HELL ON FRISCO BAY 1955

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HELL ON FRISCO BAY is the story of a man obsessed with revenge.
The film is set in San Francisco and opens with Steve Rollins (ALAN LADD) leaving San Quentin prison and being met by his wife,Marcia(JOANNE DRU) and his cop friend Dan(WILLIAM DEMAREST).
Immediately we see and feel the pent up emotions of Rollins as he coldly says to Marcia,”I told you to get a divorce.”

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All Steve wants to do is find out who framed him.
Dan tells him not to stir up trouble but Steve says,“I want trouble.I need it…when you’ve spent 5 years in the cage ,all you wanna do is find the lice that put you there.”
Steve immediately goes to the Bay area, asking questions but getting no answers. He passes a lot of fishing boats with the name, Amato on them.

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EDWARD G. ROBINSON is Victor Amato,the totally ruthless king of the docks. He keeps Joe Lye(PAUL STEWART) under his thumb by blackmail. He seems to take pleasure in taunting Joe,especially when he finds out Joe is seeing a actress, Kay Stanley(FAY WRAY).
Amato calls her,“..that broken down movie star.”
Joe’s meek reply is,“She’s retired.”
Vic can’t let go,“Sensitive about that tomato,ain’t you.”

PERRY LOPEZ plays Amato’s ineffectual nephew,Mario, whom Amato’s wife Anna (RENATA VANNI) treats like a son.
ANTHONY CARUSO is a fisherman bringing up his son singlehandedly and when Steve pushes him for information, he reacts passionately,making it clear he will do nothing to endanger his son’s future.

Paul Stewart

Paul Stewart

Anthony Caruso

Anthony Caruso

Finally Rollins and Amato have the confrontation we have been waiting for . Amato tries to buy him off and when he refuses,Amato turns nasty,
“You do like you’re told or I’ll have your head blown off.”
Steve replies,“I’d like to kill you so badly, I can taste it.”

It’s a good plot,interesting characters and plenty of action.Alan Ladd isnt overshadowed by Eddie G.and the rest of the cast from Joanne Dru to Perry Lopez and a young Rod Taylor( as one of Amato’s enforcers) all perform well.
Several scenes are shot in San Francisco,but there are some very obvious back projection shots.

As much as I like this film, I have two problems with the plot.
Paul Stewart ,as the quiet gangster Joe Lye,is having a romance with a refined actress (Fay Wray). We are told they met through a friend. But the two characters come from such different walks of life, it is almost impossible to believe they would ever have met,let alone be about to marry. That said, Paul and Fay act well together.

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The second story line that didnt add up for me is that of Rollins and his wife,Marcia.Apparently ,while in prison,Steve refused to see Marcia or answer her letters. As Marcia says, “Not a word from you in 3 years. I was lonely and miserable.”
It turns out Marcia had a brief affair, but she is still in love with Steve but his attitude is she betrayed him.
His only explanation to his friend,Dan(William Demarest) is ,“I made up my mind when I got out of prison ,I was going to find the guy who framed me – either kill or be killed.”
Dan responds,“And either way,Marcia ends up a widow.”

Joanne Dru( dubbed by Bonnie Lou Williams) plays a night club singer. I liked the two songs she delivers ,”The very thought of You” and “It had to be you” – though it could well be argued these sequences hold up the action.

Alan Ladd has a nice line in deadpan delivery in one scene where he’s in a dance hall looking for Mario ( very well played by Perry Lopez). A hostess comes up to Alan and says,“Wanna improvise?”
He replies,“No thanks.”
She replies,”Why not,you slummin’ or square .”
His reply,“I got rheumatism.”

Made by Ladd’s company,Jaguar Productions, in Warnercolor, I hope HELL ON FRISCO BAY makes it to DVD .

7 responses »

  1. As a big fan of Alan Ladd, this is movie I’ve wanted to see for years. His output after Shane was variable at best, but he always brought something to his roles that made them watchable, sometimes despite the overall quality of the production.
    And what a cast! I’m hoping this shows up on DVD at some point too.

  2. Another Ladd film of this period I like is THE DEEP SIX. It’s not as strong as HELL ON FRISCO BAY, but enjoyable and a cast including Keenan Wynn and Dianne Foster.

  3. There is some complication regarding the Ladd Jaguar Productions;
    although released by Warner Bros they seem to have fallen into PD Hell.
    I guess this is due to being tied up with Ladds estate,although I understand
    Warners are trying to resolve this.
    A scope version of HELL ON FRISCO BAY is one of the most sought after
    titles among collectors.
    Other Jaguar productions held up in limbo,apart from the two aforementioned
    titles are THE BIG LAND,DRUM BEAT and GUNS OF THE TIMBERLAND.
    There are also a couple of non-Ladd Jaguar Productions; A CRY IN THE NIGHT
    and ISLAND OF LOST WOMEN.
    To make things even more complicated there is a Sony MOD of 13 WEST STREET
    which also bears the Jaguar imprint,so one can only assume Columbia Pictures
    maintained the rights to this one.
    As it happens 13 WEST STREET is one of the best of Ladds later films,
    really gripping and offbeat,with a non-hammy Rod Stieger too!
    There is an “unofficial” release of the excellent DRUM BEAT from Australia
    but it is not anamorphic scope and the color is not too hot either.
    I too hope that all these films make it to DVD “official” and remastered.

  4. Sorry Vienna,having trouble with my line-breaks again!
    To add to the above I always thought THE BIG LAND
    was really underated with a classic gunfight at the end of
    the film between Ladd and Tony Caruso plus henchman
    James Anderson.
    Caruso was a great friend of Ladds and appeared in many of
    his films.The way the two actors play this scene is to me
    pure cinematic gold!

  5. Vienna,

    This film was released in Australia in 1956, under its working title, “The Darkest Hour”. The WarnerColor (Eastmancolor) process used in the print that I saw at the time, was noticeably unstable with colours changing from reel to reel.

    Although “The Darkest Hour” / “Hell On Frisco Bay”, was well under a year old and
    the problem may have been limited to this particular copy, it is interesting to note it has since been reported that EastmanColor film stock produced prior to 1983 can be subject to rapid deterioration under certain conditions.

    I felt that Edward G. Robinson’s fine performance rather overwhelmed the rest of the well-regarded cast and reminded me a little of his role in “Little Caesar”.

  6. That’s interesting, I didn’t know about the title,The Darkest Hour.
    Yes, you could argue Edward G Robinson was back in his Little Caesar mode as Vic Amato.

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