Hell on Frisco Bay

Hell on Frisco Bay is a 1955 American CinemaScope Warnercolor film noir crime film directed by Frank Tuttle, starring Alan Ladd, Edward G. Robinson and Joanne Dru.[2] It was made for Ladd's own production company, Jaguar.

Hell on Frisco Bay
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFrank Tuttle
Produced byGeorge C. Bertholon
Written byMartin Rackin
Based onnovel The Darkest Hour by William McGivern
StarringAlan Ladd
Edward G. Robinson
Joanne Dru
Music byMax Steiner
CinematographyJohn F. Seitz
Edited byFolmar Blangsted
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • December 1955 (1955-12)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2 million (US)[1]

The film featured an early Hollywood appearance by Australian actor Rod Taylor. His part was written especially by Martin Rackin, who worked with Taylor on Long John Silver (1954).[3]


After five years in San Quentin prison, former policeman Steve Rollins is released. Unjustly convicted of manslaughter in an arrested man's death, Steve is met by a friend from the force, Dan Bianco, and by wife Marcia, whom he shuns because she has been unfaithful to him.

Steve goes to the San Francisco waterfront looking for a fisherman named Rogani who supposedly has proof that can clear his name. The docks are run by racketeer Victor Amato, who is forcing out dock leader Lou Flaschetti. A couple of thugs who work for the mobster, Lye and Hammy, come to confront Steve, warning him not to take this any further.

Marcia tries to explain to Steve that she was lonely while he was in prison and cheated on him just once. He is reluctant to trust her. Rogani and Flaschetti, meantime, both end up dead. Steve manages to get valuable information from Amato's mild-mannered nephew, Mario, and when the henchman Hammy opens fire, Steve's cop friend Bianco kills him.

Lye is told by Amato to murder Mario, even though the boy is the mob boss's blood relative. Lye reluctantly follows orders, but when he discovers Amato behind his back has made a pass at Kay Stanley, an actress Lye is in love with, then slapped her after being rejected, Lye is enraged. And so is Amato's long-suffering wife, Anna, who tells Steve where to find him.

With the cops closing in and others after him, too, Amato has decided to leave the country. In a showdown, Amato gets the better of Lye, then attempts to flee on a speedboat. Steve swims to the boat and fights with Amato on board. The boat crashes into a lighthouse. Amato, dazed and defeated, is taken into custody. Steve, his reputation restored, considers going back to police work and also giving Marcia a second chance.


Production notes

The film was based on the novel The Darkest Hour by William P. McGivern. Film rights were bought by Alan Ladd's Jaguar Productions in August 1954 as a vehicle for Ladd.[4] The movie was financed by Warner Bros, which had just made Drum Beat with Ladd.[5]

The novel was serialized in Collier's magazine (April 15-May 13, 1955).

Ladd had wanted James Cagney to co-star[6] but Edward G. Robinson was cast instead.[7] He hired Frank Tuttle to direct; Tuttle had cast Ladd in This Gun for Hire, the movie that made him a star.

Production Dates: April 4—mid-May, 1955. Much of the film was shot on location throughout San Francisco. Extensive shooting was done in and around the Fisherman's Wharf and San Francisco Bay.

Stuntman Louis Tomei was doubling for Robinson in a fight scene on a motorboat that marked the climax of the movie. He was hurled against a metal fitting on the boat and received a severe head injury. He died in hospital later that night.[8] Tomei was a former racing driver who had competed in the Indianapolis 500 in the 30s and 40s.


Bosley Crowther, reviewing the film for The New York Times, wrote that "thanks to Edward G. Robinson, who wears his role as snugly as he wears his shoes, and to some sardonic dialogue written for him" the film was "two or three cuts above the quality of the run of pictures in this hackneyed genre."[9]

See also


  1. 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957.
  2. "Hell on Frisco Bay". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  3. Stephen Vagg, Rod Taylor: An Australian in Hollywood, Bear Manor Media, 2010 p 51
  4. EVA LE GALLIENNE WILL ACT IN FILM: Stage Leader, Consultant on 'Prince of Players,' Set for Debut on Screen By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 21 Aug 1954: 10.
  5. ALAN LADD STARS IN 'DARKEST HOUR': Warner Film, a Melodrama, Will Be Made by Actor's Own Producing Company By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 18 Nov 1954: 40.
  6. Ladd Seeking Cagney as His Film Costar Hopper, Hedda. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 29 Jan 1955: 12.
  7. SINATRA TO SERVE AS U.-A. PRODUCER: Singer Is Third Star Studio Will Finance in Filming-- Six Features Planned By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 11 Mar 1955: 20.
  8. STUNT MAN, INJURED MAKING FILM, DIES Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 17 May 1955: A1.
  9. Crowther, Bosley (January 7, 1956). "Screen: A Surprise: 'Hell on Frisco Bay' Is Above Average". The New York Times. New York City: The New York Times Company. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
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