Need to see a lot more of William A. Wellman's work, but the best of it is very impressive indeed, such as 'A Star is Born' and 'Wings'. Ruth Chatterton was a fine actress with a number of great performances, even if there were cases where the performance was better than the film itself. Also wanted to see how 'Frisco Jenny' would portray such a sad event, whether it would be genuinely moving or with good intentions but heavy handed.
Fortunately, 'Frisco Jenny' manages to be the former. For me, this was a great film that is not appreciated enough and criminally underseen. Yes, there are familiar plot elements but most films did in those days. What matters though is what a film does with any familiarities and recognisable conventions, which has varied. 'Frisco Jenny' is always engaging and very powerful without over-sentimentality creeping in, while also providing some entertainment value with the pre-code material. An emotional film done with edge and tact.
Close to 90 years on, 'Frisco Jenny' still looks great. The gowns are beautiful and the photography stylish, but the standout in this regard is the visuals for the earthquake. Truly spectacular and makes for quite harrowing viewing. There are some nice uses of pre-existing songs, lovely songs that fit like a glove. Wellman directs with great confidence throughout and doesn't allow the film to drag or get too sentimental or sugary.
The script has a good deal of edge and also sincerity, there are lines that leaves one in amazement in how much the film gets away with. There are moments of wit and that entertains. The story never felt dull and treats its subject with sensitively and doesn't insult the intelligence of the viewer. Much of it is genuinely poignant and uncompromising, and it does a fine job depicting the horrors of the earthquake, the amount of devastation it caused and how it affected people.
Chatterton's performance is often a powerhouse as a very strong character, full of gusto yet not overacted and also moving. The rest of the cast are very good, with sympathetic performances from Louis Calhern and Helen Jerome Eddy.
Summing up, powerful film that is underseen, undeservedly so. 9/10
Crime / Drama / Music
Crime / Drama / Music
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Frisco Jenny was orphaned by the 1906 earthquake and fire and has become the madame of a prosperous bawdy house. When she puts herself on the line to save a friend's life, she is forced by a Child Welfare court order to arrange a private adoption where he rises to prominence as a district attorney dedicated to closing down such houses. When her underling Dutton proposes telling the DA that Frisco Jenny is his birth mother, she kills him so as not to cause trouble for her son, now the successful DA. But now, she faces execution for the murder.
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