Moontide (1942) – A Review
Tough longshoreman Bobo (Jean Gabin) has spent a wild drunken night out on the town. Awaking the following morning he starts to suspect he has murdered a man. Fearing prison and deciding to lie low he takes a job on a remote bait barge. As fate steps in Bobo saves the life of suicidal Anna (Ida Lupino) and they end up falling for each other.
However, Bobo’s old friend Tiny (Thomas Mitchell) doesn’t want to see anything come between their friendship. Tiny has gotten used to living off of Bobo’s handwork and good nature and now it’s looking like he’ll have to make his own way if the new couples hoped for marriage takes place. Fortunately for Tiny Bobo’s foggy evening where a man ended up dead might be the key to drive Anna away, keep himself ingrained into Bobo’s life and keep his gravy train rolling.
Moontide is something of a strange film – and I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. It’s not exactly a crime noir, but more of a noir drama. There’s some criminal activity that bubbles from the past, some threats and blackmail that take place, but the focus is more on the relationship between Bobo and Anna, two lost people who happen to find each other and hope for a simple happy life together.
Usually when I watch a more obscure noir I go into not wanting to learn very much about it. I see a title, read a quick synopsis, see the cast and filmmakers and take a chance. Sometimes I’m rewarded, sometimes not. Moontide was a semi-reward. It wasn’t what I anticipated when I decided to watch it, but the lead performances kept me absorbed.
It’s very straight forward as Bobo is holed up working on a ramshackle bait barge laying low. A murder has taken place and he’s not sure if during a drunken stupor he was the one responsible for it. He encounters Anna and unexpected sparks fly between them. There are some wonderful sweet scenes between the two in this shack as they each fall for one another and they go about making plans for the future.
The shadow of Bobo’s old friend Tiny (Thomas Mitchell) resurfaces and begins to threaten them. When he enters the story wanting Anna to take a hike I became somewhat annoyed. Mainly because it interrupted this compelling love story for me and what begins to happen wasn’t as anywhere as interesting as watching Bobo and Anna fall for each other. Ironically the more underhanded, criminal, noir elements that occur didn’t leave much of an impact.
After watching Moontide the scenes that stayed with me are the simpler ones – Bobo and Anna talking on the floating barge, her excitement of decorating the inside cabin with new curtains or the amusing sake payments the Japanese barge owner gives to Bobo for payment for his work,
An added treat was seeing the talents of Thomas Mitchell AND Claude Rains together onscreen. These guys were two of the greatest character actors ever and I believe Moontide was the only film they appeared in together. They never disappoint. Although Rains has such an eloquent, cultured speaking voice it’s kind of hard to believe he would be someone hanging out on the docks.
After reading more about Moontide I learned that the film was originally a much, much darker and violent story by director Fritz Lang. It was after either the studio or censors nixed much of the story, had it rewritten when Lang left the film and was replaced by director Archie Mayo which resulted in the final film.
Perhaps had Lang got to film the original story he had wanted Moontide would have packed much more of wallop and quite possibly could have been a truly great film. As it is it’s a decent noir-type of story with some very nice scenes, some interesting characters and some good performances – both Gabin and Lupino make it worthwhile. It’s a unique noir, but both parts of the story don’t really gel together to make it a completely rewarding one for me.