Format: Criterion Channel
Director: Anatole Litvak
Well, Jamie likes Ida Lupino, so it's never a huge fight when I declare "I'm gonna watch an Ida Lupino movie" which does, in fact, happen around here. And right now Criterion Channel had a handful of options, most of which I've seen but a few I hadn't. Tonight's choice was Out of the Fog from 1941.
The film feels distinctly pre-war in content, a stage-like acting style derived from 30's-era norms plus - I assume - a desire to replicate the energy and pacing of source material from several of the players. It's a tight 85 minutes of melodrama that feels like a mix of the socially conscious theater of the 1940's and some light crime.
It also stars John Garfield (who is typically John Garfield excellent), Thomas Mitchell, Eddie Albert and a handful of other familiar faces and just faces.
|Garfield and Lupino out on the town
The basic set-up of the film works along two lines: 1) A cook and a tailor find their only joy in life is going fishing a few nights per week. John Garfield shows up and threatens their boat, protection racket style, at the screamingly high price of $5 per week (about $100 per week now) for what looks like a dump of a boat. 2) Garfield also spies the tailor's daughter and she is Ida Lupino, so he naturally takes a shine to her. She's also feeling trapped and bored with her life already at 21, and afraid taking her beau up on marriage is going to lead to greater unhappiness, so she's charmed by the worldly, high-rolling Garfield. The two threads collide and that's how you get drama, people.
The movie is surprisingly clear-eyed about a few things. Racketeers get away with what they do because they have the stones to try it, and people tend to roll over when push comes to shove. Also, that looking around at the expectations of a normal life and the desire to get out hath led many a young person to make some bad decisions, but you also kind of understand why Lupino wants to run and keep on going. I mean, her boyfriend is a totally boring dud who doesn't listen to anything she has to say and sees her as "girl who I will make cook for me."
There's also a strong thread of a sentiment American movies have all but dispensed with in "it's okay to be a normal, average person" and that not everyone needs to be a rock star. It's not a call to conform, but it is a call to be content with knowing people love you, you have a place with them, and you're free to try out whatever, but most of us are not exceptional, so, you know, that's okay, too. Not exactly what we're selling ourselves in 2022.
There's some plot contrivance I don't quite like (like, my mans, immediately go to the police if someone holds a gun on you and makes you sign a contract). But overall it's... okay.
The highlights of the film are seeing Garfield and Lupino young and already terrific, Lupino's Tropicana outfit, and the cinematography of James Wong Howe, who is just showing the hell off in this movie, with shadows, fog, streetlights, and more. And we're not even talking about his smart compositions throughout the film. Just way ahead of everyone else at this point.
I don't quite get how or why Lupino has top billing for Out of the Fog. She was clearly being set up by WB to be a major star, which half-worked out. It's just surprising to see her get top billing so close to her supporting roles in High Sierra and other contemporary films.