H. Bruce Humberstone’s Hello Frisco Hello (1943) is fairly representative of the Fox formula musical from this vintage; frothy and mindless and harkening back to the simpler turn-of-the-century bric-a-brac that seems tailor-made for the studio's garishly vibrant use of Technicolor. The Robert Ellis, Helen Logan and Richard Macaulay screenplay is pedestrian at best and largely forgettable; all about a heel who eventually finds himself in the eyes of the woman who never stops loving him.
What helps move the narrative along is its glowing song catalogue of standards. With so much nostalgia readily on tap, ironically the film’s most outstanding musical moment derives from Alice Faye’s throbbing rendition of ‘You’ll Never Know’ – a new song expressly written for the film that won an Oscar and quickly became a war time staple amongst G.I.’s stationed overseas.
The narrative begins on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast – in reality, a seedy waterfront hotspot for hedonism and lowbrow entertainments, but on this occasion a glossy playground where the swells from Knob Hill rub elbows with the social climber set. Of this latter ilk is aspiring song and dance man, Johnny Cornell (John Payne); part of a quartet that includes comedian Dan Daley (Jack Oakie), fresh mouth Beulah Clancy (June Havoc) and chanteuse, Gertrude Trudy Evans (Alice Faye).
Johnny has big plans that never seem to come to fruition. Always pushing the boundaries of their current place of employment, Johnny and his entourage are fired by saloon keeper, Sharkey (Ward Bond) after trying out a new number on his stage without permission. Seemingly destitute once again, Johnny resurrects the act as part of a free Salvation Army street show.
The quartet raise money for the cause, but they also force all of the neighboring saloon keepers to ante up some personal patronage on the side to keep their own stage shows alive. With his modest bankroll, Johnny opens his own saloon – swankier than most and with a fervent determination to cater to the jet set as well as the common folk.
The ploy works, attracting the fair weather interests of (S)Knob Hill socialite Bernice Croft (Lyn Bari). Croft’s late father was a staunch supporter of the high brow arts (opera, ballet). However, Bernice has largely squandered that reputation and her late father’s fortunes on a series of lavish private parties.
After meeting Johnny at his theater, Bernice finagles an invitation to one of her parties for Johnny, Dan, Beulah and Trudy. At that gathering one of the swells, Ned Clark (John Archer) takes a personal interest in Trudy, though she continues to only have eyes for Johnny. Unfortunately, Bernice has her cap set for Johnny as well.
As Johnny’s fame and success lead to a string of popular night spots along the Barbary Coast, Bernice’s lavish spending forces her into personal bankruptcy. Johnny foolishly proposes marriage to Bernice. She marries him – then sets about spending his money as idiotically as she squandered her own. All the while, the long suffering Trudy continues to sing at Johnny’s clubs. However, when Trudy is offered the chance to sing in Europe, her departure threatens an end to both her partnership and friendship/nee ‘love’ interest in Johnny.
Hello Frisco Hello derives its title from a pop tune written in 1916 marked by the first transcontinental telephone service established in the United States. The film’s wafer thin plot is fleshed out by some justly celebrated musical sequences including ‘By The Light of The Silvery Moon’, the film’s title number and the aforementioned ‘You’ll Never Know.’ Gloss and surface sheen go a long way in saving the film from becoming just another nondescript song and dance cavalcade.
After dropping out of Down Argentine Way to have a baby, Alice Faye was given a star’s regal comeback by Darryl F. Zanuck. Hampered by rationing during the war years, Zanuck spared virtually no expense in mounting this super extravaganza with lavish costuming and sets; proof positive that his commitment to Faye’s enduring popularity with the public remained galvanic and in tact.
Hello Frisco Hello was a colossal hit. Today, it’s easy to see why. Faye is engaging and endearing. The camera makes love to her from a respectful distance and she in turn allows it to lovingly moon over her with one glorious close up after the next.
Despite a rather ominous disclaimer at the start of this DVD that suggests the film has been mastered from the best possible surviving elements, Fox Home Video’s digital transfer is practically perfect in every way. The 80 hr. restoration efforts on Hello Frisco Hello have yielded much of the sumptuous glow of Technicolor.
For the most part, colors are consistent and vibrantly rendered. Contrast levels are bang on. About two thirds into the film a very minor vertical imperfection in the color is detected running along the right side of the frame – but this is a minor quibble. The audio has also been remastered and is represented at an adequate listening level with fine tonality.
Extras include a very informative featurette on the film and Alice’s career, stills and publicity galleries, an audio commentary, restoration comparison and theatrical trailer. Recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)