Movie Journal
J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

MOVIE JOURNAL: J. Hoberman on movies and movie-related things

The Edge of “Night Tide”

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Literally as well as figuratively, Curtis Harrington’s first feature—the stilted but effectively moody nocturne “Night Tide”, newly out in a restored Blu-Ray—is a product of the Hollywood fringe.

Long before his career making campy horror films, Harrington was a pioneer postwar American avant-garde film—a student of Josef von Sternberg’s at UCLA, a youthful associate of Kenneth Anger and Gregory Markopolous—and although far from experimental, “Night Tide” has definite elements of the trance films and psychodramas he made in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. An atmospheric chiller inspired by Val Lewton’s classic B film “Cat People”, “Night Tide” was made for $55,000 mainly in Venice and on the Santa Monica pier and was considered so offbeat that it took nearly two years to find a distributor. (Ultimately drive-in specialists American-International Pictures rose to the challenge; in New York, the movie opened at a 42nd Street grind-house in support of “The Birds.”)

The only name in the cast, Dennis Hopper plays an innocent young sailor who falls in love with Mora, a mysterious, possibly dangerous carnival mermaid (former show-girl and future TV mainstay Linda Lawson) found as a child on the Greek island Faiakes, mythological home of the Sirens. Where another actor might have settled for bland sappiness, James Dean disciple Hopper takes his naïvete with to the edge of hysteria. (No doubt he felt an affinity with the anonymous beatniks digging the scene in the jazz cellar where he first meets Lawson.)

Other interesting credits include the occult artist Marjorie Cameron as a “water witch” who spooks the unhappy mermaid by addressing her in phonetic (and played the Scarlet Woman in Anger’s “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome” and was herself the subject of Harrington’s documentary short “The Wormwood Star”) and Russian-born Benjamin Zemach, a veteran of the original Hebrew-language theater Habima who apparently choreographed Mora’s bongo dance.Images: Kino Lorber

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