The Raging Tide (1951)

The Raging Tide (1951) is a terrific and raging and calming and reflective and stormy crime and adventure movie, that likes to think it's a film noir, but actually spends too much time having too much wholesome fun in the traditional business of fishing to earn some fulsome bleak city noir chops.

Still there is enough here for The Raging Tide to get some slices off those chops. 

Those bleak city noir chops! And it mixes them up with some salty salt-of-the-earth sea-chops. 

Richard Conte and Charles Bickford do in fact get soaked by props men spraying them and tossing buckets of water at them. It is that kinda milieu.

And The Raging Tide starts with a murder, a no-nonsense affair in the dark.

Then the murderer is on the run, through that film noir city, bright lights and shadows, raging through the streets. That's perfect, and exactly what you'd want to see of Richard Conte. On the run, in the city, in the dark. C'est noir . . . even if it does end up at sea.

The Raging Tide also flirts with family values and the goodness of God, as seen through the eyes of the ultra-hardworking, ultra-moral white immigrants that built America (supposedly), and is satisfying because it cycles between these two quite extremely opposing worlds quite effortlessly.

Richard Conte on the run in downtown City Noir

Certainly there are messages in here that ain't too deeply buried, but there are a variety of surprising aspects to the production, such as the anarchic gang of bums and former fisherman, who seem permanently engaged in a futile rant, which nobody listens to, concerning the fact that the farmers of America have recently been helped out by the government, while they, the fishermen, have been abandoned.

Abandoned they certainly are, the moteliest gang of wharf-rat losers in all of 1951. But geographically speaking, the wharf area is important to The Raging Tide, more so than it would be in a couple of years time in the colour crime thriller, Hell on Frisco Bay, which was also set in the same neighbourhood, and which also leans heavily on the character type of the immigrant fisherman.

Super-spotters of classic film noir cinema will enjoy seeing Tarantino's diner - Lunch Dinner and Cocktails - in The Raging Tide (1951)

Anarchist bum fishermen grousing down the wharf in
The Raging Tide (1951)

There is somewhat less raging done onshore, and while the men act it up on the high seas, learning the watery ways of God and cod, onshore flat-footed detective Stephen McNally makes a decent job of his procedural plodding after the criminal. 

The rest of the film is devoted to Shelley Winters' character who never goes to sea, and doesn't get down to the docks much either, not until the super-wholesome ending, which features much promised divine and police redemption for all.

When not checking hats in a deserted club joint, Shelley Winters can be found hanging around her apartment, trying her dandiest to be  a bad girl.

Her story is the favoured film noir trajectory of the would-be wifelet: is she to haunt the night with its criminal promises, or is she to settle down and be a nice person, on the married side of the tracks; preferably settling down with a small business owner, who may just happen to own a fishing boat?

The Raging Tide is something of a multiple trajectory movie for most of the leads. Richard Conte does an amazing job of turning his urban and violent criminal character into a salty-nature loving man o' the waves; while his counterpart and love rival, the boat owner's son Carl, has tried and tried at crime, and keeps on trying to see if it fits him as a flavour. 

These two, and Shelley Winters are all heading in the opposite directions from where their natures intended.

Noir diner: Alex Nicol and Shelley Winters

Charles Bickford plays the only stable influence in the picture; a Moses of the sea type character, a poor fisherman who believes in hard work, and we learn about and witness a ton of fishing practise, always in fascinating detail.

Although Charles Bickford's character is called Linder, and his boat is called 'Taage', we do never learn where he is from; making of him a pure American, and placing The Raging Tide, for all its social chops, in an interesting minor genre of 'the immigrant movie'.

Indeterminate immigrant Charles Bickford says a prayer

In this minor genre it is the values of the immigrants that prevail. Richard Conte's immigrant status, presumably Italian, is not ever discussed. He is already American, as it were. The immigrants are the ones which speak in silly voices, and even with his silly immigrant voice, Charles Bickford is convincing.

Noir in a car with Shelley Winters and Richard Conte

Time and tide get the better of crime, and despite the bright and breezy waves, and the smiles of delight when the fish are a-hauled on board, The Raging Tide still berths on the docks of noir. It spills from the streets in to the harbour almost, and begins with the premise that if a person commits a murder in San Francisco, they have about ten minutes to hide and secure an alibi, as they are effectively trapped on the island. 

The police know exactly who to look for in fact, and where to look, and so appear stunningly efficient. This is why Richard Conte's character takes to the waves, as it is presented as the only way to escape the dirty streets, where there is no where to hide. And the tide rages, for a little. It rages within his murderous heart, but since we know nothing of why he murdered, who he murdered, it is easy for the sea to wash away these sins.

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