2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An ill-starred but engaging romantic drama,
This review is from: Moontide [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
With France having surrendered to the Nazis, it was perhaps inevitable that Jean Gabin would finally try his luck in Hollywood, but his American debut Moontide wasn't exactly smooth sailing, with director Fritz Lang replaced by Archie Mayo, the props department were reportedly so freaked out by some of Salvador Dali's designs they refused to make them and 20th Century Fox's publicity campaign stressing that Gabin could `say more with a single glance than ten pages of dialogue' inadvertently giving the impression his English wasn't up to much. While his command of the language was more than adequate, something was definitely lost in translation, not helped by some strange choices made by actor and filmmakers alike. Calling his character Bobo was a bad start and his entrance, looking a bit like Spencer Tracy doing an impersonation of Harpo Marx while getting tangled up in his vicious dog's lead did him few favors (nor does the absurdly low chair he sits on in one scene), and it takes quite a while for some of the old pre-war magic to come to the surface after the broader than usual approach he takes to his early scenes - and then it is indeed in his quieter moments when he just has to look and react and does indeed deliver a veritable silent monologue or two.
The film itself is an ideal vehicle for him, tying in neatly with his tragic Quai des Brumes/La Bete Humaine persona as the nice guy with a dark side that threatens to lead him to his own destruction, although despite the moody foggy harbor atmosphere and nourish lighting this turns out to be a far more optimistic piece as his sailor who may or may not have killed in a drunken blackout finds a chance at redemption when he rescues Ida Lupino's suicidal waitress from both a watery grave and a trip downtown with the cops. They set up home in a bait shop they gradually turn into a dream home, but the inevitable fly in the ointment is Thomas Mitchell's dependent `friend.' Like a pilot fish, he latches onto a strong shark he can leech off, taking Gabin's pay so he doesn't have to work himself, and keeping what he knows to himself - though it's more than hinted that his attraction to Gabin may not be entirely financial. Yet while it has heavy noir overtones and a striking drunken montage sequence (the hands on a speeding clock replaced by bottles which may be all that remains of Salvador Dali's contribution to the film), this never follows them through to the kind of inevitable tragedy that would become the norm in post-war noirs: this is a man on the edge of destruction who might just pull through, and you do find yourself rooting for the pair as they put down roots and make real friends like Claude Rains' amiably philosophical nightwatchman and Jerome Cowan's doctor who keeps on running into engine trouble (a rare likeable role for an actor who specialised in sleazy types).
The uneven start and the time it takes Gabin to find his feet in a Hollywood role do hinder the film, but once it gets into its stride it's quite an engaging romantic drama even if it never gives itself in to the doomed romanticism that was his pre-war trademark. Although Fox's Region 1 NTSC DVD is preceded with a warning that it's been mastered from the best available elements that usually heralds a poor transfer, the print used is good enough to make you wonder why they felt the need to cover their backs. As well as several stills galleries there's also a very informative 25-minute documentary about the film's troubled production.