Sunday, August 12, 2012
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.