Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Hello Frisco, Hello (1943)

Blue-eyed, blonde-haired Alice Faye was made for Technicolor, and she never looked lovelier on screen than she did in HELLO FRISCO, HELLO.

This turn-of-the-century musical doesn't have a particularly exciting plot, but the dazzling Fox color alone makes it worth watching. The Oscar-nominated color cinematography shows off Faye in Helen Rose's beautiful costumes to perfection. Add in Harry Warren and Mack Gordon's Oscar-winning song "You'll Never Know," which is sung by Faye several times during the course of the film, and it's a pleasant viewing experience.

The story concerns a Barbary Coast singer, Trudy Evans (Faye), who's in love with musical hall owner John Cornell (John Payne). John, unfortunately, aspires to mix with the Nob Hill set, and he ignores Trudy's obvious love in order to marry socialite Bernice Croft (the always-interesting Lynn Bari). Trudy leaves San Francisco and becomes a big star in London, but still pines for John...

It's actually a bit hard to understand what Trudy sees in John, as John thinks first and foremost about John throughout most of the film. He may work hard to climb the ladder of success, but he's not always very nice about it, and he's often blind to the feelings of those who care about him, including not only Trudy, but his longtime performing partners (Jack Oakie and June Havoc). Payne doesn't manage to bring any likeable shadings to his character, but fortunately Faye's Trudy is worth rooting for.

Though I admire his offscreen philanthropy, I usually find Jack Oakie hard to take on screen. However, Oakie gives a pleasantly low-key performance in this film, which was a nice surprise. He is well matched by June Havoc (real-life sister of Gypsy Rose Lee) as his longtime theatrical partner. Havoc also looks very pretty in Technicolor, and she and Oakie provide the lead performers with solid support.

The supporting cast includes Laird Cregar, Ward Bond, Mary Field, Aubrey Mather, and John Archer.

One of the more interesting musical numbers in the film is performed by a cast on roller skates!

HELLO FRISCO, HELLO was directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. It runs 99 minutes.

Charles G. Clarke and Allen M. Davey shared an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography.

This was the first screen credit for costume designer Helen Rose, who did a couple of films at Fox before moving on to her long-term tenure at MGM. Rose was nominated for 10 Oscars over the course of her career, winning for THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952) and I'LL CRY TOMORROW (1955).

HELLO FRISCO, HELLO is available on DVD as a single-title release or as part of the 5-film Alice Faye Collection, Volume 2. A card at the start of the film says the movie has been brought to DVD from the best surviving material available; despite the disclaimer implying the movie might not look as good as desired, I thought it was an excellent print.

This film has also had a VHS release.

It's possible that the movie will show up in the future on cable's Fox Movie Channel.

No other studio had Technicolor which looked quite like Fox's in the early '40s...start by taking a close look at the rich red, yellow, and blue opening credits. HELLO FRISCO, HELLO may only be moderately entertaining storywise, but it's a superb example of Fox color at its peak, and it's a "must see" for fans of lovely Alice Faye.


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