June 16, 2009 at 9:38 PM (Film Noir Reviews) (, , , , , )

Moontide is a little known film noir that was shot in the early period of noir. It was filmed in 1942, originally to be directed by the great, but volatile, Fritz Lang. Lang began the film but his disillusionment with the project and with its star Jean Gabin, resulted in reliable Archie Mayo finishing up as director. 

The story centers around Bobo (Jen Gabin), a down on his luck, gypsy, longshoreman, and brawler. Bobo has himself one hell of a bender one night and wakes up the next morning on a bait barge. He is offered the job of selling the bait and reluctantly takes it for a couple of bucks and a bottle of sake per day. He then saves Anna (Ida Lupino) from suicide and from there romance ensues. 

Meanwhile, during the night of Bobo’s drunken rampage there was the murder of an older man Pop Kelly. Pop was strangled and Bobo has strong hands, a history of violent behavior, and has no memory of the night. On top of that, Bobo somehow finds himself wearing Pop’s hat the next day.

 Along with Gabin and Lupino, Claude Rains plays some sort of philosophical bum and thief in the night named Nutsy and Thomas Mitchell plays Bobo’s leech of a friend Tiny. The entire cast deliver a great performance, especially Gabin and Rains. This was Gabin’s first American film and there were to be only a few before he returned to France where he remained one of their biggest stars.

 Though not really a commercial or critical success at the time, Moontide did garner an Oscar win for Cinematographer Charles Clarke. The film could be called “trippy” during some scenes, most notably the bender that Gabin’s character Bobo goes on early on in the movie. The bender scene was originally going to be designed by Salvador Dali, and some of his influence remained in this scene, but most of what he did was not used. Most of the film has an eerie, otherworldly feel to it and it is truly one of the most beautifully shot films in all of noir.

 The biggest gripe about this film is the love story and the fact that the censors cut out much of the meaty part of the story. Anna was supposed to have as a back story, a career as a prostitute and the original story did not call for the pair to be married, but is was demanded by the censors if they were to live together on the bait barge.

 Even with its flaws, I highly recommend Moontide to any noir fan. It is a pretty twisted little flick that you will enjoy. The love story between Anna and Bobo may make you cringe a few times and the story doesn’t flow like many of the quick-hitting noirs you may be used to, but there are few pictures that are as interesting to look at. The images alone are worth a watching of the movie, but you also get a wonderful, understated performance by Gabin that seems almost like a precursor to method acting that would follow in a couple of decades. Also, you can never go wrong with Claude Rains.


1 Comment

  1. Fear in the Night « What is Film Noir said,

    […] noirs. The opening of the film, which is the dream sequence, is similar to the drunken sequence in Moontide, though not as well-done and sets the stage for the psychological drama to […]

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