER FRISCO, it's not a shock. It's actually closer to being expected: she's too crude during her short screen time and there is an uncomfortable scene at a dinner table that makes her character unlikeable.

Concealing the identity of the murderer also seems to be another point of comparison in between this movie and Hitchcock's classic. Again -- I believe this is an assumption: being a taut crime drama with a good (if clumsy) note of suspense, the need to leave the audience hanging is an old a trick as time itself. I doubt Hitchcock would have even learned about this movie since his inspiration was the book itself which was a loose account of the Ed Gein murders. If he did see this film, no one will ever know, but I personally believe Hitchcock did not use FOG OVER FRISCO even as a vague point of reference. Perhaps the fact that the movie looks different from a cinematic point of view -- it seems to be experimenting with how to transition from one scene to the next, something that only film noir, Orson Welles, and Hitchcock would engage in during the 1940s onwards. At least, it gave Margaret Lindsay a chance to carry the movie on her own since she tended to play the supporting role and would be Davis' rival in JEZEBEL.
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LoveCoates24 May 2001
Wow, I am amazed that this film is so overlooked, especially considering the reputations of its director (Dieterle) and its star, Miss Bette Dave. Fog Over Frisco is probably forgotten because it had the misfortune of being released the same year as Bette's Academy-rocking star-turn as waitress Mildred in Of Human Bondage. Nevertheless, she is true to form in this early role. I enjoyed this film's fast past and lack of fluff. If you liked "L.A. Confidential" you will enjoy Fog Over Frisco's complicated plot and ambiguous characters. The plot structure was strangely reminiscent of "Psycho" -- except that Psycho was made twenty-six years later! Seems Hitchcock was not the first to shock his audience unexpectedly...
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A complicated mystery thriller needing more than one viewing to fully understand.
Arthur Hausner21 January 1999
This film is so rapidly paced that some of the action flew by me too fast to fully understand, although some of the confusion was cleared up in the end. Director William Dieterle used fancy wipes rather than fade-outs and overlapping sound to speed the action along. I prefer a more leisurely pace to enable me to digest the material. Still, the ending was exciting with location shooting in San Francisco a big plus, and it's always enjoyable to watch Bette Davis, who had emerged as a big star by this time. Hugh Herbert provides very minimal comic relief as an inept photographer. I was reminded a bit by Hitchcock's film "Psycho (1960)," but you'll have to watch this film to see what I mean.
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Thank goodness for DVRs
calvinnme6 February 2010
If you watch this only once it will strike you as a 7/10 because, unless you have the attention of a speed reader, much will escape you. After a second viewing and filling in all of the gaps, you'll likely see it as 8/10. This is a fast paced crime drama in which Bette Davis plays Arlene Bradford, the wicked stepdaughter of a wealthy man, and Margaret Lindsay plays the good daughter, Val. Everett Bradford is the father of Val, but he was once married to Arlene's mother who was apparently a wild one who ran out on him. Arlene is made in her mother's image - something her stepfather won't let her forget. Bette Davis gives a very lively performance here as a spoiled and easily bored socialite who, in spite of the family drama, has a good relationship with stepsister Val.

The whole movie centers on a complex securities smuggling racket that involves Arlene using her stepfather's business as a means of laundering the stolen securities - without his knowledge of course. When Arlene turns up dead, there are a multitude of suspects including the girl's own stepfather.

Bette Davis gives an energetic performance that presages the great roles to come, in spite of the fact that she is only in the first half of the film. Hugh Herbert plays the bumbling newspaper photographer who actually stumbles across a key clue. Warner contract player Robert Barrat plays the Bradford family butler, Thorne, who seems way too interested in Arlene's comings and goings.

I highly recommend this one, but only if you have the time to sit through it twice.
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Not one of the deepest films I have ever watched, but it sure is a lotta fun!
MartinHafer10 April 2007
Warning: Spoilers
If anyone out there is looking for Shakespeare or Ingmar Bergman, then this is NOT the film for you. FOG OVER FRISCO is not exactly "high art" and yet is quite thrilling and fun--just the sort of gangster film that Warner Brothers did best during the 1930s. So, naturally the film is sensationalistic, action-packed and a tad scandalous! Bette Davis (at her radiant best) is a rich girl who thrives on excitement and danger. Despite being very comfortable, she has a yearning for self-destruction and seems on a collision course with disaster, as she frequents dives, runs around with gangsters and steals security bonds for the excitement of it! So, it's hardly surprising that eventually she disappears and the police are called in to sort out the mystery.

The first portion of the film which features Davis in the lead is actually NOT the best aspect of the film. I love seeing her on film, but the film really heats up when her step-sister and a hot-shot reporter investigate. Then, the film accelerates into high gear and is non-stop action and suspense.

All in all, this is a great film for those who just want to turn off their brains and have fun.
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Wickedly Delicious !!!!!!
dlsatl200513 November 2005
Betty Davis shoots ..... she scores I was amazed she was wickedly delicious as Arlene Bradford.She played it full throttle also, the twist and turns that the plot took were amazing. Great vehicle to demonstrate her range and her capabilities.Ms.Davis at moments seemed sincere but you knew that there was something sinister brewing about her.As the film unfolded i was a little confused, but everything seemed to gel and it took great shape.I had to watch a second time and I enjoyed it even more.Turner Classic Movies introduced me to this fantastic film and I have recommended this film to other classic movie film fans . To no surprise the loved it*** 10* out of 10* .
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Best murder mystery of its time
westerfield16 November 2012
Look up lists of best murder mysteries and only three pre-1940 films appear: Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Thin Man. Both Morgue and Thin Man really stretch the point. There's no mystery in the former and the latter is really a comedy. It's not surprising that early films fail to make the list; they are infrequently seen. And when they are, modern sensibilities make them seem too old fashioned to rate high marks.

Fog Over Frisco is a forgotten gem that deserves to be high on anyone's list. It takes over from the early Philo Vance films in complexity and adds original twists, tension and action. The Warner Brothers stock company players are uniformly good but Bette Davis is amazing. The film doesn't follow a standard mystery format and avoids most of the clichés found in such films. It is fresh, exiting and original. Fog Over Frisco is far and away the best of its kind made up to its time (1934) and perhaps through the entire 1930s.
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As Davis Goes, So Goes The Picture
GManfred20 November 2012
It sure sounded like a good movie, especially with Bette Davis in the cast - in fact, she heads the cast. Then, nearly halfway through, she exits, and "Fog Over Frisco" falls flatter than a pancake. But she really didn't head the cast anyway. She had a prominent part, but it was mainly Margaret Lindsay's picture and she wasn't up to the job.

Margaret Lindsay resembled Maureen O'Sullivan but lacked her charismatic on screen persona, and she received little help from Warner Bros. back-benchers Lyle Talbot and Donald Woods. So what starts out as a potential 'A' picture winds up a 'B', but with a pretty fair mystery plot going for it. It's just that when Bette Davis' character is killed it is a big letdown, as she kept the viewer's interest with a characteristic dynamic performance which the support characters could not sustain.

"Fog Over Frisco" is definitely worth a look, especially for Davis' many fans, but the website has got the rating about right. There are also some interesting shots of San Francisco in the 30's which should interest some natives of the Bay Area. I took note of one shot during a car chase down a steep hill which I think was the same steep hill in a "Dirty Harry" chase scene.
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Her evil web
bkoganbing11 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Fog Over Frisco casts Bette Davis as a half sister to Margaret Lindsay. As you might have gathered Lindsay is the good sister and Bette, well Bette's as bad as only Bette can be.

This is a film that would be little remembered were it not for Bette Davis and the full blown performance she gives as a spoiled society girl who works with criminals in laundering stolen securities through her father Arthur Byron's brokerage firm.

Bette tries to drag Lindsay into her criminal work and that's when Lindsay's boyfriend Donald Woods who is a reporter gets his reporter suspicions going.

Sad to say Davis is killed about 45% of the way in the film. Two other people, club owner Irving Pichel and Davis's idiot fiancé Lyle Talbot whom she seduces into her evil web are also killed.

Woods as the reporter gets his roles of fiancé and reporter slightly mixed up especially after the crooks kidnap Lindsay after she discovers Davis's body in the rumble seat of her own car. Why they didn't kill her out right is a mystery to me because they sure weren't squeamish about murder as a cover-up.

Fog Over Frisco is a not well thought out film in many ways. But Davis fans will absolutely love it because this is the Bette we've grown to love and expect.
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Great Movie? No. Great Fun? Yes!
HerrDoktorMabuse22 January 2011
I saw this at the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto last week on a double bill with Of Human Bondage. At any rate, nothing really groundbreaking about this movie except that it was a fast paced, low budget bill-filler made before Bette Davis had broken through as a big star. The real treat here is the location shooting in San Francisco, showing the city before they built the bridges and a car chase that predates the one in Bullitt, except never exceeding 35 miles per hour. I also give the scriptwriters high marks for authentic use of forgotten place names ("Butchertown," "South of the Slot"). I'll admit my admiration is parochial, but you could do worse if it ever turns up on TCM or a streaming video service.

BTW: I can't recommend the Stanford highly enough. Beautifully restored movie palace featuring live intermission organ music on weekends and the cheapest date in town at only $7/ticket for a double bill. Google Stanford Theatre for the latest program.
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Busy little melodrama packs a punch in little over an hour...
Neil Doyle2 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I'm always amazed at how many plots and sub-plots writers were able to inject into films that lasted little more than an hour. FOG OVER FRISCO (the title always reminds me as suitable for a Charlie Chan flick), moves at a fast pace, has some well developed characters, and the plot about a missing society girl (BETTE DAVIS) and her half-sister (MARGARET LINDSAY) is involving from start to finish.

*****POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD***** Davis looks terrific at 25 (the same year she played her breakthrough role in OF HUMAN BONDAGE). She moves with all the skill of an actress sure of her authority as a bad girl on the screen. Unfortunately for the viewer, her character gets killed off midway through which leaves it up to Lindsay and bland DONALD COOK to carry the rest of the film.

They do manage to keep the plot spinning along nicely toward a fast and furious conclusion involving the kidnapping of Lindsay and the rescue efforts of all concerned. ROBERT BARRAT is an interesting figure as an eavesdropping butler who turns out to be a Secret Service man on the trail of a gang of gangsters led by IRVING PICHEL. Pichel has an interesting screen presence and would later become a director.

Neat little mystery/suspense film is directed in fine form by William Dieterle.

Trivia note: This is my 3,000th review at IMDb! This will be a wrap for awhile now that I've reached that goal.
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Has moments of entertainment and intrigue but weak plot.
alexanderdavies-9938231 August 2017
"Fog over Frisco" is a pretty good yarn but the plot could have been stronger. The narrative feels a bit murky and the ending was rushed. Various aspects of the story don't quite gell and it left me feeling frustrated. Bette Davis being killed off early and being billed first in the cast, is a risky thing to do. After all, a film largely rests on the shoulders of the leading actor. Davis is the one to watch when she is in the film and a lot more effective than Lindsay or Woods. Alan Hale is good as the police officer. The final solution comes as no surprise whatever and I was disappointed with it. Bette Davis is the black sheep in her wealthy family as she is mixed up with a local gang in stolen bonds. She is a feisty, care-free character who doesn't immediately know that she is in over her head. It makes a welcome change to actually see a film made where it is based. San Francisco was used extensively throughout shooting and gives "Fog over Frisco" some added scale. Then again, "Warner Bros" didn't need to have generous budgets in order to make great films. An interesting film but flawed.
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Bette Davis, a wonderful bad sister, taking on more than she can handle.
mark.waltz11 January 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Rising up quickly in the period of one year, Bette Davis appeared in a string of B pictures that showed off her pop eyed versatility. She's involved with men involved in obvious criminal activity, and pays dearly for it, almost dragging her stepsister Margaret Lindsay down with her. Surrounded by a versatile cast of Warner Brothers contract players, top billed Bette gets a surprising exit, and this changes the focus of the story. Bette had played bad girls before, but here, she's as bad as she would be when she was at her worst. That being said, you can see that it was only a matter of time before she hit her stride, and that came the same year on a loan out and a cockney accent. This for the most part is standard Warners B fare, but Bette makes it a must.
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"This scandal must not become public property".
classicsoncall5 May 2016
Warning: Spoilers
The mark of a good actor (or actress) is how they either gain the viewer's empathy or conversely, elicit one's disgust for their character. In this film, Bette Davis does both, even though she doesn't make it to the end of the picture. Fans who are only familiar with Davis's later film roles might be surprised to see what a looker she was in her very early movies, an observation I've made note of as well regarding contemporaries like Joan Blondell, Angela Lansbury, and Barbara Stanwyck.

The story starts out about a scheme involving securities fraud and turns into a murder mystery about half way through. Arlene Bradford (Davis) fancies herself a high flying society gal but is mixed up with the wrong crowd to the consternation of her father (Arthur Byron) and sister Val (Margaret Lindsay) who looks to her older sibling for inspiration. At just over an hour you would think the story would whiz right by but there's a decent amount of character development along with the set up involving the stolen securities.

Once invested in the story though, a couple of head scratchers did turn up to puzzle this viewer. The first was when we learn that Arlene Bradford was already married to the heel Mayard/Buchard (Douglas Dumbrille) shortly after he throws her over. The difference in their ages was more than noticeable and seemed out of character with the way Davis's role was written. The other was the revelation in the final minutes that butler Thorne (Robert Barrat) was actually a police informant. So how'd he get on the family payroll?
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always great to see the young Bette
blanche-211 March 2016
I love the early Bette Davis films, where no one was quite sure what to do with her. Here she has a showy role, as Arlene Bradford, a high society girl who slums by being involved in a stolen bond racket, using her boyfriend Spencer (Lyle Talbot), who is appalled.

The problem comes when Arlene involves the good sister, Val (Margaret Lindsay), in her plans. Her father (Arthur Byron) becomes even more disgusted than he was before. But there's more trouble to come. One day, Arlene comes home in her car and minutes later leaves in a taxi. She leaves a note and an envelope for her sister and says she may send for it.

This is a fast-moving film sparked by Davis' performance, even though she doesn't have that big a part. I'll be honest and say I'm kind of missing the Hitchcock connection here. I realize the story has a similarity to Psycho, but I didn't really feel this film was done in a Hitchcock style.

Donald Woods plays an earnest newspaper man, and there's a good assembly of supporting players: Douglas Dumbrelle, Alan Hale, William Demarest and Hugh Herbert as Izzy the photographer. Herbert with that odd way of speaking is always funny.

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Now everyone razz
darbski9 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Movie's great. Bette Davis is totally lost on me; I've never appreciated what others thought was such greatness. Looks? You're kidding, right? She fits in this role, though. Snotty, spoiled, mouthy, self interested only and morally bankrupt. The real beauty is Margaret Lindsay, as well as the fact that she was as good an actress as Davis, and didn't need the grooming and praise.
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