Frisco Jenny (1933)





Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Frisco Jenny Photos

Movie Info

In this film, Jenny becomes pregnant, bears her child in secret, and gives the child up for adoption. The years pass and Jenny becomes a notorious "madame." Crusading DA Donald Cook decides to rid the city of Jenny's operations -- little suspecting that the woman is actually his own mother!
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Warner Bros.


Donald Cook
as Dan Reynolds
Ruth Chatterton
as Frisco Jenny Sandoval
Louis Calhern
as Steve Dutton
James Murray
as Dan McAllister
Hallam Cooley
as Willie Gleason
Pat O'Malley
as O'Hoolihan
Harold Huber
as Weaver
Frank McGlynn Sr.
as Good Book Charlie
Robert E. O'Connor
as Jim Sandoval
Robert Emmett O'Connor
as Jim Sandoval
Sam Godfrey
as Kilmer
Franklin Parker
as Martell, a Newspaperman
Willard Robertson
as Police Captain
Edwin Maxwell
as Tom Ford
Nella Walker
as Mrs. Reynolds
Berton Churchill
as Mr. Reynolds
Buster Phelps
as Dan as a child
William Wellman
as Reporter
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Critic Reviews for Frisco Jenny

All Critics (1)

... the scenes of the homeless lining up along the streets with what's left of their possessions echoes with the armies of homeless in the 1932 depression.

Full Review… | April 3, 2009
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Audience Reviews for Frisco Jenny


Frisco Jenny (William A. Wellman, 1932) Frisco Jenny is another one of those pre-code films that's been rediscovered under false pretenses; while it's pre-code (though made after the Hays Code was adopted, it was released before enforcement began), there's not really much about it that the Hays Commission would have found all that objectionable. After all, Jenny's place is about as much an actual whorehouse as is the Folies Bergere. It's the rare pre-code film I've seen recently, whether it actually carries the "pre-code" tag for the associations we give it today or not, that hasn't been worth watching. Frisco Jenny may be tame, but that doesn't mean it's not fun. Jenny (Dodsworth's Ruth Chatterton) is about to elope with her piano-player boyfriend, over the strenuous objections of her father, when the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 strikes, leaving her an orphan with a missing fiance. She gives birth to a child, and given her situation, puts him up for adoption. After one unsuccessful attempt to get him back and flee the country, she throws herself into her work-as the owner and manager of a bawdy house, the scourge of the Prohibition era. Jenny's son grows up and becomes a crusading DA who makes it his life's work to shut the bawdy houses down (and while Ruth Chatterton was one of the definitions of "sex bomb" in the thirties, it does somewhat strain credulity that she wears no age make-up at all, to the point where her son looks as old as she does in the final scenes [Donald Cook was nine years younger than Chatterton]). Needless to say, he turns his attention to Frisco Jenny and her joint in short order, and only two people in the world, Jenny herself and her old-school politician pal, Steve Dutton (Notorious' Louis Calhern), know why she might just let him win the battle. This is another of those pieces of Wild Bill-iana that doesn't quite hold up as they years pass. Wellman was notoriously misanthropic, at least behind the camera (Jon Hopwood's bio of Wellman notes that Wellman "hated male actors due to their narcissism, yet preferred to work with them because he despised the preparation that actresses had to go through with their make-up and hairdressing before each scene."), and that comes out in a lot of his early films. (Stay tuned for a coming-soon review of possibly the most transparent of these, Safe in Hell!) In fact, one wonders idly whether Wellman had anything to do with the way the movie ends, but that would be a spoiler. In any case, this is one of those cases where it comes out less by using his female actors as little more than stare material for the he-men, but as outright ugliness. Putting aside the unspoken idea that it was Jenny's unwed-mother-dom that put her in the position of having to become a prostitute, which she is before opening her own place (and despite the fact that the only thing that stopped her from getting married was, you know, a natural disaster), once she actually makes something of herself-and the only women capable of doing that in this movie are prostitutes or former prostitutes-the amount of abuse heaped on Jenny by pretty much everyone else in the cast save Steve, including her friends and underlings, is epic. (In fact, while I will try to keep this as unspoily as possible, the final major arc of the story only occurs because one of her-male-underlings refuses to follow orders, because he thinks he knows better than she does. After all, he's a man, and women can't be counted on to be rational.) It's all rather offensive, really, in that "we're being unconsciously prejudiced" way that, in retrospect, comes off even worse than the "hey, let's assume women have no brains because we want to have sex with them!" attitude so prevalent in a number of other Wellman flicks. Still, for all that the film does have its redeeming qualities. One of them, perhaps the most important, is that Ruth Chatterton was just as hard-headed as was Wellman, bless her heart, and she refused to play this role with even a shade of the weeping willow about her; Jenny is strong, self-assured, and confident, even when Wellman's constructs are heaping the garbage that will eventually cause her downfall. Despite being known as a sex kitten rather than as a serious actress, Chatterton, like a number of other bombshells of the era (Lillian Gish is an obvious example), really did have some chops, and she brings them all to bear here. If anything, she's good enough that some of the cast can't stand up to her. No worries about Louis Calhern, of course, but some of the less experienced actors here seem to wither under the force of Chatterton's personality. Ironically, one of those is Donald Cook, one of Wellman's go-to he-men, who'd worked in such high-profile gangster flicks as The Public Enemy and Smart Money. Much has been said of Wellman's camerawork in the climactic trial scene, and that's all well and good, but it wouldn't be what it is without the interesting dynamic between Chatterton's character and Cook's-or is it between Chatterton and Cook, both of whom were probably frustrated to the point of tears by that time with Wellman's fabled bullying of actors? Much to think about with this one, if you choose to go that route. If you don't, it's still an enjoyable hour-and-change (the film runs just seventy-three minutes) with some fabulous acting. ** 1/2

Robert Beveridge
Robert Beveridge

What an intense drama! I really liked this movie, it was so sad, borderline melodramatic, and realistic. A great pre-code film, if you like them you should see this one. The story is brilliantly put together, the actors are great, and it's got a realistic feel through to the sad ending. I highly recommend it.

Aj V
Aj V

Super Reviewer

There aren't many movies pre 1970 that I haven't seen, so it's always a treat to find one. I am sure Frisco Jenny was made to capitalize on the popular and very successful Madame X in 1929. Ruth Chatterton is in this one as well and she does a good job. Melodrama has always been her forte. It's rather typical of the tearjerkers of that time, it does entertain and the performances are fine.

James Higgins
James Higgins

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