Fog Over Frisco (1934)

  • Directed by William Dieterle.
  • The movie opens with a guy in a raincoat dropping off about $250,000 of stolen bonds to the owner of Bello’s nightclub. Very shady.
  • Arlene (Bette Davis) apparently used to hang out at Bello’s all the time & everyone (the band, bartenders, reporters who are fixtures there – everyone) knows her, quite well. Tonight’s her first night back in awhile, though – because she recently got engaged to non-Bello’s-regular Lyle Talbot (his character’s name is Spencer Carleton).
  • Jake (Bello, the owner of this establishment) (played by Irving Pichel) tells Arlene her car is blocking someone else’s, & asks for her keys so he can move it for her – except really he just wants to move the stolen bonds out of the club & into a new hiding spot. Tricky, tricky.
  • Okay – Arlene is apparently in on the scam.
  • A quite young-looking Alan Hale plays Chief O’Malley, the guy tasked with tracking down the stolen bonds & securities.
  • Meanwhile, Margaret Lindsay plays Arlene’s step-sister (Arthur Bradford’s only real daughter – Arlene is only his by marriage) Val, who after roughly 10 minutes at Bello’s that one night, appears to be wildly infatuated by a guy (a reporter) named Tony (Donald Woods).
  • Papa Bradford (Arthur Byron) is not pleased by the headline in the society section of the next morning’s paper:

“NIGHT CLUB QUEEN RESUMES SWAY: Arlene Bradford Last Evening Introduced Her Sister, Valkyr, to Night Club Life Where She Has Long Ruled.”

First – the headline could have been way worse…so I don’t think Papa Bradford has much to be upset about, and

Second…”Valkyr“??? The sister’s name is Valkyr? What the fuck kind of name is Valkyr?!

  • Ha! Arlene takes the stolen bonds to Carleton (aka “Spence”) & is so proud of what she’s got – she practically sings the news to him.
  • Carleton, on the other hand, is less than enthusiastic. He’s like, ‘Babyyyy – you said you were done smuggling stolen bonds! I just finished getting rid of the last ones!’

Arlene’s response? ‘But stealing them is SUCH a thrill! I love it more than you, obviously.’

(Okay, she doesn’t say that, but that’s what we all ascertain from the scene.)

  • Our suspicions are correct – back at home, Arlene receives a telegram & phone call from an unidentified man with a deep voice, who Arlene refers to as “Darling” and with whom she makes a date at Bello’s, at 10:30 that night.
  • Thorne (Robert Barrat), the Bradfords’ butler, eavesdropped on the phone call & tries to snoopily read the dropped telegram. He seems to do this sort of thing rather habitually.
  • Meanwhile – Arlene sends her big-ass engagement ring back to Carleton in an envelope. (This is like…an hour, max, after she made out with him in his office & asked him to help her smuggle her new set of stolen loot.)

This movie is moving like lightning!

  • Somehow, the Board of Directors at the Bradford Company has found out about the stolen bonds – and know Carleton (and therefore Arlene) is involved. Papa Bradford tells Carleton that he doesn’t want to press charges against him, because he (Papa Bradford) hates Arlene & thinks the whole mess is her fault entirely.
  • Turns out Arlene’s mystery man is a (completely trusted) member of the Board of Directors – a guy named Mayard (Douglass Dumbrille). He is somehow involved in this bonds racket, except only Arlene knows this to be the case. She’s ready to run away wth him to “the Islands” – but apparently Mayard has, since last they spoke, fallen out of love with her and is no longer interested in this scenario. Arlene is upset about this & slaps him, before storming out of Bello’s. I do not understand their relationship at all.
  • Val’s dog looks like Asta. But here, his name is Rags. (Edit: Apparently the dogs look similar because they are the same dog. I feel very proud, in this moment!)
  • Whoa. So…Arlene goes missing, & Val is very concerned that something bad has happened to her. Papa Bradford muses, “Oh, if only that were true” (in other words: he really doesn’t give a shit).
  • Val spends all day trying to track Arlene down…only to have Tony (that reporter she’s dotty for, remember?) & his news photographer cohort Izzy (Hugh Herbert) discover a dead Arlene in the trunk of her own car – which, yes, Val has been driving around all day.

Gruesome!

  • The way the “Finding Arlene” scene is orchestrated is great – with Izzy suddenly noticing the small square of checkered fabric sticking out, and he & Tony pausing before opening the trunk, as though they both already know what they’ll find. These things happen after Val has chased Izzy around the garage in attempt to snag his camera – their movement essentially serving to draw circles around the car in question. It’s pretty excellently done.
  • Because of some combination of being scared to be the one to tell Val her BFF sister is dead, and wanting his paper (“The Journal”) to have the scoop on the story – Tony does not tell Val that they’ve…uh…discovered Arlene’s fate, when she comes back downstairs.

It’s kind of a shit thing to do. ‘Cause like…first of all, she’s your semi-girlfriend, and second of all, you know she’ll see your name next to the story in the paper later, but….whatever! You do what you need to, T. Sterling!

  • Except then you realize how poor of a choice that was – because Val receives a telegram from “Arlene” that reads:

“Dear Val, I’m in trouble and want to come home. Bring my car and that envelope I gave you as soon as you can to the end of the Butcher Town Bridge. Come alone. Love, Arlene.”

And since Val doesn’t know that Arlene is dead in the trunk of her car, guess what she does! Go to the goddamn Butcher Town Bridge!

(If ever a place existed that’s name gave you a bad feeling – it’s for sure “Butcher Town Bridge.” No joyous celebrations or events are ever happening at Butcher Town Bridge – of that we can be certain! Can you imagine the invitation “Come to my kid’s 3rd birthday party! Location: Butcher Town Bridge!”? I mean…come on.)

  • Luckily, T. Sterling snags the telegram, & him & about 50 other people speed off to Butcher Town in pursuit of Val (& her Arlene imposter).
  • When Val arrives at Butcher Town – Jake & the shady crew from Bello’s is there to greet her. They flee in a motor boat – but have to take Val with them, because they see the cops coming & Val would be able to ID them all.
  • Oh, lord…Carleton appears to have suicided himself over Arlene (not over her murder – I don’t think he knew about that – but over their broken engagement). Poor kid!
  • Alan Hale’s team of detectives go to question the (remaining) guys at Bello’s. AH’s crew is like, ‘Where’s Jake?’ and the guy left in charge tells them he’s not around – “He left for Sacramento last night.”

Uh huh. Sure. Whatever you say, Shady Bar Man. (Never trust the Shady Bar Man, Alan Hale – you should know this by now!)

  • Oooooh! Thorne is actually a special agent placed by Hale in the Bradford household to gather information on the securities racket! No wonder he was always snooping!
  • Izzy & T. Sterling track down a yacht believed to be Mr. Burchard’s (Burchard = Mayard’s alias) – and at first glance, they think they’ve found the wrong one – because the boat they’re looking for is called the “NH SIMON,” and the one they find is called “NO WISHN”…BUT it turns out that those letters are reversible/reflectable – and they’re one in the same!!!
  • Turns out Jake, Arlene, & Mayard/Burchard were all involved in the stolen bonds scheme, & essentially battling it out for the largest share of profits.
  • When confronted with the evidence, Mayard/Burchard tries to flee (on foot) & a policeman shoots him dead. Boohoo. (Except not really, because he was a shade-ster, & he almost definitely deserved to bite it. No boohoos necessary.)
  • In conclusion, T. Sterling & Valkyr decide to get married, and Thorne resigns as butler, and things are (mostly) right with the world again. Hooray!
  • Tightly crafted movie. I liked it. Super fast pace (all of this happened in an hour and 8 minutes) – but with this type of story, that served it well. No knockout acting performances (Bette Davis was killed off pretty early on), but everyone was pretty solid in their roles.
  • Recommended – especially based on how short it was. No huge time commitment – and pretty decent payoff!
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