Jean Gabin, in his American debut, plays Bobo, a French sailor who has been knocking around the States for quite some time in the company of Tiny (Thomas Mitchell). Their wandering comes to a stop when, the day after a night of drunken excess that he cannot remember, Bobo sees Anna (Ida Lupino) wading into the waves to commit suicide. He rescues her, and before long the two are living together on the bait barge where he is working, and fall in love. Dark clouds are on the horizon, however. A local man was murdered, and Tiny, resentful that his meal ticket has been taken from him, darkly hints to Anna that Bobo might be responsible, even though he doesn’t know it himself.
Moontide was originally a Fritz Lang project, and as the accompanying documentary demonstrates, his influence is still felt in the finished project, notably during the climactic stalking sequence. Gabin, though a masterful presence, nonetheless seems almost as much a fish out of water as his character, and it doesn’t really come as a surprise that neither he nor Hollywood wound up caring much for the other, and he would return to the greener pastures of France. Claude Rains is on hand as a wisdom-dispensing night watchman – hardly a stretch for him, but it’s always a pleasure to hear his mellifluous tones. The real stretch, and indeed revelation here, is Thomas Mitchell – the man whose speciality was the cuddly, avuncular Irishman here becomes a twisted monster of childish, violent rage, giving us a real nail-biter of a denouement.
The only option here is the original mono. It is more than adequate. Taking into account that the film is from 1942, the sound is as clear and free of distortion as one could reasonably expect. The dialogue is always clear (and those aforementioned tones of Rains are worshipped by the recording equipment). The soundtrack has a good, full, warm feel to it, and the option of a stereo remix isn’t missed in the least.
The feature begins with an apologetic disclaimer, explaining that the film is brought to us using the best available material, implying that everybody is sorry the film doesn’t look any better than it does. No such apologies needed. Other than the occasional bit of haloing above characters’ head when they are in silhouette against a grey background, the print is in remarkable shape, with very little damage or grain of any kind. The black-and-white tones are very strong, and the climax is a wonder of different shades of darkness, while remaining perfectly clear throughout.
Author Foster Hirsch handles the commentary track, and it is as informative and in-depth as one has to come to expect with the Fox Film Noir series. The featurette is equally interesting, though its title, “Turning the Tide: The Ill-Starred Making of Moontide,” is a bit misleading. Certainly, the piece shows, there were plenty of problems that beset the production, but nothing really that out of the ordinary, and it isn’t as if the movie is some kind of travesty of what it once might have been (in fact, it turned out very well indeed). Still galleries are also here, as ever, along with ads for other releases in this series.
There is a case to be made that Jean Gabin was starring in noirs over in France a good decade before films of that ilk emerged from Hollywood, so it’s fascinating to see him in this. Another fine entry in the Fox’s Film Noir library.