Flood Tide (1958)

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A psycho kid and a vulnerable mother!

 

US / 82 minutes / bw / Universal–International Dir: Abner Biberman Pr: Robert Arthur Scr: Dorothy Cooper Story: Barry Trivers Cine: Arthur E. Arling Cast: George Nader, Cornell Borchers, Michel Ray, Judson Pratt, Joanna Moore, Charles E. Arnt, Russ Conway, John Morley, John Maxwell, Carl Bensen, Della Malzahn, Hugh Lawrence, Troy Donahue.

Flood Tide - 1 David, a paranoid ball of sociopathic venom

David (Michel Ray), a paranoid ball of sociopathic venom.

Early one morning a man is found drowned at the edge of the sea. Bill Holleran (Conway), who has rented a beachfront property, admits that the dead man, Marty, was at a party he threw last night and that the two men had a fight when a drunk Marty became unduly obnoxious—Bill still has the shiner to prove it—but denies anything else. However, David (Ray), the ten-year-old son of local widow Anne Gordon (Borchers), claims otherwise. He says that, kept awake by the noise of the shindig, he watched from his window as Bill dragged Marty down the beach and into the sea. Thanks to David’s testimony, the next thing Bill knows he’s in prison for Murder One.

Flood Tide - 2 Holloran, complete with shiner, can't understand why D would lie

Bill (Russ Conway), complete with shiner, can’t understand why David would lie.

But then Bill’s landlord, Steve Martin (Nader), a high-earning engineer, the man who rented Bill the beachfront home, arrives back from a job in Venezuela and contacts the DA, Burton Adams (Bensen). Is it possible, he asks, that David’s mother, Anne, might ever have been construed to have formed a romantic interest in Bill? In a flashback that occupies almost half the movie, we learn the reason for Steve’s question . . .

Months ago, Steve comes down to his beachfront house to spend a few weeks relaxing before his posting to Venezuela. His intention is to share the time there with his latest girlfriend, fashion model Barbara Brooks (Moore), but before she arrives he has made the acquaintance of David and, through a lack of basic courtesy, has discovered the child is crippled—his spine was injured five years ago in the car crash that killed his father.

 

Flood Tide - 3 Steve's 'lamb chop girl' Barbara

Steve’s “lamb chop girl” Barbara (Joanna Moore).

More to the point, Steve meets David’s mom, Anne, and the playboy is jolted by the hitherto unknown experience of being smitten by love at first sight. Barbara recognizes the symptoms and is magnificently understanding; she bows amicably out.

Steve tries ingratiating himself with David as a means of working his way to Anne’s heart. No go: David—who looks and behaves as if he might be one of the Midwich Cuckoos—even fakes a traffic accident to make Steve look bad. Even so, Anne responds to Steve’s presence, and falls in love with him right back. When at last they manage to grab a brief interlude together, David eats some soap to make himself sick, so that Anne can be accused of being a neglectful mother. It becomes clear to Steve that David is a junior psycho, capable of doing almost anything to keep his mother to himself and, more than that, firmly under his malignant little thumb.

Anne knows this too, but she refuses to admit it: as she says in tones of utmost desolation at one point, “I should punish him when he’s like that. But how?” And again, much later: “There were times when I wanted to die, but I don’t even have that privilege. Who would take care of him?”

Eventually, confronted by Anne’s stark refusal to admit publicly that her son has severe psychological problems, Steve gives up—“You’re right. He’s ten years old and a cripple. There’s no way I could fight him”—and goes off to fulfill the Venezuela job.

He explains all of this to the DA who, while sympathetic, explains that, even if the jury had known all this, they’d still have believed the sweet little boy and convicted Bill.

Flood Tide - 5 Steve

George Nader as Steve.

Back Steve goes to his beachfront home, both because he wants to persuade David to do the decent thing and tell the world what really happened the night of Bill Holleran’s party and because the time in Venezuela has only increased his love for Anne. Obviously the feeling’s mutual. Alas, David still loathes him . . . until Steve, who discovered last time around that David’s a sailing nut, rents a sloop and takes the boy out in it. Because of the sloop, Steve is able to introduce David to an ole pal of Steve’s, naval doctor Harvey Thornwald (Pratt), whose specialty is spine operations. It’s possible the three adults might rescue David from the Dark Side after all, but then David tries to murder Steve . . .

Flood Tide - 4 Doc Thornwald's keen to help

Doc Thornwald ( Judson Pratt) is keen to help.

I recorded this movie from AMC; it was only on watching it recently that I discovered it was originally made in Cinemascope but broadcast in a pan-and-scan format. Grr! Even so, I enjoyed Flood Tide quite a lot.

One of the reasons for my enjoyment is that Ray is so splendid as the psycho kid. Even once he’s started responding to Steve’s good-natured offer of friendship, we’re still not sure what he’s really feeling: is the moral conversion genuine or is he simply masquerading while biding his time to commit some new ghastliness? Director Biberman skillfully exploits this dichotomy so that it’s not until moments from the end that we’re sure which way the dice will fall. Born Michel de Carvalho in the UK to a British mother and a Brazilian father, Ray dropped out of acting to take a business studies course at Harvard. Thereafter he became a very rich bean-counter. He represented the UK in the 1968, 1972 and 1976 Winter Olympics. He is currently, through his wife Charlene, majority holder in the Heineken brewing company.

Cornell Borchers, who died last year, was something of a ringer for Ingrid Bergman, albeit Lithuanian rather than Swedish. This was almost her last big-screen appearance—the last was the West German movie Arzt ohne Gewissen (1959; vt Doctor Without Scruples). Although briefly under contract in Hollywood to 20th Century–Fox and, later, to Universal–International, most of her successes happened in Europe, among them Michael Balcon’s The Divided Heart (1954), done in the UK for Ealing. Her part in Flood Tide has some depth to it because, while David has indeed become a manipulative little viper, Anne has to face the fact that, despite the best of intentions, she may have contributed to or even created the situation. Borchers handles this pretty well.

Flood Tide - 6 The stress of living with David is destroying Anne

The stress of living with David is destroying Anne (Cornell Borchers).

George Nader was one of those minor stars who somehow never broke through. As we see here, he was a perfectly competent actor, not without charisma; it’s difficult to know why his career wilted.

Charles Arnt is good as Appleby, the owner of the local grocery store who’s always willing to go that extra mile, even though sometimes our eyes might pop at his latest wheeze—such as lending Steve and David a loaded rifle so they can shoot at any sharks that might threaten their yacht. There’s an uncredited bit part for Troy Donahue as a teenager. And Moore is great as the pneumatic girlfriend, Barbara: “I’ll slip into something uncomfortable,” she purrs at one point . . . but it’s too late, because Steve has already fallen for Anne.

The score is by Henry Mancini and William Lava, which means it’s sub-Tchaikovsky but twice as jaw-droppingly lush. It works surprisingly well in context, though.

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12 thoughts on “Flood Tide (1958)

    • I hope you enjoy it when you catch it! The only other movie I’ve seen Borchers in is Abenteuer in Wien (1952; vt Adventures in Vienna). Oddly enough, I was watching the made-in-parallel English-language version of that, Stolen Identity, just the other day. Joan Camden has the role Borchers had in the original. I’ll have to give Never Say Goodbye a go at some stage.

  1. Also in THE BAD SEED category would be MILDRED PIERCE. Like the others on this thread I would love to see this, and was riveted by your plot summary from the start! Yes it would be a bummer to have a happy ending! Ha! Sounds like the kid’s performance made the film, but the story is potentially gripping. Great review here John!

  2. Pingback: Room, Creed, The Danish Girl, musical venue with Gene Focarelli and Rutgers-Maryland football game on Monday Morning Diary (November 30) | Wonders in the Dark

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