Moontide (1942)

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

Within These Walls (1945)

US / 72 minutes / bw / TCF Dir: Bruce Humberstone Pr: Ben Silvey Scr: Eugene Ling, Wanda Tuchock Story: Coles Trapnell, James B. Fisher Cine: Glen MacWilliams, Clyde DeVinna Cast: Thomas Mitchell, Mary Anderson, Edward Ryan, Mark Stevens, B.S. Pully, Roy Roberts, Harry Shannon, Charles Trowbridge.

It’s 1943 and the State Penitentiary at Arcadia is riven with breakouts and disturbances. At the forefront of those demanding a change in the prison regime is Judge Michael Howland (Mitchell); the state governor, Edward Rice (Trowbridge), responds by appointing Howland the prison’s new warden. Despite the evident doubts of Deputy Warden Mac McCafferty (Shannon), Howland institutes a hardline regime, prescribing brutal punishments of rock breaking and solitary for even relatively minor infractions; he’s in denial of the fact that analogous methods of people-management have destroyed his relationship with teenaged son Tommy (Ryan).

Eventually Tommy cuts loose from the family ties; by the time he reappears a couple years later he’s calling himself Frank O’Reilly and is facing a long stretch in the pen for his part in a holdup. His elder sister Anne (Anderson), who has always tried to reconcile father and son, has by now fallen for convicted embezzler Steve Purcell (Stevens). When she lets slip to Tommy that Steve took the fall for his brother, Tommy passes the information to tough con Marty Deutsch (Roberts), who uses it to blackmail Steve into assisting a breakout . . . By the time it’s all over, Tommy, Marty and a pair of prison guards are dead, but at least Howland has seen the folly of his rigid hardline tactics.

There are moments in this extremely modest borderline noir when our temporarily suspended disbelief comes crashing to the ground. At a trivial level, there are glitches such as that, when Tommy emerges from two weeks in The Hole, he’s still clean-shaven. A more persistent problem is that the very lovely, seemingly maidenly Anne swans around the prison in tight skirts and the like without sending the place into a state of perpetual riot.

Mitchell’s pretty dud in this, but Anderson and Ryan are really quite good (although Ryan’s death scene is worth avoiding). Oddly, both had fairly abbreviated movie careers. Anderson won a star on the Walk of Fame in 1960, by which time her movie days were numbered; after DANGEROUS CROSSING (1953) she did nothing but TV work save a small role in the thriller Jet Over the Atlantic (1959). She’s probably best known today, if at all, for her appearance as Catherine Harrington in 12 episodes of the TV shocker Peyton Place (1964–9). Ryan’s even greater obscurity is just as perplexing. He was a minor child actor who became a minor adult actor, playing uncredited parts until getting a break in the patriotic US Navy movie The Fighting Sullivans (1944). Most of his movies were fillers like Within These Walls; by 1949 his very occasional appearances were once more largely uncredited, exceptions being his bit part in the Bowery Boys movie Angels in Disguise (1949) and an embarrassing blackface cameo in Hollywood Varieties (1950).