Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943)
Half tempted to make the title “Hello, San Francisco, Hello.” In fact, as a lass who has many generations of tried and true San Franciscans in her family, it’s rather easy for me to take that stance—as did citizens of San Francisco in 1943 who were so adamant about San Francisco not being called Frisco, that the film was indeed released as “Hello, San Francisco, Hello” in the San Francisco Bay Area. My grandpa told a story that when he first arrived in The City, he hopped on a cable car, let Frisco slip and he was given what for—San Franciscans historically have not taken kindly to the shortening of their city’s name. Think I’m pulling your leg? To the right is an original ad from the “Oakland Tribune” printed on March 22, 1943. Clearly the publicity department had a lot of fun with it.
Alice Faye, John Payne, Jack Oakie, and June Havoc play vaudevillians looking for a way into the bigger joints on the Barbary Coast. The saloon keepers didn’t want entertainment, because it would stop their customers from consuming their liquor, etc. In attempt to gain a spot, they set up a permit to sing on the street for charity. They’re so successful that eventually the saloon keepers had to pay them a fee not to sing in proximity to their establishments. Success hits each of the characters differently, but it hit John Cornell’s (John Payne) right between the eyes.
Filmed in glorious Technicolor in only the style of prior Fox musicals of this scale, Hello, Frisco, Hello is not only easy on the eyes, but at times quite stunning with lavish sets and plumes of fuchsia. There’s softness to the look of scenes, too, particularly whenever Trudy Evans (Alice Faye) has a scene with John Cornell. It’s almost startling. In the scene just before Alice sings, “They Always Pick on Me” her lipstick is quite a nice shade of pink and then when she sings the song she’s gone several shades darker. It’s amazing how much make-up can change the general tone of the scene. When the spotlight hits or as they say show make-up or she is required to play a stronger scene, she requires bolder color upon her lips.
Alice Faye plays the heartbreak well—almost too well. It’s hard to watch the scenes where she is used by Cornell. She’s the heart of the film—the emotional weight that gives the film a little more substance than simply, “Let’s put on a show!” again and again. Seems she has the Don Ameche role in this film, slighted throughout almost the entire film. She has many memorable numbers in this film, but the most poignant of them all is, “You’ll Never Know.” The song was an instant success, made the Hit Parade in the war years, always identified with Faye. She did the song again in a guest appearance in Four Jills in a Jeep.
There’s great comedy numbers in this well done by Alice, Jack Oakie, and June Havoc. Lovely, hammy vaudeville routines at their best. Only wish some of the numbers were longer. The only thing I could do without is the number on roller skates. It reminds me of Sonja Henie and Esther Williams’ various escapades, but with half as much glitter. Oh, it’s not awful by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just awkward.
John Payne is grand at playing the cad. Alice is lightness, Payne certainly exhibits darkness–all the worst of ambition. He was pigeon-holed in that type of role and couldn’t seem to get out of it any more than Don Ameche could divorce himself from passed over best friend prior to 1940. Lynn Bari is pure evil as socialite Bernice Croft. I feel the end to cause her harm by the end of the film. She’s the only character that seems to have no redeeming values and it only puts Cornell’s character into greater perspective through the dysfunctional relationship they maintain for the little time they did.
Though it doesn’t quite capture the spirit of San Francisco (1937), Hello, Frisco, Hello hardly falls short of entertaining. The songs are classic, marvelously performed and Alice Faye turns in one of her best pieces of work. Faye was at the top of her game. She would only make two more films before retiring as a film actress (though she did come back later for a couple of films). She did have good timing, however, as the musical was just on the verge of going on the outs. It’s a natural fit that though this film would not be one of the first you would identify with Faye, “You’ll Never Know,” would certainly become her song and it all culminated with Hello, [San Francisco], Hello.