Showing at the 2018 Glasgow film festival as part of the Ida Lupino: On Dangerous Ground strand is the film Noir drama Moontide. The strand celebrates the centenary of the birth of Lupino who was an actor who managed to do much more. At one point in the Nineteen Fifties she was the only female director working in Hollywood. Rather than the popular women’s pictures of the time, she tackled social issues in her self financed, low budget films that were very unique and gave a platform for strong independent female characters. Moontide is a fine example of her work in front of the camera while she was still considered as only an actor.
The film is set on the run down waterfront of San Pablo. This is the current hangout for longshoreman Bobo (Jean Gabin). After a long night drinking he learns that a murder has been committed. He has no memory of the goings on apart from a few hazy recollections. He fears that he might have carried out the heinous deed. He hides away in a quit part of the dock working on a bait selling barge. While there he rescues Anna (Ida Lupino) who was attempting suicide. As that particular act is illegal he pretends he is her boyfriend and that she was just a little drunk. Once he takes her back to his barge he starts to connect with her. Meanwhile the shadow murder is never too far away from his thoughts.
This is classed as one of the early films classed as being part of the film-noir genre. Fritz Lang started the movie in the director’s chair but quit early in the production over clashes with the Jean Gabin. Even though he was not a credited part of the finished film his influence can be seen throughout the production. The look of the film is striking. The main set on the dock at the bait barge was all filmed within a studio and the look and feel of the set is very atmospheric. The long causeway is used to great effect several times during the film, including its final dramatic showdown scene. It feels like the furthest point that anyone could get from the rest of the port town without actually being at sea.
The film marked the American debut for the French actor Jean Gabin. He has in exile from his homeland as the second world war was in progress. A big star in France, he never made much of a career in Hollywood mainly due to his limited grasp of English. Here it is a positive boost as it gives the main performance an air of something different. Bobo is a drifter and the fact he doesn’t come from that town marks him as a slightly mysterious figure. No one actually gets what he is about until he starts to fall for Anna.
Ida Lupino is of course a very fine actor. It was in roles like this one that she started to stretch herself. Not content with being the on screen glamour Lupino was looking for something a bit more. The part of Anna is not a glamorous role. She is young and in a lot of trouble. So much so that ending her life is the only option. As she sees the error of her ways she starts to change. There is nothing of the rescued waif about her either. She knows how life works and just how unfair it can be. Ida Lupino captures this in a very subtle and reserved performance. There are enough big characters around her to make her realise that small (in terms of performance choice) was the way to go. This results in a memorable portrayal of a complex young lady.
In terms of Film-noir, Moontide is seen as a relatively minor entry in the genre. It deserves a re-assessment if only for the two lead performances and the very atmospheric set ups.