Sunday, November 12, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Hell on Frisco Bay (1955) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Alan Ladd and Edward G. Robinson star in HELL ON FRISCO BAY (1955), just released on DVD and Blu-ray for the very first time by the Warner Archive.

Ladd, who also produced, plays Steve Rollins, an ex-cop freed after five years in San Quentin, framed for a crime he didn't commit.

Steve heads home to San Francisco, determined to get to the bottom of the setup, and all roads lead to the very violent new wharf boss Vic Amato (Robinson).

A number of characters circle around this main storyline: Steve's nightclub singer wife Marcia (Joanne Dru), who can't live down having had an ill-fated romance with another man three years into Steve's stint in prison; Steve's former partner Dan (William Demarest), who's always got his back; Amato's hit man Joe (Paul Stewart), a man scarred physically and mentally, who's in love with a former movie star (Fay Wray); and Detective Connors (Peter Hansen), a crooked cop who does Amato's bidding.

Nice surprises pop up, too: That's Jayne Mansfield dancing with Vic's ill-fated nephew Mario (Perry Lopez), and one Rodney Taylor makes a charismatic impression as another Amato thug. I might have let out a pleased yelp when his face popped up! He's only got a few minutes onscreen but he's terrific.

The plot is fairly familiar, and certain aspects which should tug at our emotions, like the broken-hearted tension simmering between Steve and Marcia, are somewhat perfunctory, rather than anything deeply romantic. Ladd typically played button-down types, with emotions just beneath the surface, and that's the type of character he plays here, but stronger character shadings would have been welcome.

Nonetheless, it's hard to imagine I wouldn't enjoy an Alan Ladd movie, as he's a great favorite of mine, and this one worked for me as a solid, well-paced crime film filled with familiar faces. I enjoyed it quite well and would definitely watch it again.

Robinson is extremely slimy in this one, playing a man who doesn't think twice about knocking off his own relatives. In some respects the movie isn't far removed from the type of gangster films he made at Warner Bros. in the '30s; Ladd's role could have been played by Cagney or Bogart.

Joanne Dru is elegantly gowned as she sings standards in a very attractive nightclub. This is perhaps a good spot to mention the film has excellent set design, including the Early American decor of Dru's apartment and the red-tiled bathroom where Ladd persuades someone to spill some info.

The most interesting, nuanced performances are by Stewart and Wray. Stewart, traumatized by time spent on Death Row, thinks he's found happiness in the person of Kay (Wray), but it's not likely anyone who works for Amato and goes around killing people for no good reason is going to have a happy ending.

Peter Hansen, who died this year at the age of 95, had worked with Ladd in his very first film, BRANDED (1950). As a producer Ladd also put Hansen in DRUM BEAT (1954), A CRY IN THE NIGHT (1956), and THE DEEP SIX (1958).

HELL ON FRISCO BAY was directed by Frank Tuttle. It runs 98 minutes. The supporting cast includes Anthony Caruso, Mae Marsh, Renata Vanni, Tina Carver, George J. Lewis, Stanley Adams, Willis Bouchey, Nestor Paiva, and Herb Vigran.

HELL ON FRISCO BAY is helped considerably by attractive shooting on location in San Francisco by John F. Seitz. Unfortunately there are also a number of obvious process shots and back projections, but I guess you can't have it all; the location scenes which are there lend quite a bit of atmosphere.

With the exception of some shots with too much grain, the Warner Archive Blu-ray nicely shows off this film's attractive CinemaScope and WarnerColor filming. It should please Ladd fans -- I'm certainly one -- and those who enjoy crime films.

The lone extra is the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Bill O said...

Frank Tuttle Started Ladd's starring career with This Gun For Hire. And presumably created Ladd's persona. Dunno why Ladd's heirs, or whoever controls the film, kept it off the market for so long.Money, maybe.

1:50 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I remember seeing this as a teen and it made a strong impression, but I haven't seen it since and your review has intrigued me.

5:17 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Wonderful review Laura I gave this a second watch this weekend.
I pretty much agree with everything that you say and totally agree regarding
the rear projection process shots which look weak in contrast with the excellent
location work.With CinemaScope these process shots become glaringly obvious.
Thanks for the info on Peter Hanson,I intended to look him up as I was wondering
about the actor who played the corrupt cop.
I love the bit where Fay calls Edward G a "peasant"
Ladd always found work for his buddy Tony Caruso.
Frank Tuttle an old associate of Ladd's got into trouble with the witch hunts and
was pretty much unemployable but Ladd used him on not only "Frisco Bay" but also
the two non Ladd Jaguar productions ISLAND OF LOST WOMEN and A CRY IN THE NIGHT.
Alan Ladd always did right by his friends.
A lovely transfer from Warner Archive and one which I look forward to watching
again soon.No classic; but super entertainment especially for Ladd fans of which I
am one

6:11 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Another very rare film, like the Cameron, and another I intend buying soon. One of the few Ladd pictures I have never seen - I am also a fan.
The back-projection was something that marred (to an extent) many films of this period but I always try to move beyond it so as not to spoil enjoyment of the particular film.
Very pleased to have your 'take' here, Laura!

6:59 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Jeepers Jerry!!
You really are on a buying spree!
I am sure you will enjoy MAN WHO DIED TWICE and HELL ON FRISCO BAY.
Your bank balance is to suffer yet more GBH as there are a whole raft of titles
from Hollywood Scrapheap-some tasty Universal titles which I'm sure you have
Euro versions of including the excellent Audie Murphy Billy The Kid Western
The rare titles are however THE FABULOUS TEXAN which hopefully will be the best
looking version yet of this rare film.
Then there is FRONTIER GAMBLER which is a poverty row version of LAURA.
Despite the grade Z production values Coleen Gray is excellent,far better than the
film deserves actually.
Jerry fave Jim Davis is a horrible oaf in this one.
I cannot remember if Laura has reviewed this one but it's worth a look for Coleen.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Hi John,

You've caught me out with Hollywood Scrapheap - I looked there only a few days ago and nothing new but "THE FABULOUS TEXAN" is an absolute MUST. "FRONTIER GAMBLER" too maybe. Yes, the old bank balance will suffer for sure. I am also anxiously awaiting "HIGHWAY DRAGNET".

11:09 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Excellent review-- I've been looking forward to watching this since my big Ladd binge.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

What a wonderful response to this review today, thank you all! Clearly Mr. Ladd has his fans and many of us are excited to have this available for home viewing at long last!

Bill, thank you for mentioning Ladd's history with Frank Tuttle, I had meant to do that and left it out. In addition to THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942), Tuttle directed Ladd in LUCKY JORDAN (1942).

Caftan Woman, I hope you enjoy revisiting it! Nice solidly entertaining film, I have a feeling you'll like it.

Thanks so much, John, for your feedback on watching it. Glad I could share the info on Peter Hansen, who was first known to me as an Emmy-winning actor on the soap opera GENERAL HOSPITAL (a show which utilized some terrific classic era actors over the years including Anna Lee, Jeff Donnell, Harry Carey Jr., and June Lockhart, to name just a few). It is interesting to see names recur time and again in Ladd's films; as you say, Ladd did right by his friends.

Fay Wray didn't have a big part but I felt she really added a lot and gave the film some class and heart. Loved her taking on Robinson.

Jerry, hope you'll enjoy it too! So often I appreciate back projections as relics of their era, but I find it easier to accept them in the '30s than the '50s LOL.

I've got to look into getting FRONTIER GAMBLER from Hollywood Scrapheap...your description has me intrigued, John!

I saw HIGHWAY DRAGNET a few years ago and enjoyed it, especially its atmospheric filming at the Apple Valley Inn and the Salton Sea. Hopefully I'll be able to review the Kino release in due course! Another lesser-known film I'm really glad to see released.

Kristina, I thought of you and your Ladd binge -- let me know what you think of this one! I have a number of Ladd films still in my "to watch" many movies and so little time etc. LOL.

Thanks to you all!!

Best wishes,

8:10 PM  
Blogger john k said...

Another example of Ladd's loyalty to his friends is when (pre Bond) Cubby Broccoli
and Irving Allen (not Irwin the disaster movie king) set up their Warwick Films they
needed a major Hollywood star to get things off the ground.
Alan Ladd made three films for Warwick and part of his contract was that his friend
screenwriter Richard Maibaum be taken on board.
Maibaum not only stayed on board to write several other non Ladd Warwick's but also
joined Broccoli on the Bond films. Maibaum stayed with the series until his passing-
the Timothy Dalton era.
Sadly many great Warwick films are thus far unreleased-my "most wanted Warwick's are as

A PRIZE OF GOLD.............................Richard Widmark
THE MAN INSIDE..............................Jack Palance
NO TIME TO DIE (Tank Force................. Victor Mature
THE BANDIT OF ZHOBE.........................Victor Mature
HIGH FLIGHT.................................Ray Milland
KILLERS OF KILIMANJARO......................Robert Taylor

Sadly none of these films have even had a DVD release,although several Warwick's have been released on Sony's MOD series in very nice looking transfers.

3:30 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura,

I'd love to know what you think of FRONTIER GAMBLER-despite it's no budget it's sort
of intriguing. Yet again Coleen Gray raises the game of grade Z fare-Kent Taylor
is also very good- obviously based on the Clifton Webb character in the original.

3:35 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Hollywood Scrapheap never ceases to amaze me.
They have just announced THE HARD MAN in Widescreen...yet more expense for our Jerry!!
The recent French DVD was 4x3.
I was going to include THE HARD MAN in my "underrated '57" picks over at Brian's but
sadly Brian is not doing '57 this time round.
THE HARD MAN has Guy Madison,never better.
George Sherman's excellent Western has two outstanding sequences-firstly the stark
opening where Madison is forced to kill his buddy Myron Healey during a thunderstorm.
Then there is a wonderful scene where Madison "breaks" swaggering bully boy gunslinger
Rudy Bond.
These "Hard Men" live by a simple credo-when you start to's over!!

3:56 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Yup, John, more expense for Jerry, as you say. "THE HARD MAN" in Widescreen - another MUST!!

7:51 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

That's interesting. I would single out exactly the same two sequences as John Knight for THE HARD MAN (in fact, I did talk about them in a discussion on another blog a few years ago)--memorable direction there by George Sherman and a good example of why I believe he's so underrated. Myron Healey can make an impression even when confined to a single sequence, and the ill-fated friendship hangs effectively over the whole film.

THE HARD MAN is an interesting Western, characteristic in so many ways of '57, and generally lives up to the memorable opening, but Sherman's other Guy Madison Western REPRISAL! is even better--arguably, one of his very best.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Let's hope Hollywood Scrapheap has plans to release "REPRISAL" too. I don't believe any of HS's new releases are available commercially on DVD in the U.S. so it seems to me that Jonathan is doing sterling service for those that want these films. If folks wait for "official" releases of them I fear it will be a long wait!

2:14 PM  
Blogger john k said...

Careful what you wish for Jerry...the Scrapheap has just announced REPRISAL!
I agree with Blake,as good as THE HARD MAN is REPRISAL! is better.
The Scrapheap also have,it seems, a very nice looking version of William Witney's
very fine THE OUTCAST.
As Jerry so aptly puts it The Scrapheap are doing a fine service in supplying titles
ignored by not only the major studios but also the various re-issue imprints.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...


10:23 AM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

A fresh Alan movie!

::runs off to order it::

::returns to read your review::

::remembers I don't read reviews of Alan Ladd movies I haven't watched yet::

I will return when I've watched it :-) Yay! A new Alan Ladd movie for me!

12:41 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks to all for sharing all the great information above while I was buried in work this past week (it's always busy getting work done ahead of a holiday!). John, that's a great story about Richard Maibaum. When we saw THE GREAT GATSBY a few years ago Maibaum's son was there to honor Alan Ladd. (Now there's a movie that desperately needs a DVD release!)

Thanks for keeping us all apprised of the news at Hollywood Scrapheap! I need to visit soon. :) Have never seen either THE HARD MAN or REPRISAL.

Hamlette, your comments made me smile. Hope you enjoy it!!

Best wishes,

11:02 PM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

Um, Alan Ladd's Great Gatsby IS available on DVD. It's a fairly nice print -- I bought it on Amazon and reviewed it here last year.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Oh, very interesting there's a copy available out there, hmmmmm, may have to pick it up. Wish Universal or Criterion would put out a nice authorized copy (preferably with extras!) but until they do...! Thanks! Appreciate the links, I enjoyed your review!

Best wishes,

10:00 AM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

Yeah, it's not exactly a gray-market edition -- I think it was put out in Canada. So not an official Vault Collection sort of movie, but also not just recorded off AMC. Since I got enamored of Alan Ladd about 18 months ago, there have been like six of his movies that were released to DVD that had been previously unavailable, so we can hope for an even better version!

Glad you enjoyed my review :-)

4:47 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Very interesting, thanks for the additional info, Hamlette! Bit by bit Ladd's movies are turning up so we'll cross our fingers.

Best wishes,

10:33 PM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

Okay, I'm back again, having now read your post because I watched Hell on Frisco Bay as a Thanksgiving treat for myself.

Not gonna lie and say this is my new favorite Alan Ladd movie, but I was happily surprised by how solid it was! It's one I will definitely be rewatching. I agree with you that Paul Stewart got the most interesting role, but most of the others turned in nice performances too. Since my fave Alan Ladd movie is Branded, it was neat to see Peter Hansen opposite Ladd again, even if he did play a bad guy.

You mentioned some of the smaller roles being filled by people that it was fun to see pop up -- I agree! For me, the two most fun were George J. Lewis as the priest and Perry Lopez as the "weak" nephew. Lewis is in quite a few of Alan Ladd's movies, but I know him best as Don Alejandro de la Vega from Disney's Zorro. Always such a treat when he pops up -- I always recognize his voice first, then his face. And while I've now seen Perry Lopez in oodles of movies and TV shows, to me, he'll always be "Pete Ramirez," a small role in the 1956 big screen movie The Lone Ranger, which I watched countless times as a kid. Oh, I had such a big crush on him in that when I was like 7 years old! I remember even making up an alternate version of the movie where his character didn't get killed after all, but was only wounded, and his loyal girlfriend nursed him back to health (and then taught him to have better taste in hats, because really, the one he bought for her was hideous).

Anyway, happy Thanksgiving!

8:39 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Hamlette,

Responding fell through the cracks due to Thanksgiving goings-on, and I just realized that although I had seen your comment I hadn't gotten back to you. I was interested to hear your take since you've been watching a lot of Ladd films. I think a solid film is a good description. I enjoyed your mentions of the supporting actors.

Hope you had a lovely holiday!

Best wishes,

4:34 PM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I'm always a little worried going into some of Ladd's mid-to-late-1950s films just because sometimes they're good and sometimes even Alan Ladd can't save them for me. But this one was quite enjoyable, so yay!

I had a good Thanksgiving, and hope you did too :-)

5:05 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I ordered THE GREAT GATSBY from the TCM Shop this week, they had it for a better price than Amazon. Though it won't match my 35mm experience at Noir City, I'd really like to be able to see it again, so any port in a storm (grin). Thanks again for making me aware of it!

Best wishes,

6:40 PM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

Oh, how exciting! My goodness, you've got me wanting to pull it out again too now. Just so good.

(And you know I envy you getting to see it in 35mm, that goes without saying. Wow, what a dream. The closest I've come to getting to see Alan Ladd on the big screen so far is the little snippet of Shane that gets watched during Logan.)

6:48 PM  
Blogger mel said...

I watched this for the first time last evening, and enjoyed it very much. After it had finished I went over to read the reviews at IMDb, and noticed that a few reviewers were disappointed with Ladd’s acting. Well, this wasn’t Ibsen or indeed Shakespeare, so I don’t know what they were complaining about…

Moving to the lesser roles, I’d like to mention something that hasn’t been touched on before: Bonnie Lou Williams, a vocalist with Tommy Dorsey's orchestra in 1944-45, whose excellent singing (she dubbed for Joanne Dru’s songs The Very Thought Of You and It Had To Be You), was remarkable. Williams had dubbed for several non-singing actresses during the 1940s and 1950s. Even more intriguing was her accompanist on the piano; beautifully and sensitively played by an uncredited pianist and acted by one Carl Engster (perhaps he really was playing piano – it’s not stated); an unknown personality whose only reference on the Internet seems to be his appearance in this film…

12:38 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Mel!

So glad you got to see this. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts! I always like Alan Ladd, personally. :)

Thanks very much for highlighting the singing of Bonnie Lou Williams -- it's a name I've heard but I'm not very familiar -- along with the actor playing her pianist. I'll pay particularly attention to those aspects next time I watch!

Best wishes,

8:52 PM  

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