Moontide (1942)

Ida Lupino and Jean Gabin (and Claude Rains and Thomas Mitchell!) in a strange piece of borderline noirishness!

US / 95 minutes / bw / TCF Dir: Archie Mayo, Fritz Lang (uncredited) Pr: Mark Hellinger Scr: John O’Hara, Nunnally Johnson (uncredited) Story: Moon Tide (1940) by Willard Robertson Cine: Charles Clarke, Lucien Ballard (uncredited) Cast: Jean Gabin, Ida Lupino, Thomas Mitchell, Claude Rains, Jerome Cowan, Helene Reynolds, Ralph Byrd, William Halligan, Victor Sen Yung, Chester Gan, Robin Raymond, Arthur Aylesworth, Arthur Hohl, John Kelly, Ralph Dunn, Tully Marshall, Vera Lewis, Tom Dugan.

On a commenter called Now Zoltan (I assume that’s not his real name) has complained that I omitted this movie, which he regards as quintessential to the genre (“a cornerstone noir, one of my favourites”), from my A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir. He also complained about a typo as if it were an error of fact, which I thought was a bit unfair: 675,000 words of information-dense text? Of course you can expect a few typos—though hopefully not very many!

Anyway, I checked my entry for this movie in my personal catalogue and saw that I’d given it the NSH (noirish) rather than the NOIR classification. Since it stars Lupino, Gabin and Rains, three of my all-time favorite actors, and since Fritz Lang was involved, in the ordinary way I’d have bent over backward to include it in the book—i.e., to persuade myself it was sufficiently noir that it oughter go in.

An enigma on the back of a conundrum, and puzzling too.

It had been yonks since last I’d watched the movie, and to be honest I could remember little about it, so I decided to give it another whirl to see if I could work out why I’d decided to omit it. Here goes.

Jean Gabin as Bobo.

Bobo (Gabin) is a longshoreman, and ostensibly a good one, but he has a penchant for hard drinking. Tonight in the saloon called The Red Dot he’s well and truly hammered, to the dismay of his sidekick Tiny (Mitchell), who wants to Continue reading

Lady at Midnight (1948)

US / 62 minutes / bw / John Sutherland Dir: Sherman Scott (i.e., Sam Newfield) Pr: John Sutherland Scr: Richard Sale Cine: Jack Greenhalgh Cast: Richard Denning, Frances Rafferty, Lora Lee Michel, Ralph Dunn, Nana Bryant, Jack Searle, Harlan Warde, Claudia Drake, Ben Welden, Sid Melton, Pierre Watkin, William Gould, Rodney Bell.

One night Ellen Eve Wiggins née McPhail (Rafferty) is woken by a neighbor’s dog barking, then hears footsteps in the hall; after some effort she persuades radio newscaster husband Peter (Denning) that they should go check their insufferably cute infant adopted daughter Bettina “Tina” (Michel). Tina tells them she was visited by a sad-looking lady who talked about the fact of Tina’s adoption. The parents think Tina just had a dream.

Next day they’re called to see John Featherstone (Watkin) of the adoption agency, who informs them he suspects the legality of the adoption may be challenged on the grounds that Ellen could possible have been underage when the documents were signed.

After Pete and Ellen discover the mysterious midnight visitor was oil heiress Amanda “Mandy” Forsythe, found murdered the next morning, Pete hires PI Al Garrity (Dunn), an addict of horserace betting, to help sort things out. It proves Tina’s mother was not showgirl Carolyn Sugar (Drake), as stated on the adoption papers, but the murdered Amanda, who changed her will a few days before her death to make Tina her sole beneficiary. It seems the chief architect of the fraudulent attempt to have Tina’s adoption annulled is Amanda’s punk brother Freddy (Searle) . . . except he, though he hardly realizes it, is really the puppet of the shared Wiggins and Forsythe family lawyer Ross Atherton (Warde).

Lady at Midnight 1948 The cops question Peter (Richare Denning) and Ellen Wiggins (Frances Rafferty)

The cops question Peter (Richare Denning) and Ellen Wiggins (Frances Rafferty).

Despite the potentially cloying scenes where moppet Tina and wrinkled Al declare undying love for each other, this is a surprisingly entertaining movie. One oddity is that the adult Wigginses seem prepared to leave Tina unsupervised for considerable periods of time—periods during which she indulges her passion for baking cookies in the family’s gas stove; one can’t help feeling that, if Freddy failed to negate the adoption on his original premise, he might more successfully pursue a charge along the lines of reckless neglect.

Some of the dialogue is underinspired:

Ellen: Is something wrong?
Al: Let’s say something isn’t right.

On Lady At Midnight