Rod, credited as Rodney Taylor, plays Brody Evans in his first film made in
Alan Ladd is the star. He plays Steve Rollins, an embittered ex-cop who is released from
San Quentin after five years and sets out on a mission of revenge against the
men who framed him for manslaughter.
During his quest, Rollins faces off with Rod's Brody Evans, one of the
henchmen for Victor Amato, a ruthless
San Francisco waterfront gang boss played by Edward G. Robinson.
This movie went through a couple of title changes during production. At first
it was "The Darkest Hour" because it is based on
a novel of that name by William P. McGivern. Then, it was "Hell on the Dock"
until Warner Bros. settled on "Hell on Frisco Bay," a decision that
film's on-location scenery.
Exteriors were shot along Fisherman's Wharf, on
San Francisco Bay, at San Quentin Prison, on the Golden Gate Bridge
and on streets throughout San Francisco.
In addition to McGivern, a
screenplay credit goes to Martin Rackin, who was key in getting Rod started in Hollywood,
beginning in Australia with "Long
Rackin wrote the part of Brody Evans with Rod in mind.
It's a small role but supposedly something of a milestone. Syndicated
Jimmie Fidler wrote at the time: "Rodney Taylor, Australian actor,
made his debut on a Hollywood stage in a roar of fistic action. In
the first hour of the first day in the picture, he became Alan
Ladd's 100th screen knockout victim."
A reviewer of the Blu-ray release noted that Rod "makes every
second on-screen count and turns a nothing bit role into a heck of
The film was made for Warner Bros. by Ladd's company, Jaguar
Productions. Frank Tuttle was the director, and he also directed Ladd in
his star-making appearance in
"This Gun for Hire." Joanne Dru plays Ladd's wife, Marcia Rollins, a
nightclub singer. (Dru later pairs with Rod in an installment of
Goodyear Theatre, "Capital
Gains" in 1960). Fay Wray has a small part as she emerged
from a decade-long retirement, playing the girlfriend of another
henchman played by Paul Stewart.
Rod's scenes add up to about three minutes, and here they are,
compiled and posted on YouTube:
About the Fight Scene
All the fight scenes in "Hell on Frisco Bay" received a lot of
hype as the movie was being filmed. Reporters were invited to witness the fight scenes as they were made
in the studio and on location. The
1955 release of "Blackboard Jungle" had ramped up the violence shown
in films, and movie makers weren't backing down.
Television also posed a fresh challenge. "It was tough enough
when people just went to the theaters," Alan Ladd told an
interviewer in May 1955. "But now with kids also watching fight
scenes all day on TV, you really have to come up with something
The writer opens by lamenting that movie audiences have tired of
the standard fight scenes where the hero emerges with only a lock of
hair out of place after a slug fest with the crooks.
The correspondent witnessed something new on the set at Warner
Bros., declaring that Rod Taylor gave the star "one of his toughest
opponents in Ladd's 30 cinema brawls."
The writer described that first, two stunt men (Paul Baxley for Alan
Ladd and Dick Crockett for Rod Taylor) demonstrated the fight. Then:
The two actors observed carefully. Script supervisor
blueprinted the movements. The two stunt men then wrestled,
jabbed, gouged, until Baxley, using a judo throw, heaved
Crockett against a stack of beer cases which fell and flattened
"Looks fine," said the director. "Now you two do it."
I left them working it out with the cameraman.
The cameraman, by the way, was John F. Seitz, who was the
cinematographer of such visually inventive films as "Sunset
Boulevard" and "Double Indemnity." Ladd certainly rounded up top
talent for this production.
"Hell on Frisco Bay" represents a case study in the challenges
facing the collector of vintage film and TV.
The 1955 film never had a home video release until it came out on
DVD and Blu-Ray in 2017. Copies that existed were low-resolution
versions that had been recorded from TV. The broadcast versions used
the pan-and-scan technique to fit the action to the TV screen, thus
degrading the original CinemaScope aspect ration.
Such a VHS recording is what I
owned for many years, and there seemed to be no hope for a better
version. The original negative of the print was presumed lost,
leading to a big question mark regarding the legal rights to the
film and the fate of future releases.
The discovery of the negative in Warner's archive changed
This is the sort of thing that gives me hope for other
missing pieces in the Rod Taylor collection, as well as for movies
that have only ever been released on VHS or recorded from long-ago
Details about the process of clearances and conversions for "Hell on
Frisco Bay" are explored at