Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


James Murray, Ruth Chatterton, and Harold Huber
FRISCO JENNY (1932). Director: William A. Wellman.

Jenny (Ruth Chatterton) works with her father (Robert Emmett O'Connor)  in his San Francisco saloon and is in love with the piano player Dan (James Murray of The Crowd), although her father objects to their union. The two men are both killed in the great 1906 earthquake and Jenny is left alone with child. This all happens in the first few minutes. Most of the film deals with Jenny's life of crime, with her stable of party girls [prostitutes] and bootlegging activities, as she keeps a scrapbook of her son (Donald Cook)  growing up after she gave him up for adoption. When she is arrested for murdering a colleague, Steve (Louis Calhern), guess who winds up prosecuting her? This is basically a variation of Madame X, which Chatterton starred in only three years before. One is tempted to say that the marvelous earthquake sequence with its still impressive FX work [and very little stock footage of buildings collapsing] is the only reason to watch the movie, but Frisco Jenny does build in power towards the end. As for Chatterton, her character is unsympathetic and her acting is pretty mediocre until the final sequences. This is the artificial Chatterton of The Crash and Journal of a Crime instead of the fine actress of Lily Turner and Dodsworth.

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