Fog Over Frisco (1934): Dieterle’s Pre-Code Crime Mystery, Starring Bette Davis

Before he became a major filmmaker of message films (The Life of Emile Zola), William Dieterle helmed Fog Over Frisco, a routine Pre-Code crime mystery, starring Bette Davis.

Bette Davis, eager to portray the slatternly waitress Mildred in RKO production Of Human Bondage, accepted this small role, hoping that Jack L. Warner would lend her to the rival studio. Her ploy worked, and when Warner heard of her dynamic performance in Of Human Bondage, he elevated her to top billing in Fog Over Frisco.

The screenplay by Robert N. Lee and Eugene Solow was based on the short story “The Five Fragments” by George Dyer.

Davis plays Arlene Bradford, a spoiled, bored, wealthy socialite who finances her extravagant lifestyle by exploiting her fiancé Spencer Carlton’s (Lyle Talbot) access to her stepfather’s brokerage firm, and using her connection to steal security bonds for crime boss Jake Bello (Irving Pichel).

When Arlene disappears, her step-sister Val (Margaret Lindsay) investigates what has happened to her with the help of society reporter Tony Sterling (Donald Woods) and photojournalist Izzy Wright (Hugh Herbert).

Though thematically a minor movie, Fog Over Frisco is tautly directed by Dieterle in fast pacing that helps cover up the plot’s lack of credibility.

The story was remade under the title Spy Ship in 1942.


Bette Davis as Arlene Bradford
Donald Woods as Tony Sterling
Margaret Lindsay as Val Bradford
Hugh Herbert as Izzy Wright
Lyle Talbot as Spencer Carlton
Irving Pichel as Jake Bello
Alan Hale as Chief C.B. O’Malley
William Demarest as Spike Smith
Arthur Byron as Everett Bradford
George Chandler as Taxi Driver


Music by Leo F. Forbstein
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Distributed by Warner Bros.-First National Pictures
Release date: June 2, 1934
Running time: 68 min