Frisco Kid (1935) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
14 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Vigilante Justice
bkoganbing17 July 2006
For James Cagney's second costume picture and first in a 19th century setting, Warner Brothers took him to San Francisco's Barbary Coast for the Frisco Kid. Cagney's first costume role was in the all star production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Unfortunately in production values it was lost in the acclaim for the more expensive Sam Goldwyn production The Barbary Coast. Personally though I think this film is better.

Cagney is fresh off a sealing ship in for his first visit to San Francisco and nearly gets shanghaied for another long voyage. Kindly Jewish tailor George E. Stone rescues him and when Cagney kills Fred Kohler, the man who is in charge of the San Francisco shanghai racket, in a bar room brawl he gains a certain celebrity status.

But no matter how far he rises in power on the Barbary Coast, Cagney can't get the woman of his dreams, society gal Margaret Lindsay. And the battle lines are getting drawn in San Francisco, isolated as it is from the rest of America pre-occupied with slavery and the Civil War.

Director Lloyd Bacon had a sure feel for the mood and look of Gold Rush San Francisco. Besides those mentioned, you'll see some good performances from Donald Woods, Lili Damita, Barton MacLane, and most of all Ricardo Cortez. His death scene and attitude towards the vigilante mob is may be the highlight of the film.

Warner Brothers more than most of the other major studios liked to recycle plots and situations. I think if one watches Frisco Kid, one will see elements of The Oklahoma Kid and The Roaring Twenties.

And those are two pretty good Cagney films also.
10 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Cagney rises above rather mediocre material
AlsExGal29 December 2012
This film starts out rather implausibly. Sailor Bat Morgan (James Cagney) wanders into a Barbary Coast saloon and almost gets shanghaied by a trio dedicated to that business. He does manage to escape and is helped by a kindly Jewish tailor (George E. Stone as Sully Green). What's rather implausible is that Sully basically has to teach a sailor that has docked in the port of San Francisco what shanghaiing is and that the Barbary Coast is dangerous. Really? A seasoned sailor docking in San Francisco has never heard of the Barbary Coast or shanghaiing or why it is profitable for criminals? You'd think Bat Morgan was a common tourist from the Midwest with a defective GPS. What happens next was a little off-putting for a Cagney fan like myself. Naturally, Cagney's character decides to go back to the bar and teach those three thugs a lesson. How he did it left a bad taste in my mouth. Bat shanghais the shanghai-er as he is getting ready to take yet another unconscious victim to a ship. But he also shanghais the poor unconscious slob that was just a victim like he had been a couple of hours ago! Now I'm prepared to see Cagney's character rough up and victimize fellow bad guys in a film, but he usually shied away from making victims of innocent bystanders.

At this point the film makes a distinctive turn from where it's been going the first 15 or 20 minutes and becomes less surprising and more of a conventional action picture. Bat Morgan - who never goes back to his ship - begins to make his fortune on the Barbary Coast by more conventional methods. At first he works for Barbary Coast saloon proprietor Paul Morra (Ricardo Cortez), then he works his way up by enlarging the take of corrupt San Francisco officials, and uses his part of the pot to build an upscale establishment on the Barbary Coast himself.

Meanwhile, the beautiful owner of a newspaper dedicated to wiping out corruption (Margaret Lindsay as Jean) enlists an editor to help her in her goal of cleaning up The Coast and outing the corrupt officials that protect it. Donald Woods plays the honest editor she hired who never has a chance with Jean once Cagney's Bat Morgan gets a look at her and starts batting his baby blues. So here you have a corrupt guy and a beautiful classy girl dedicated to wiping out corruption falling in love. Rather predictable complications ensue.

High points of this production are, most obviously James Cagney, George E. Stone in an endearing role as Cagney's mild mannered and loyal friend the tailor, and Fred Kohler in a minor role as the aptly named Shanghai Duck who looks like he hasn't bathed in a month of Sundays. Ricardo Cortez gives an overly restrained performance as Barbary Coast big shot Paul Morra, and Lili Damata is wasted here as his wife. Unexpected is the viewpoint that a mob on horseback is lawlessness, but a mob sitting down in a large room is an acceptable form of government, and that common criminals going to the opera is an unspeakable breach of etiquette. Watch the film to see what I'm talking about.

This one is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, largely made so because studios had to turn to period pieces like this one immediately after the production code took effect in order to blunt the interference from the censors without really knowing what to do with the material.
7 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Frisky Frisco
Lejink3 March 2011
Terrible title for a watchable Cagney vehicle, which seems like so many of his early films, to move at breakneck speed. Like so many of his major roles, there's a duality at play, with his Bat Morgan character initially winning viewer sympathy by fighting back against bullying gangsters in San Francisco's notorious "Barbary Coast" quarter and loyally looking out for his Jewish sidekick, only to be seduced by the lure of power and money to rise to the top of the greasy pole by being bigger and badder than the competition and getting on-side with the corrupt big-time politician Big Jim Daley.

There's love interest too in the prim and proper person of Margaret Lindsay the managing editor of the crusading local paper, whose handsome daily editor Donald Woods serves as uneasy ally, love rival and straight-and-narrow example to Cagney, before invoking one of a series of murdered decent citizens which causes the law-abiding majority to turn to vigilantism in a literally riotous finish with Cagney naturally rejecting the dark-side and even getting the girl.

How true the story here is to the growing pains of the real San Francisco, will have to wait until my next visit to the reference library, but the story suffers from Cagney's character whose rise and fall and rise again is too unlikely to seem credible. You feel a better, more straight-forward film would have concentrated on the zealous editor's story rather than Cagney's flawed hero. There also seem to be just too many characters, incidents and plot developments telescoped into the film's short playing time which the editing can't bring together coherently.

For once I couldn't believe enough in Cagney's character and felt he gives an untypically mixed performance, although the problem here could be in the writing. Better are Lindsay as the posh proprietor who unconvincingly crosses the tracks for Cagney and Woods as the socially conscious but doomed editor Ford. The mob-scene finale calls for the marshaling of large crowds of actors which is accomplished believably and effectively, but in the end, the all-loose-ends-tied up optimistic ending let's down the preceding drama.

For me this was a welcome chance to see the young Cagney in a rarely-screened film. To be fair it's just too fast-paced to really hang together though, better roles, better written and to be honest, better acted, lay ahead for him.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Unsaintly San Francisco
Rindiana20 December 2009
Mediocre Warner Bros. period piece which goes off to a good start, but is hampered by a predictable narrative, an unfocused storyline and a lack of exciting moments, not to mention Jimmy's terrible hairdo in the later stages.

The picturesque Barbary Coast setting is a plus, though, and this one's the first movie I've seen, that features a lynch mob whose anger you actually understand (though the people are portrayed just as sheepishly dumb as always.)

Not Cagney's best hour, to be sure.

5 out of 10 hooked hands
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Cagney in S.F.
Michael_Elliott25 February 2008
Frisco Kid (1935)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

The Barbary Coast in San Francisco is the setting in this story of Bat Morgan (James Cagney), the man who would become the countries first racketeer. This is a decent little film but there's not enough energy to keep things moving as well as it should. Cagney, with a funky little haircut, is in good form but this is certainly not one of his greatest roles. The supporting cast is in good form and includes Margaret Lindsay, Ricardo Cortez, Donald Woods and George E. Stone. Cortez steals the show as the top guy in town but Stone adds some very good comic relief as Cagney's buddy. The highlight of the film is a terrific fight sequence between Cagney and a large man with a hook for a hand. The final twenty minutes deal with the city getting tired of the thugs and deciding to take the law into its own hands. We get another mob scene where they want to hang the bad men and this here is where the film should have taken off but things stay pretty bland and never get too exciting.
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Cagney in San Francisco
wes-connors30 November 2014
In 1854 San Francisco, rowdy sailor James Cagney (as Bat Morgan) is almost shanghaied to China. Rescued by affectionate tailor George E. Stone (as Solomon "Solly" Green), Mr. Cagney is inspired to open a successful saloon on the Barbary Coast. Frisco lives up to its reputation as "the wickedest city in the world," with gangster types like Ricardo Cortez (as Paul Morra) operating in vice. Cagney caters to a more "swell" crowd and becomes chummy with both underworld and high society types. The mixture initially makes money, but politics and murder threaten Cagney's newfound fortune...

Director Lloyd Bacon and the crew do a good job in capturing and contrasting the various character types, especially in the opera setting. At the story's center, Cagney in introduced as a ruffian who becomes a well-dressed dandy. Resembling a young Liberace, the star manages to look both dapper and uncomfortable, in a series of flashy suits and extra tall top hats. It works for Cagney's tailor-made character...

There is an interesting hint at a romantic interest between Cagney and Mr. Stone. Just when you think you're reading too much into it, Mr. Bacon or one of the actors leads you astray. The two are very "hands on" throughout, even when Stone is ironing pants. Their last scene together has Cagney giving attractive newspaperwoman Margaret Lindsay (as Jean Barrat) a knowing look as he gives Stone an extra, more personal squeeze. In this scene, it seems like the baton is being passed to Ms. Lindsay. Apart from the subtleties and double takes, "Frisco kid" is ordinary but satisfying.

****** Frisco Kid (11/30/35) Lloyd Bacon ~ James Cagney, Margaret Lindsay, George E. Stone, Ricardo Cortez
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A weaker Cagney vehicle
jjnxn-118 November 2014
It seems odd this drama from Cagney's main star period would be obscure until you watch it.

Cagney is dynamic as ever but those two cinematic black holes Margaret Lindsay and Donald Woods stop the film dead in its tracks whenever they appear in a scene.

Lindsay, who Warners tried their damnedest to make into a star, is stiff and affected in the female lead. Her scenes with Cagney become more an interesting example of star quality and naturalism versus posturing for the camera than believable love scenes. In their close-ups he is animated and alive and she seems to be waiting for him to finish talking so she can flatly deliver her lines.

Woods is even worse but his role is smaller so he is less irksome but when he's not on screen you don't miss him.

As far as the film's storyline it's standard stuff about the clash between the Barbary Coast and Nob Hill society. If you're a Cagney fan it's worth checking out but one viewing will probably be enough.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Well worth watching
loza-14 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This is not the best film ever made; but, like the curate's egg, it is good in parts.

The scene is set not in the wild west but in the early 19th century Barbary Coast of San Francisco. Bat Morgan is a sailor who has just come off his ship but is shanghaied by a gang led by the hook-for-hand villain the Shanghai Duck. He escapes, kills the Shanghai Duck in a fierce fight, starts working for a local shark named Morra. Hethen works himself up to be a local big-shot. he gets involved in a murder in an opera house by using his influence to get Morra the murderer out of jail. Tired of the lawlessness, local lynch mobs are formed. Morra is hanged but Bat Morgan gets a last minute reprieve, after the intercession of his newspaper-owner girlfriend.

The plot is patchy and gets silly towards the end, but is rescued by tight direction, catchy background music, and some pretty good performances by some of the cast. Although in my opinion Margaret Lyndsay is not up to much as the newspaper owner, and Damita has very little to do as Morra's live-in girlfriend, Cagney gives his usual 500 per cent in the leading role. The biggest surprise is Ricardo Cortez, once regarded as a Valentino lookalike in the silent films: he makes a superb villain. The fight to the finish with the Shanghai Duck has just got to be Cagney's greatest screen fight.

Very watchable.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Cagney and Lindsay again paired
jonerogers13 January 2019
The classics from the 30's, 40's and 50's are just so good, everyone has a story and they survive without the need for CGI or fast cars. This print is a neat little one with the pairing once again of James Cagney and Margaret Lindsay, a cute couple and they interact well, not as well as Cagney and Joan Blondell but well enough.

In the opening scenes we see Bat Morgan (Cagney) taking a nice break from a ship as a sailor in a bar, the bar is a seedy, dingy, smoggy place and hanging around in there is a group of undesirables who Shanghai unsuspecting men, this is a well known way of gaining ship hands back in that time. A man would be knocked unconscious and placed on a ship and when he awoke was forced to work till the ship docked again. They manage to get Bat Morgan onto a small boat but he awakes and escapes and turns tables on them and sells two of them to a ship.

He gains work in a large bar/casino on the Barbary Coast and sees how its run and decides to raise some revenue and invests with the help of the community into several places and runs them above the law and not in the gutter.

During this time many are jealous and things take a turn for the worse, many in the posh side away from the Barbary coast are dead set against them all as they are the 'lower class' in their eyes. and so trouble comes and when a judge is shot dead the town rises in a vigilante group and are out to catch those responsible and punish will it all end?

of course Cagney nets the Gal, The lovely Margaret Lindsey and although she plays a smaller part she is there through the film.

its a great film and entertaining enough for me. learning about the Shanghai business for me, when i watch a film i research what i see and its usually informative of the times.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
More Story Than Runtime
dougdoepke28 July 2017
I doubt that any other film of the time had as many boisterous crowd or mob scenes as this one. So Cagney better be a human dynamo or he'll be overwhelmed by sheer numbers, whether it's crowds in big watering holes or lynch mobs hurtling down streets. It's Gold Rush Frisco of the 1850's. On the low end of town is the Barbary Coast, about as sinful and noisy as waterfronts get. On the high end of town are the swells and well-dressed folks, and by golly, never the twains shall meet. That is, until Cagney's ambitious low-born Bat Morgan schemes his way into both worlds and criminally networks them. Seems he's good at everything, except winning the hand of the classy Miss Barrat (Lindsey) who won't buck the social distance lying between them. So what will happen once his contrived empire starts to sprout holes.

The flick's typical WB from the period—fast, tough, and not too sentimental. Cagney's Cagney, a pint-sized dynamo if ever there was one. He's about as dominating a character as Hollywood has had and perfect for the part. The plot-line itself is not too plausible, but the spectacle does compensate. I wish more time was spent on the details of Bat's scheming and social climbing. After all, that was Cagney's movie appeal-- his lower class drive against all odds.

On the other hand, catch Ricardo Cortez as the one truly slick crook of the bunch. But what about Solly's (Stone) relationship with the domineering Bat. They're buddies, sure, but catch Solly's expressions when the two get close to one another. Too bad about the facile ending which is typical Hollywood of the Code period. Had the movie been made a pre-Code two years earlier, I wonder if the ending would have been the same.

All in all, the storyline is pretty disjointed, really needing a longer runtime for its networking and class themes to develop. There's also the anti-lynching element that doesn't really grieve— after all, the victims are hardly innocent. However, it's really crowd atmospherics and Cagney, that's worth catching up with. Anyway, I expect every extra in Hollywood got a welcome WB payday, along with a chance to shout their lungs out.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Where's an earthquake when you really need one?
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre15 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
'Frisco Kid' was made at Warner Brothers, the studio that most ruthlessly ripped off and recycled its own scripts in thinly-disguised remakes. This movie re-uses elements from 'Barbary Coast', another (and better) Warners film made the same year! The barroom brawl in 'Frisco Kid' seems to be inspired by the climax of Rex Beach's popular novel 'The Spoilers', which had been filmed before 'Frisco Kid' and would be remade afterwards.

James Cagney - always dynamic onscreen, yet not quite at the top of his form here - stars as Bat Morgan, a hustler who came west during the gold rush of 1849 and now finds himself a year later in San Francisco's notorious Barbary Coast. (Which got its name due to the lawlessness that prevailed: a reference to the real Barbary coast, which was controlled by pirates.) Morgan proves his mettle early on, in a spirited brawl with press-gangman Shanghai Duck, who has a hook for a right hand. We find out just how tough this community is when Ricardo Cortez gets killed by a lynch mob due to a misunderstanding.

Morgan soon sets himself up as proprietor of a Barbary Coast saloon with a crooked casino. He makes deals with the local politicians, offering them a share of the profits from his prostitution and gambling businesses to avoid being raided or arrested. (I found this absolutely plausible; the San Francisco city government was notoriously corrupt, from Gold Rush days right until the 1906 earthquake.) He also befriends Jean Barrat, the lady owner of the local newspaper. This is one of those movies in which the virtuous heroine is attracted to a crooked hero, fully aware that he's crooked, and we're expected to approve because the crook is such a charming guy. The newspaperwoman is played by dull unattractive Margaret Lindsay, so the romantic subplot of this movie isn't worth much.

Eventually, Judge Crawford - the only honest man in town - gets murdered, and the mob mistakenly decide that Bat Morgan is guilty. This whips them into a lynch-mob frenzy. Why the San Franciscans should be provoked to lynch-law over this particular crime - while ignoring so many other crimes in this movie - is never made very clear. We're meant to sympathise with Bat Morgan, who is genuinely innocent of Crawford's murder, even though we know he's guilty of many other crimes.

In 1935, when 'Frisco Kid' was made, lynching was a real and widespread problem in the United States. The tendency of white mobs to lynch black victims is well known, but at this time plenty of white victims were lynched too. (The makers of this movie were probably more concerned about the white victims than the black ones.) 'Fury', an anti-lynching movie made at MGM at this same time, is a much better film addressing the same problem. The torchlight climax of 'Frisco Kid' degenerates into a bathetic payoff that's clearly intended to mollify the critics and the moral guardians.

As is usual for Warners in the thirties, there's a fine assortment of supporting players on offer here. Barton MacLane is hissable as Spider Burke, little George E Stone is touching, and the woefully underrated actor John Wray is splendid as an underworld character named Weasel. (John Wray played another underworld character named Weasel in 'Boys Town': he had a talent for rodent-like roles.) Charles Middleton, Walter Long and Wilfred Lucas are onscreen just briefly enough to disappoint their fans. (Does Wilfred Lucas have any fans?) 'Frisco Kid' was made at the beginning of the Warner studio's greatest period - and at the beginning of the greatest phase of James Cagney's career - but it's neither first-rate Warners nor first-rate Cagney. I'll rate this movie 5 out of 10.
3 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
"The only thing you'll get for helping others is a kick in the face."
utgard1419 November 2014
Middling Warner Bros. costumer has James Cagney playing a sailor who narrowly escapes being shanghaied. He gets revenge fairly quickly. Then we have a typical "small-time hood climbs the ranks of the criminal underworld" plot that was used in so many WB gangster pictures, quite a few of which starred Cagney.

Cagney's fine in an unchallenging role. George E. Stone is good as Cagney's Jewish tailor friend. Ricardo Cortez is the criminal saloon owner who gives Cagney his start. Margaret Lindsay is pretty and likable enough in a bland part as the good girl corrupt Cagney wants to go straight for. Her father was a crusading newspaper editor killed for standing up to the bad guys. Like I said, this feels like WB took a script from one of their gangster movies, changed the setting, and passed it off as a period drama. The problem with that is those gangster pictures weren't good because of their formulaic plots. They were good because of the snappy dialogue, fun characters, and urban flavor of the 1930s. That's missing here, which makes for a rather dull movie. The last quarter of the movie, including the lynching stuff, is the most exciting part. The tacked-on happy ending stinks.
1 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
"... he who digs a grave for somebody else, usually falls in himself."
classicsoncall7 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
With most of James Cagney's early films, his character portrayal is generally a bit flamboyant, even over the top at times. In "Frisco Kid", it appears that Cagney found a way to take command of his role with some reserve, as his character rises from itinerant sailor to one of the most powerful men in San Francisco of the mid-1850's. He does it with both his fists and his charm, and at times it's easy to overlook the fact that he's the main villain in the story.

The setting is the three block section of San Francisco known as the Barbary Coast at a time when the proper citizenry is just about fed up with the way the local underworld bosses rule their corner of the city. Early in the picture it appears that Bat Morgan (Cagney) might actually convert to the good guy side when he first meets Jean Barrat (Margaret Lindsay), managing editor of the San Francisco Tribune. But it becomes clear enough that they live on opposite sides of the tracks, even as Morgan's interest in Barrat becomes more than social.

What makes the picture a bit troublesome for me is the lack of accounting for the story's chronology. While Morgan states that he'll build the biggest and most lavish gambling house in San Francisco, it seems like the 'Bella Pacific' virtually appears in the very next scene. His rise to the top of the Barbary underworld also seems like it happened overnight. Granted, the events are compressed for the sake of the story, but it's hard to imagine how all of a sudden, a sailor takes over an entire town just because he set his mind to it. One might also wonder why he hadn't done something more on a grand scale before arriving in San Francisco, but then I guess there wouldn't have been a movie.

There were some interesting casting decisions made for the film, particularly Ricardo Cortez as the suave but menacing saloon owner Paul Morra. Barton MacLane appears as a roughneck named Spider Burke, and George E. Stone is effective as Morgan's best friend Solly Green. It was also cool to see a number of character actors that one usually finds in the era's Western pictures, like Addison Richards, Joe King and Fred Kohler.

The one thing that struck me some time into the picture had to do with the story taking place in 1854. I had to keep reminding myself that it was still a few years before the outbreak of the Civil War, with no context in the story as to what was taking place in the rest of the country. It was just a bit disorienting, especially when most of the scenes played out like they would have been from the latter part of the century.
1 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
pretty odd but watchable and formulaic
MartinHafer19 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
In some ways, this film is VERY typical of Cagney's films for Warner Brothers in the 1930s--featuring Cagney as a pugnacious and power-driven guy who manages to make it to the top--we've certainly seen all this before! And, along with this character, the production values are very high and the film is quite entertaining. However, at the same time, the film is a bit unusual because the character Cagney plays isn't purely larcenous and mid-way through the film he starts to change his stripes and goes from bad guy to good guy! And, the ending is one of the strangest of the era! Cagney arrives in the Barbary Coast portion of San Francisco in the 1850s--after the Gold Rush has begun and it's in full swing. Cagney is almost shanghaied when the film starts but because he is the hero, he wakes up in time and escapes. Seeing the evil of the town, he decides "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em,...or maybe organize them into a union of sorts". And, very quickly he goes from newbie to boss of the underbelly of society. But, the good people of San Francisco are tired of the sleaze and corrupt government so they resort to the great bastion of freedom and decency--mob rule complete with executions! At least that's the message I seemed to get from the film. Since Cagney sees the light just in time, he tries his best to stop the corruption before the crowds exact vengeance, but for most it's too late. When the mob does assume control, everyone not executed seems pretty happy and the film ends! ODD, ODD, ODD!!!
1 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed