Friday, September 19, 2008

Moontide (Rhoades)

‘Moontide’ Ebbs In At Tropic Cinema

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

It sounds like a page from Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row,” but comes off more like a John O’Hara short story. And well it should.

Based on a 1942 novel by lawyer-turned-actor Willard Robertson, “Moontide” was whipped into shape for the screen by John O’Hara. Several of O’Hara’s own books had been made into movies (“Butterfield 8,” “From the Terrace,” “A Rage to Live,” etc.).

In addition to O’Hara, famed scriptwriter/director Nunnally Johnson (“The Dirty Dozen” and dozens of others) lent an uncredited helping hand.

“Moontide” is Mary Sparacio’s Monday night classic at the Tropic Cinema. She’ll be on hand to introduce and discuss the film with the audience.

Set in John Steinbeck country, this film noir outing gives us a tale about a longshoreman named BoBo (portrayed by French actor Jean Gabin) who fears he may have killed somebody while drunk. When he rescues a would-be suicide (Ida Lapino) and invites her to stay with him on his barge, his erstwhile pal (Thomas Mitchell) uses Bobo’s guilt over his supposed crime to put a wedge into this threatening new relationship.

Slumming in Hollywood during the early days of World War II, Jean Gabin had already starred in several French masterpieces such as “La Grande Illusion” and “La Bête Humaine” by Jean Renoir,” “Quai des Brumes” and “Le Jour se Lève” by Marcel Carné, and Jean Gremillon’s “Remorques.”

Thomas Mitchell (“Gone With the Wind,” “Stagecoach”) goes against the grain as his pal Tiny, playing a malevolent character rather than his usual avuncular role.
Ida Lupino also tries hard here, but the awkward plot works against her. Having appeared in “High Sierra,” she would eventually drift into B-movies such as “Women’s Prison,” before finding a renewed career on television (“Four Star Theater,” etc.).

Claude Rains (“Casablanca,” “The Invisible Man”) puts in a fine performance as the local “failed intellectual.” Biographers claim this role came closest to reflecting the actor’s true personality.
The black-and-white cinematography by Charles G. Clarke was nominated for an Academy Award. The night shots effectively capture the dark brooding atmosphere, yet it’s obvious from the sets that this is a low-budget production.

Director Archie Mayo (“The Petrified Forest,” “A Night in Casablanca”) was considered hard to work with, and his actors called him a “fat slob” behind his back. Jean Gabin didn’t seem to mind, having a reputation for being difficult himself.

And at the time Gabin was having an affair with Marlene Dietrich. Fired from a film for insisting that Dietrich be his costar, he went back to France and joined General Charles de Galle’s Free French Forces, winning numerous medals for his wartime heroism. When he entered liberated Paris with his troops, Marlene Dietrich was captured on film waiting for him in the crowd that lined the streets.

Gabin and Dietrich would later star together in a French production called “Martin Roumagnac,” but it was a box-office failure. They broke up shortly after that.

Two little known facts about “Moontide”: It was partially directed by Fritz Lang (“Metropolis,” “M”) before him being replaced by Archie Mayo. And the surrealistic drunken sequence in the film was designed by Salvador Dali.

Charles Zigman in his book “World’s Coolest Movie Star: The Complete 95 Films (And Legend) Of Jean Gabin” calls this movie “a great Lost American Classic.” [from Solares Hill]

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