Fri 29 Apr 2011
GEORGE DYER – Five Fragments. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1932. Hardcover reprint: Grosset & Dunlap, 1932 [?].
Film: FOG OVER FRISCO. First National Pictures, 1934. Bette Davis, Donald Woods, Margaret Lindsay, Lyle Talbot, Hugh Herbert, Arthur Byron, Robert Barrat, Henry O’Neill, Irving Pichel, Douglass Dumbrille. Director: William Dieterle.
Following Dolores Hitchens’ Fools Gold [reviewed here ] and still on the book-to-movie bent, I visited a novel called The Five Fragments by George Dyer.
Dyer authored a series of mysteries in the 1930 centered around the Catalyst Club, but this ain’t one of ’em; it’s a Keeler-esque series of long narrative flashbacks framed by a mysterious host who has assembled a group of disparate guests, each of whom knows something about a recent and notorious murder/kidnapping scandal in San Francisco.
The five narrators — a pretty standard set of stock characters including a dumb cop, brash young reporter, doughty coast-guardsman, colorful gangster and cool customs agent — proceed to sketch out a tale of dope smuggling, bootleggers, a wild heiress named Arlene and her half-sister, who has fallen in love with the reporter and then got herself kidnapped.
The resultant surprise conclusion is a bit creaky but entertaining nonetheless, and though none of the characters is ever more than two-dimensional, they are at least painted up real pretty, and they go through their allotted paces at a brisk clip.
When Warners filmed this in 1934 as Fog Over Frisco they chewed through the book typical abandon: jettisoned the framing device, added a bumbling photographer (Hugh Herbert) to follow the brash young reporter and provide dubious comedy relief, switched stolen bonds for smuggled drugs (a bit of a no-no in ’34) and threw in a sinister butler for good measure.
But I especially like what they did with the Arlene character, who never actually appears in the book: they built the non-existent part up into a neatly bitchy role for top-billed Bette Davis, who clearly relishes the part and leaves the movie all too soon.
Directed by William Deiterle at the usual break-a-leg pace Warners’ pace, Fog offers nothing too special, but serves it up well.