One of the Most Astonishing of All Films Noir Finally Comes
Charles L. Zigman | Los Angeles, California United States | 08/05/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My first introduction to the great French movie star Jean Gabin came not from his French classics like "Grand Illusion" and "Pepe Le Moko," but from this incredible, haunting overlooked gem -- one of the great lost classics of the 1940s -- which, thanks to Fox DVD, is no longer lost!
1942's "Moontide," one of only two American-made/English-language films in which Gabin ever appeared, is not only one of the most powerful and absorbing Films Noir you'll ever see in your life, but it's brilliantly made, as well: While the credited director of the film is Archie Mayo, Fritz Lang ("Metropolis") directed a handful of sequences, and Salvador Dali even contributed a great, surreal "drunk" sequence. The chemistry between Gabin and Ida Lupino is electric and, indeed, I can't speak highly enough about "Moontide," a film which will stay with you long after the final credits have ended. I'm excited that it has finally merited a DVD release, here in the US.
To read more about Jean Gabin and "Moontide," check out my book WORLD'S COOLEST MOVIE STAR: THE COMPLETE 95 FILMS (AND LEGEND) OF JEAN GABIN, VOLUMES ONE AND TWO, which is available at Amazon.com, as well as through [...]."
Interesting, entertaining, but not great
jd103 | 09/28/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"As a big fan of noir and old black and whites, it's fun to still be able to find an old unknown to me movie like this one and be able to enjoy it. And I did enjoy it for some surreal and unpredictable scenes (such as the drunken night, the locker room, and an unusual wedding gift) and some actors (Rains seemingly a perfect fit for his part, lovable character actor Mitchell playing well against type here, Lupino solid given what she had to work with), but I thought Gabin was fairly clunky throughout and calling it a great film is seriously overrating it. I wouldn't call it noir either even though it's got a French actor, night scenes, and fog.
I haven't listened to the commentary yet, but there's a 25 minute documentary about how it came to be the film it is which I found at least as interesting as the actual movie. It talks about why original director Fritz Lang left, the many topics in the original source material which couldn't get past the censor (and yet somehow did in less obvious ways), and how the film is different from the original story as a result.
It's a fun movie and you'll probably like it. Just don't prepare yourself to see a classic masterpiece."
D. Hartley | Seattle, WA USA | 09/18/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Back in 1941, director Archie Mayo (The Petrified Forest, Charley's Aunt, A Night in Casablanca) faced the unenviable task of stepping in to rescue a 20th Century Fox film project called Moontide, which had been abandoned by the great Fritz Lang not too long after shooting had begun. As one of the pioneering German expressionists, Lang was a key developer of the visual style that eventually morphed into a defining noir "look" (some of his pre-1940s classics like M, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse and Fury are generally considered seminal proto-noirs). Moontide was also to be the American debut for Frenchman Jean Gabin, already a major star in Europe (Pepe le Moko, The Grand Illusion, La Bete humaine). Needless to say, the pressure was on for Mayo to deliver. And "deliver" he did, with this moody and highly stylistic sleeper, ripe for rediscovery.
Gabin stars as Bobo, an itinerate odd-jobber (the type of character Steve Martin might call a "ramblin' guy") who blows into a coastal California fishing community with a parasitic sidekick named Tiny (Thomas Mitchell) in tow. Adhering to time-honored longshoreman tradition, Bobo and Tiny make a wharfside pub crawl the first order of business when they hit port. It is quickly established that the handsome, likable and free-spirited Bobo loves to party, as we watch him go merrily careening into an all-night boning and grogging fest. The next morning, Bobo appears to be suffering from a classic blackout, not quite sure why or how he ended up sacked out on an unfamiliar barge, wearing a hat that belongs to a man who has met a mysterious demise sometime during the previous evening. Taking a stroll along the beach in an attempt to clear his head, he happens upon a distraught young woman named Anna (Ida Lupino) who is attempting to drown herself in the surf. Anyone who has screened a noir or two knows what's coming next. Before we know it, Bobo and Anna are playing house in a cozy love shack (well, bait shop, technically). Of course, there is still that certain unresolved matter of Did He Or Didn't He, which provides the requisite dramatic tension for the rest of the narrative.
John O'Hara's screenplay (adapted from Willard Robertson's novel) borders on trite at times and could have done more damage to the film's rep, if it had not been for Gabin and Lupino's formidable charisma, as well as the beautifully atmospheric chiaroscuro photography (by Charles G. Clarke and Lucien Ballard) and assured direction from Mayo. There are several brilliant directorial flourishes; the montage depicting Bobo's fateful night of revelry is a particular standout. The surreal touches in that sequence were "inspired" by some original sketches submitted on spec by Salvatore Dali, who was slated to contribute art direction, but ended up dropping out for one reason or another. Great supporting performances abound, particularly from a nearly unrecognizable Claude Rains as a paternal waterfront philosopher who could have easily strolled off the pages of Steinbeck's Cannery Row. Moontide would make an interesting double bill with Clash by Night, another character-driven "cannery noir" set in a California fishing town milieu. The Fox DVD sports a great transfer and an insightful commentary track. "
A Flawed Gem
Brian J Hay | Sarnia, Ontario Canada | 10/05/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"One thing this film does feature is fine acting. From the supporting actors to the lead stars the performances in this picture are stellar. Jerome Cowan, a character actor whose film credits read like a list of 'who's who' is in top form as the doctor whose chance encounter with the principle characters proves to be life changing. Robin Raymond turns in a solid portrayal of a dance hall hustler. Even Victor Sen Yung in a role that could have played as nothing more than a stereotype is believable as the bait pedlar who more or less adopts the film's leads. Claude Rains is wonderfully empathic as the picture's resident philosopher.
But it's the principles who really shine. Ida Lupino combines a nice mixture of vulnerability and street-wise toughness to form the basis of the troubled 'Anna'. Jean Gabin, in one of his rare North American films, is fabulous. This man comes across as rough and crude, but also sweet and kind. There's never a moment when he isn't believable. Thomas Mitchell comes close to stealing the show. And if it weren't for the calibre of the performances around him, he probably would have. He is magnificent in what proves to be a rare turn as a complete heel who steps away from but never quite loses his humanity.
The cinematography by Charles G. Clarke makes excellent use of the lines the sets provide him with. The film's score (by David Buttolph and Cyril J. Mockridge) is compelling and follows the drama well. The lighting (which is uncredited) alternates between darkly atmospheric and warmly radiant according to the demands of the script. And the Directing by Archie Mayo keeps the story moving at a brisk pace. Most importantly he seems to have encouraged the players to take their characters and flesh them out.
The story, from a novel by Willard Robertson, is a good one. Screenwriter John O'Hara apparently had to change it drastically but he did it well. This is a character driven piece in the truest sense of the word. The people it portrays are flawed. Their stories are never less than compelling. They're strong and weak all at once, kind but selfish, driven by greed but never completely greedy. They're the down and out, the lost souls of society, yet as the film reveals, turn out to be anything but lost. They're characters who can be believed and felt for. Even the worst among them never becomes completely unsympathetic.
The one failing of the picture is that the quality of the sets doesn't match the quality of everything else that was done. It's not entirely the fault of the production crew. This was supposed to be a 'location' shoot but the attack on Pearl Harbour rendered the intended place off limits. After that the Studio had to 'make do', which is exactly what they did. The backdrops that depict the 'coastline' look like what they are. The basic designs are good enough but most of them lack depth. Most of the scenes set near the ocean look as if they were filmed in a tank. And the walkway that leads to the barge where Lupino and Gabin reside is close to laughable. Only the sets that were supposed to depict the indoors are any good.
That said, this is a piece that transcends its failings. The characters come across as real people and their drama could be real. The transfer to DVD is good and the extra's, especially the documentary about the making of the film, are good. It loses a star for the shoddy backdrops but this is one to have."
The sea wall of love
The Queen of Noirs | Santa Clara, CA USA | 11/04/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A lovely, lyrical film about the power of the ties that bind us. I see that it was nominated for an Oscar for cinematography, and it definitely shows.
Bobo (Jean Gabin) is a world traveler, a longshoreman who typically comes in to town and leaves with the tide. He is, unfortunately, a very strong man and a bit of a capricious drinker. Due to these tendencies, he has picked up a ramora fish who is unwilling to let go of his meal ticket. When Bobo goes on a bender and an old man ends up dead, the ramora ("Tiny" played by Thomas Mitchell) tucks this nugget into his nasty little pocket to use against Bobo when the time comes. The time comes in the form of lovely frail Anna (Ida Lupino), saved from drowning. Claude Rains shows up as the conscience and soul of the whole affair. "Nutsy" never sleeps ("Not since 1936. Or was it 1937?") maybe because he doesn't want to miss a second of the gorgeous love story unfolding in front of him.
The early drunk scene is truly odd and revelatory. I said to the King of Noirs "looks like German Expressionism". Little did I know how right that was, as Fritz Lang was replaced as the director. That makes sense with the inclusion of both Claude Rains and Jean Gabin...the whole thing rolls like a gently psychedelic germano-french new wave Noir.
Ida is lovely and the performances are first rate all around. The allegory of the sea wall, with the giant anchors along the top, should be inducing film school theses galore. Excellent. Highly recommended."