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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Hell on Frisco Bay (Blu-ray)
Hell on Frisco Bay (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // Unrated // October 24, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted October 23, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Based on the novel by William P. McGivern, 1955's Hell On Frisco Bay, directed by Jack Tuttle from a screenplay co-written by Sydney Boehm and Martin Rackin, introduces us to Steve Rollins (Alan Ladd). He's a former cop who was sent off to spend five years behind bars on a manslaughter charge that he wasn't responsible for. He was framed. Now that he's a free man once again, he's bound and determined to find out who the real killer was and why he was setup.

Rollins digs around, asks some questions and finally fingers San Francisco hood extraordinaire Victor Amato (Edward G. Robinson) as the man who set him up to take the fall. Knowing that Rollins is bound to be a thorn in his side, Amato invites Rollins to join him. Amato's got a pretty good gig going, running his ‘business' along the docks and piers of the city. Rollins, maybe not so surprisingly, declines the offer. Instead, he keeps up with his mission. Along the way he gets help from Kay Stanley (Fay Wray), a beautiful woman scorned by a gangster, Amato's second in command Joe Lye (Paul Stewart). A sympathetic police lieutenant named Dan Bianco (William Demarest) is also along for the ride. At the same time, Rollin's estranged wife Marcia (Joanne Dru) believes in her husband's innocence but can't quite accept his temperament. She doesn't want to let herself get too close to him again, because she almost feels like he's got a death wish. Nevertheless, Rollins keeps pushing on, knocking out and knocking off anyone he needs to in order to see that his own particular brand of revenge is served.

Hell On Frisco Bay is not a perfect film, but it is a very good one. There are some scenes where the pacing drags unnecessarily and at times the story feels a little too familiar, but if originality isn't the name of the game here, it almost doesn't matter. Why? Because of the cast, for the most part. There are other qualities to discuss, to be sure, but the cast are the highlight. Edward G. Robinson is absolutely awesome here. In many ways this was a return for him to the type of role that made him famous in the first place, the cigar chomping gangster with a hot temper and a quick trigger finger. While he understandably tried to get away from that typecasting for a while, here he's back at it and while it might have been crowd service on the part of the producers, he nails it. Robinson is fantastic in the part, throwing his weight around and using his screen presence to create a larger than life character. As to Ladd's presence, he too is good here. Not great, there are moments where he just seems too docile and distant for us to completely buy him in the part, but good. His work in this picture might not be as memorable as some of his better known parts in films like This Gun For Hire, Shane or The Great Gatsby but even at this point, more than twenty years into his acting career, he's got that leading man charm. His character is a bastard, he's not particularly likeable and he's certainly not a ‘nice guy' but Ladd, who also served as producer, can pull off tough when he needs to. In the film's fewer tender moments he shows decent range.

The supporting cast is also really strong. Fay Wray's character is underwritten but she's good in her role. If she can only do so much with the part to make her character stand out, at least she tries. Joanne Dru's part is a bit more interesting and she scores full marks for creating a genuinely sympathetic character. We understand why she cares for Steve, but so too do we understand her issues with their relationship. No sane person would question why she's started to feel the way she does. William Demarest is also fine as the police detective siding with our anti-hero in the picture, as does Paul Stewart. It's also worth pointing out that a young Jayne Mansfield has a small part in the film in a nightclub scene, and a young Rod Taylor pops up here too.

The San Francisco locations give the movie a decent amount of interesting atmosphere. This is a very good looking film, making great use of the piers and docks that sprawl up and down the city's coastline, occasionally, though not always, framing them in interesting ways thanks to the production's use of full color Cinemascope photography. Had the film been a bit more tense and maybe a bit more claustrophobic, had it been a little more original in its plot, it would probably be better known than it is today. As it stands, however, there's certainly a lot to appreciate here, enough to make Hell On Frisco Bay a worthwhile endeavor for anyone with an interest in vintage crime films.


Hell On Frisco Bay makes its Blu-ray debut from Warner Archive in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.55.1 widescreen in a new transfer taken from the original 35mm negative. Picture quality is excellent. Outside of the occasional small white speck the image is in excellent shape, there are no major print damage issues to note at all. Color reproduction looks accurate, hues are reproduced quite faithfully here while skin tones look lifelike and natural. There are no noticeable compression artifacts to discuss nor is there any evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement. The darker scenes show no issues with any crush. Detail is generally strong throughout, not just in close up shots but medium and long distance shots as well. No complaints here!


The only audio option for this release is an English language DTS-HD Mono track. Dialogue stays clean, the score has nice range to it, sound effects pack the appropriate amount of punch and the track is free of any hiss or distortion. Optional English subtitles are provided.


Extras are slim, limited to a trailer, menus and chapter selection.

Final Thoughts:

Hell On Frisco Bay is a really solid thriller with a great cast, a solid plot and some great location photography. Ladd and Robinson are great together in this picture, it's a blast to watch them go toe to toe. Tuttle's direction is uneven and sometimes less than perfect, but the good certainly outweighs the bad here. Warner Archive has done an excellent job on the Blu-ray release. The lack of extras will sting a bit, but the movie features great sound quality and a gorgeous transfer. If vintage crime films, noir pictures or gangster films are your bag, consider this one recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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