Moontide (1942) starring Jean Gabin, Ida Lupino, Thomas Mitchell, Thomas Mitchell, directed by Fritz Lang and Archie Mayo
Moontide is a variety of things — a forgotten movie with excellent acting, a character study, a film noir. It’s the story of a French wanderer named Bobo (Jean Gabin) – a handsome, hard-drinking man who considers himself a wandering gypsy, who wanders from place to place and job to job, where he’s tailed by his best friend Tiny (Thomas Mitchell, Gone with the Wind) — but this friend is more of a leech, who blackmails Bobo into paying his bills so that Tiny doesn’t have to work for a living. Until they come to a small fishing town, and Bobo falls for a beautiful waitress (Ida Lupino) — and after Bobo rescues her from an attempted suicide by drowning, the two begin falling in love, and Bobo begins to think about settling down for the first time … but that doesn’t fit in with Tiny’s plans. And an old man has been murdered, but Bobo remembers nothing about it since he was drinking at the time …
Moontide is an excellent film, with a very good supporting cast of characters, including Nutsy (Claude Rains, The Invisible Man, Casablanca) as a would-be intellectual who becomes Bobo’s friend, and the best man at his wedding. I’ll not give away the final confrontation between Bobo and Tiny — and what Tiny did to force the issue — except to say that it’s very good, very fitting, and very enjoyable.
Editorial review of Moontide courtesy of Amazon.com
The little-known but affecting film noir Moontide is full of surprises, especially for the many film fans who may not have seen it until its release on DVD. It stars Jean Gabin, a huge star in his native France, who was trying to cross over to Hollywood stardom in this film, but ended up making just two Hollywood features. It also stars Ida Lupino as his love interest, and who is very affecting and memorable in what could have been a two-dimensional role. Gabin plays Bobo, a wharf rat with a drinking problem working up and down the West Coast of the U.S., and happens on the desolate Anna (Lupino), whom he sees trying to kill herself in the sea. That two such broken characters can find love and help heal one another is one of the main themes of the film, and an unexpected one in the hard bitten genre of film noir. Gabin and Lupino really shine, though Gabin can be a bit hammy in his jauntiness. Playing against type as the bad guy, with unspeakable intentions, is Thomas Mitchell (at the time much beloved, having just played Scarlett O’Hara’s Pa in Gone With the Wind). Claude Rains is also affecting, as the local failed intellectual. The story behind Moontide is at least as engaging as the film itself, and happily, this DVD edition includes a 25-minute documentary on the hurdles, some nearly fatal, that faced this little film on its way to be made in 1941. First, it was to have been filmed on location in San Pedro, California–but then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and every port on the West Coast was suddenly girded for possible attack, so the elaborate wharf set was created on the Fox lot. There were tons of risquÃ© themes in the original book upon which the movie is based, and the tales of getting it past the censors are riveting.
And the behind the scenes drama was also intense; master director Fritz Lang started the film, but quit in a snit, and was replaced by the journeyman Archie Mayo. Surrealist Salvador Dali was hired to create a hallucinatory alcoholic dream sequence, but his imagery was reportedly too disturbing to use, so the studio threw it out, but replaced it with an appropriately “Dali-esque” scene, complete with menacing clocks and shuddery imagery. Film buffs won’t want to miss this fascinating mini documentary. —A.T. Hurley