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HELLO, FRISCO, HELLO

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Alice Faye, John Payne, Jack Oakie, June Havoc, Lynn Bari
Director: Bruce Humberstone
Audio: English or Spanish monaural
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Video: Color, 1.33:1 full-frame
Studio: 20th-Century Fox
Features: Hello Again featurette, isolated score track, restoration comparison, trailer, galleries
Length: 99 minutes
Release Date: October 7, 2008

You’ll never know just how much I miss you,

You’ll never know just how much I care...

Film ***

On May 12, 1941, 20th-century Fox’s popular singing star Alice Faye surprised many by marrying bandleader Phil Harris.  Soon afterwards, she unexpectedly took an extended leave of absence to focus on raising a family, essentially stepping back from her career at its virtual peak.  Eventually, by 1943, Alice Faye felt the time was ripe for a return to the silver screen, and her studio was very eager to welcome her back.  In fact, no expense was spared for her comeback film, the Technicolor musical Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943).

Alice Faye’s new film was to be a period piece, essentially a costumed remake of an earlier Alice Faye black & white film.  By filming the musical in Technicolor (quite a rare luxury in the war years), Fox studio mogul Darryl Zanuck hoped to present his returning star in the most flattering manner possible.  Alice Faye was to be attired in a dazzling array of lush costumes to complement the film’s parade of a dozen or more musical numbers.  To ease Alice Faye’s transition from new mom back to glamorous Hollywood star, the singer was also to be re-united with John Payne and Jack Oakie, her former co-stars from the hit films Tin Pan Alley and The Great American Broadcast.

In the rags-to-riches Hello, Frisco, Hello, Alice Faye portrays Trudy Evans, a honky-tonk singer in turn-of-the-century San Francisco.  Her fellow vaudevillians include banjo-pickin’ and idea man Johnny Cornell (John Payne) with comic relief Dan Daley (Jack Oakie) and Beulah Clancy (June Havoc).  The troupers have their early struggles, no doubt, but faithful Trudy sticks by her man Johnny even when the others express doubts.

Fortunately, Johnny possesses a shrewd business mind to match his keen creative impulses.  In time, his imaginative musical skits, mostly featuring Trudy’s singing, draw in those elusive Barbary Coast crowds.  However, not satisfied anymore with mere dance halls and honky-tonks, Johnny obsesses about stepping up in society and begins to run after Bernice Croft (gorgeous Lynn Bari), a rich heiress from the elite Nob Hill crowd.  That leaves a heartbroken Trudy in a delicate dilemma - should she stand by Johnny’s side until he comes to his senses and comes marching home, or should she strike out on her own when offers from other show promoters begin to pour in?

Hello, Frisco, Hello features a wonderful stroll down memory lane with such standards such as “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” and “Hello My Baby” and the title song itself, too.  In fact, Hello, Frisco, Hello is virtually wall-to-wall music; seldom does a minute go by without someone singing or dancing, whether upstage or as part of the backdrop.  One particularly noteworthy Alice Faye showstopper is “You’ll Never Know,” composed especially for the film as a tribute to American soldiers heading off to war.  The tune proved to be so popular that Alice Faye eventually adopted it as her signature song, reprising it on film, on radio, and in her live performances.

Hello, Frisco, Hello is a fun if somewhat generic musical.  The film does feel derivative of earlier Alice Faye films such as Hollywood Cavalcade and King of Burlesque, but its turn-of-the-century charm, vintage oldies sing-alongs, and luxurious costumes offer good old-fashioned entertainment that makes up for any lack of originality in the film itself.  Plus, there is that wonderful tune “You’ll Never Know,” possibly the finest original song composition of any Alice Faye musical!

Video ***

Hello, Frisco, Hello is presented on a dual-layer transfer that offers the film in its original Technicolor, full-frame format.  The film has been restored to remove age defects or debris and to restore the luster of the Technicolor images.

Technicolor films, especially musical ones, were few and far between during the lean war years, although Fox pulled out all the stops for this film, which deservedly earned an Oscar for cinematography.

Audio ** ½

The audio is presented in its original English or Spanish monaural.  An optional track also focuses only on the isolated score.  The audio quality is quite serviceable, given the film’s age.

Features * ½

Hello, Frisco, Hello is available individually or as part of the Alice Faye Collection, Volume 2 box set.

This disc has a few supplemental extras.  The featurette Hello Again: The Remaking of Alice Faye (15 min.) compares Hello, Frisco, Hello to King of Burlesque, discusses Alice Faye’s private life, and explains the cultural importance of some of the film’s songs.  For fans who wish to only hear the songs, there is an optional isolated score track.  A quick restoration comparison featurette summaries the restoration process with a side-by-side comparison of the initial 2008 film transfer and final film restoration, which looks cleaner with improved image stabilization.  Lastly, this disc offers a trailer, an ad gallery of four posters, and a stills gallery of fourteen publicity photos.

Summary:

One of Alice Faye’s last major films, Hello, Frisco, Hello finds the Fox star in grand form.  This film also introduced an instant classic tune that would not only become an anthem to American soldiers but would also become Alice Faye’s signature song.

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