Cited by film historian William K. Everson as one of the fastest-moving crime melodramas of the 1930s (if not the fastest) Fog Over Frisco still manages to leave viewers breathless. Top-billed Bette Davis plays giddy heiress Arlene Bradford, whose perverse fascination with gangsters gets her mixed up in a stolen-securities scheme. Arlene's more sensible sister Val (Margaret Lindsay) tries to keep her out of trouble, but this proves impossible. Entering into the fray are hotshot society reporter Tony (Donald Woods) and goofy photojournalist Izzy (Hugh Herbert), who like Val get in over their heads when they stumble upon the body of the murdered Arlene. The identity of the killer remains a well-concealed secret until Izzy, of all people, stumbles across a vital clue. Things really begin to accelerate when Val is kidnapped by Arlene's gangster cohorts (who, interestingly enough, are very reluctant to take her prisoner and do so only when there's no other option!), leading to a mile-a-minute rescue and hasty plot wrap-up. Among the many good guys, bad guys and red herrings are Alan Hale as an Irish cop, Robert H. Barrat as a butler who isn't a butler, and Henry O'Neill as a gosh-knows-what who may be the murderer. Though physical action is at a minimum, Fog Over Frisco is kept constantly on the move by director William Dieterle, using every cinematic trick and optical effect (wipe dissolves, iris-outs, swish-pans etc.) at his disposal. The film was less effectively remade as Spy Ship in 1942.
by Hal Erickson synopsis