Follow TV Tropes


Film / Fog Over Frisco

Go To
Fog Over Frisco is a 1934 mystery drama directed by William Dieterle, starring Bette Davis.

Arlene Bradford (Davis) is a hell-raising party girl accustomed to living it up in San Francisco, which is not called "Frisco" by anyone who lives there. She appears to be retiring from her fast-living ways, however, having gotten engaged to Spencer, a dull banker. Her step-sister Valkyr Bradford (Margaret Lindsay) is trying to get Arlene back into the good graces of Val's father and Arlene's step-father, papa Bradford, an executive at Spencer's bank. Val also is feuding with her boyfriend, Tony Sterling, a reporter who keeps writing up Arlene's escapades in the newspaper's society pages.

Why do Arlene and Val have the same last name despite only being step-sisters? And what kind of name is "Valkyr"? The world may never know.

In any event, events prove that Val should have listened to her father. Arlene is not only not changing her ways, she is getting into bigger trouble than ever. It turns out that Arlene is enmeshed in a plot to steal bonds and securities from her stepfather's bank. She has stolen some $800,000 in securities and passed them on to Jake Bello, a sleazy nightclub owner and her partner in crime. Her supposed fiancé Spencer is nothing more than a pawn in her scheme. She's also carrying on an affair with one Joshua Maynard, another senior executive at the bank.

A complicated mystery involving murder, double-crosses, and kidnapping ensues.

Provides examples of:

  • Briefcase Full of Money: Joe Bello receives delivery of a briefcase with $250,000 in it.
  • Conversation Cut: A single conversation that keeps cutting through various scenes—the cops, a telephone operator, the reporters—reveals that Spencer killed himself, while also explaining Spencer and Arlene's embezzlement scheme.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Arlene admits to Spenser that the main reason she's become a criminal is how much damn fun it is, specifically citing the glee she feels when she's walking around downtown with hundreds of thousands of dollars of "loot" on her person.
  • Decoy Protagonist: It comes as a surprise when Arlene, who seems to be the central character, disappears barely halfway through, and eventually turns out to have been murdered. The main characters after that are Val and Tony, as they first try to find her and then try to figure out who killed her. The fact that Bette Davis became a much bigger star makes it even more surprising for a latter-day viewer. (Davis followed this film with her Star-Making Role in Of Human Bondage.)
  • Driven to Suicide: Spencer shoots himself after Arlene dumps him.
  • Femme Fatale: Arlene is clearly using sex to get dimwitted Spencer to steal for her. And as it turns out, she's already married.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Tony, who is trying to get the bankers to fess up about the bonds, says "It's a mistake for you to withhold any information." As he says this Tony still hasn't told anyone that Arlene's corpse is resting quietly in the trunk of her car.
  • The Infiltration: Thorne, the creepy butler with a habit of snooping and listening in to phone conversations, turns out to be a police agent working undercover, trying to track down the mystery of the stolen bonds.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Tony, first chasing after Arlene, then trying to solve the mystery. Gets a little too intrepid when, against his better judgment, he doesn't report Arlene's murder in an effort to keep his scoop. This decision nearly gets Val killed.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Step-sisters Val and Arlene. Val is innocent and sweet and trusting. Arlene is slutty and scheming and a criminal.
  • Necro Cam: Possibly the Trope Maker. After being freed from imprisonment on Burchard's yacht, Val relates what she learned about Arlene's murder, with her narration being shown on-screen in Necro Cam style.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Val's father delivers a tongue-lashing to Tony after it turns out that Tony's keeping the secret about Arlene got Val kidnapped.
  • Ominous Fog: The titular fog sets the mood for the scene where Arlene disappears.
  • One Last Job: Arlene says that after this big score she's out of the game. Joe Bello doesn't think that their co-conspirator will let Arlene out.
  • Punk in the Trunk: Eventually Izzy the bumbling newspaper photographer stumbles across Arlene's dead body, left in the "rumble seat" trunk of her own car. And then they don't tell anyone, because they don't want to lose the exclusive on their story. Soon after Val drives hurriedly away with Arlene's car, with the corpse still in the trunk. This sets up a shocking moment later when the Mooks who have lured Val into an ambush flip open the rumble seat of the car, causing Arlene's body to pop up, with her rigor mortis-stiffened arms reaching up to the sky.
  • Spinning Paper: Seen several times announcing the disappearance of Arlene, then the discovery of her murder, then the kidnapping of Val.
  • Stealing from the Till: Arlene has roped Spencer into a complicated scheme to substitute fake bonds for real bonds and sell the real ones.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Arlene hides some important documents.
  • Video Credits: At the beginning, as was Warner Brothers house style during that era.