Moontide (1942)

Moontide (1942) with Ida Lupino, Thomas Mitchell, Jean Gabin and Claude Reins is a wacky tale of dockside folks getting up to all sorts of bumps, drunken maudlin dive haunting, flagon tanking, and trying to kill oneself in the waves.

Romantic drama noir takes a love story and mystifies it with crime elements one way or another, and here bathing in the moontide, a sense of sentimental shack dwelling darkness, adds some criminality while we witness the love of two misfits

This dockside light noir was directed by Archie Mayo and written by John O'Hara and an uncredited Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel Moon Tide by Willard Robertson.

Key to the production is the solid comic manliness of Jean Gabin, trans-Atlantically transported to an indeterminate American location where he gets up to all sorts of larks, most of which is not entirely noir but all of which are band-wagonning him quite well into the American heart. Daft docks drama noir at its best — and this is even before we have seen the antic disposition of Ida Lupino — something she was quite good at.

The element which allows Moontide to slide into place in the film noir cycle is the fact that, like Norah in The Blue Gardenia (1953), Jean Gabin's character remains unsure if he is the murderer or not. This is a noir conceit. 

Dockside noir with Jean Gabin in Moontide (1942)

At times it seems like a comedy and at other times Moontide turns towards something of the mystery thriller. Like a soundly set period film noir, Moontide is a fantasy framed by the sound stages upon which it was so atmospherically shot, creating a microcosm of characters aligned in their common fate, the telling of this tale which seems to be a fantastic dream of sorts, half dark with half-recalled ideas.

Jean Gabin greets American audiences in Moontide (1942)

Moontide opens with a super-fun ass-acting bar room scene the centre-piece of which is the drunken acting frolics of French superstar Jean Gabin. Supreme frolicking. This was Jean Gabin opening for the American audience, and these are probably his most Gabin-esque and comic turns in the film, shown at the head, with drunken surprises right up until the bar room is swirling in his vision.

Alco-holic O' Clock in Moontide (1942)

For Bobo booze is such a problem that he may or may not have killed a man during a drunken rage. Otherwise he is sweet, but there is certainly themes of alcohol in Moontide

Once he’s drunk and enraged, he can do almost anything but as it turns out, he’s a sweet and decent man who saves people's lives and lives in an idyllic bait shack which looks like the crummiest dampest and ill-furnished end of the universe, plus he is being manipulated by a false friend.

Be a Whore to Get Your Man is Nutsy’s advice to Anna on her wedding night. He tells her that she should have no inhibitions with her husband. This convinces Anna to put on the revealing evening gown Bobo gave her. Unfortunately, this outfit is the catalyst to prompt Tiny into attacking her.

Unbelievably Tiny is blackmailing Bobo with the apparent knowledge that he’s killed at least two people during drunken blackouts. He uses this as leverage if Bobo ever tries to leave him.
Chiaroscuro: The film is ripe with dense fogs, rain, and ominous lighting especially in the final climax.

Hollywood in this case prefers the so-called 'straw boozer' who revels in an ugly and incoherent stupor with a bottle or glass in their hand which is play for comedy and drama in a more obvious manner than any pathetic high-functioning alcoholic who may just be contemplating rather than irritating and twisting up their perceptions.

Salvador Dali designed dream noir sequence in Moontide (1942)

Raging bender — Jean Gabin in Moontide (1942)

Bobo is a classic drunken longshoreman, with a great evil-detecting dog, which seems to hate Tiny from the off. Unlike humans, in movies, animals can have an inherent ability to detect a villainous character even if it's not obvious to anyone else. 

At first, Tiny seems to be a true friend trying to keep Bobo sober and working. But it later becomes apparent he’s only using Bobo as a walking cash machine. 

Bobo saves Anna from drowning which is where Moontide starts to signal its male fantastic. When a woman in a movie is about express herself through suicide —  in this case a wavy death — and is saved by a man it is time to turn on the patriarchy flashers. Ida Lupino plays the vulnerable women in several films, and does an antic turn par excellence in They Drive by Night (1940).

A fairly pernicious myth but foundational in fact to all sound suburban expression. But a man's protection is what it takes to cure any doubt and anxiety in a woman's mind.

Antic disposition — Ida Lupino at attempted suicide in
Moontide (1942)

As a wedding gift, Bobo buys a revealing evening gown for Anna from the prostitute he had a drunken night with. She puts it on for Bobo, but when Tiny comes to interrupt the wedding night, he finds her attractive and attempts to assault her. It is the worst wedding night a woman can have. Tiny finds Anna in her provocative dress and assault hers. She fights him off, but he beats her badly.

Jean Gabin in Moontide (1942)

Thomas Mitchell in Moontide (1942)

Bobo (Gabin) is a vagabond on the high seas currently parked in a Californian port. His friend, Tiny (Mitchell), wants him to join a ship headed for San Francisco and beyond. Bobo, however, has other plans and gets incredibly plastered, missing the opportunity.

His drunkenness leads him to believe that he might have killed a man the night before. Tiny is sure of it and assures him that the secret is safe with him. Finding himself on a tackle shack after this night, he’s hired by Takeo (Victor Sen Yung) and his son to sell bait to passing fishing boats. To find his footing for the moment, Bobo decides to stay.

One night, Bobo and his philosophical friend, Nutsy (Rains), happen upon a suicide attempt; a young woman tries to walk into the ocean. Bobo saves her and she’s, at first, ungrateful. But taking her to his tackle shack, she warms up and thanks Bobo. She reveals that her name is Anna (Lupino) and life has been unduly hard for her since she’s had to work as a prostitute.

Finding a kindred spirit, Bobo falls in love with Anna and decides to finally grow some roots. However, this plan is not to Tiny’s liking since Bobo is his cash cow. He soon looks to thwart Bobo’s plans for love and stability.

This film was Jean Gabin’s American debut, but dissatisfied with American cinema after a few films, he returned to France soon after.

Ida Lupino in Moontide (1942)

Moontide was meant to be a star-making vehicle for Jean Gabin, who was a huge hit in France but unknown in the United States. The charismatic Gabin had been in a number of successful leading-man roles and had a hand in picking this story for adaptation to film. Willing to take a chance, Twentieth Century Fox bought the rights, despite the novel's themes of prostitution, rape, cannibalism and murder. The Motion Picture Production Code meant the studio had to drop most of the story. In the role of the evil Tiny, Thomas Mitchell was cast against type, having played Scarlet O'Hara's father in Gone with the Wind.

Soon after shooting began, director Fritz Lang left the project, rumoured to be due to friction he had with Gabin regarding Marlene Dietrich, who had been involved with both men. It's not known which early footage is shot by Lang or replacement director Archie Mayo. There were problems regarding the film's location on San Pablo Bay, which had to be scrapped after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the west coast was declared a security zone. 

A large studio set was filled with water for the barge scenes, giving the film an artificial, dream-like quality at times. The lighting, fog and wave effects, at times dingy and sinister or sparkling and romantic depending on the mood, led to Charles G. Clarke's Oscar nomination for cinematography.

Surrealist Salvador Dalí was hired to create the drunken montage at the top of the story but his sketches were deemed too bizarre, and the scene was shot with only some of his influence  visible, most likely the close-up of the clock, and the headless woman.

Foggy dockside noir in Moontide (1942)

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