In the 1850s, San Francisco's Barbary Coast is a three-block hornet's nest of saloon louts, floozies, blowhards, cutthroats, card cheats, gold fever and get-rich-quick swindlers. Bat Morgan (James Cagney) should do very well here.
Previously cast in contemporary roles and in one larkish Shakespearean effort, Cagney plunges into his first period film with his fists and charisma at the service of a story tracing Morgan's rise from shanghaied sailor to Barbary power broker. Margaret Lindsay, sharing a marquee with Cagney for the third time in 1935, plays the society demoiselle drawn to Morgan's rough charm. And director Lloyd Bacon keeps thronged scenes of dance-hall excitement and mob vigilantism roiling with atmosphere.
Clearly inspired by the success of Goldwyn's BARBARY COAST, Warner Bros.' THE FRISCO KID stars James Cagney as turn-of-the-century opportunist Bat Morgan. Heading to the gold fields of California, Bat is almost shanghaied in San Francisco but manages not only to escape his would-be captors but also to kill the infamous crime lord Shanghai Duck (Fred Kohler Sr.). The grateful citizens enable Bat to rise to wealth and power on the Barbary Coast. But he's less lucky in love, and it is his seemingly hopeless fascination with Nob Hill debutante Jean Barrat (Margaret Lindsay) that may well bring about Bat's downfall. The film is a festival of cliches, occasionally enlivened by barroom brawls and rowdy musical numbers. Featured as extras in FRISCO KID were several stars and directors of the silent era, a "generous" gesture made by Warner Bros. partly to stave off the inevitability of unionized actors.
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