Sunday, August 12, 2012

Frisco Jenny

Saw William Wellman's Frisco Jenny at MOMA today. 1932, old school Hollywood storytelling. In 70 some odd minutes you've got disaster (the 1906 SF earthquake), pre-code tawdriness (the titular character becomes the city's top madame and a bastion of vice), guns, murder, hijacking, courtroom drama and it all adds up to one highly charged, but surpisingly restrained (well, sort of) melodrama. I think the MOMA description mentioned the impressive camera movement in the film's opening. The story starts at a San Francisco dancehall with a long tracking shot, well predating steadicam. The scenes of the earthquake, interior sets crashing down around Jenny, were quite thrilling. With all the action crammed into the film, it's like a series of set-pieces, each one perfectly contained and effective, albeit with some of the melodramatics a little dated, yet charming in a  nostalgic manner.

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