Friday, February 5, 2010

#75: Out of the Fog (Anatole Litvak, 1941)

Released: June 14, 1941

Director: Anatole Litvak; Screenplay: Robert Macauley, Robert Rossen and Jerry Wald based on the play “The Gentle People” by Irwin Shaw; Cinematography: James Wong Howe; Music: Heinz Roemheld; Producers: Hal B. Wallis and Henry Blanke; Studio: Warner Brothers

Cast: John Garfield (Harold Goff), Ida Lupino (Stella Goodwin), Thomas Mitchell (Jonah Goodwin), Eddie Albert (George Watkins), George Tobias (Igor Propotkin), John Qualen (Olaf Johnson), Aline MacMahon (Florence Goodwin), Jerome Cowan (Assistant District Attorney), Odette Myrtil (Caroline Pomponette), Leo Gorcey (Eddie), Robert Homans (Officer Magruder), Bernard Gorcey (Sam Pepper), Paul Harvey (Judge Moriarty)

Yes, more Ida Lupino. Even more importantly for the countdown is the debut appearance of one of the few men who I think can justifiably lay claim to being _the_ leading man of film noir. I know, I know, that’s a bold claim, and I’m not sure that I necessarily would place him above the likes of Mitchum, Bogart, Lancaster and others. But the more films that I have watched for this series, the deeper my appreciation of the work of John Garfield continues to grow. He’s one of my favorite actors of all-time, regardless of genre or era. And in Out of the Fog, he delivers a wonderfully smug performance as waterfront racketeer Harold Goff. Goff is a swaggering, ruthless gangster, and what makes him all the more awful is that he knows it. He just doesn’t care. Garfield makes that conceit and arrogance shoot off the screen.

The script from writing team Robert Rossen, Robert Macauley and Jerry Wald does an outstanding job of adapting a stage play from Irwin Shaw to the big screen. In retrospect, knowing that it was based on a play makes sense, as scenes are set up in rooms or on the same dock and are usually left to play out within that confined area. But what the screenplay manages to do is to take something that had previously been performed on stage and inject a wonderful sense of nighttime on the docks of Sheepshead Bay. Nearly every scene is set in the darkened night, with fog always looming, and almost everything takes place on or around the docks. The cause of the fear that grips everyone on the docks is Goff, a tough guy who makes his living by extorting protection money from all the fisherman and boat owners in the area. When locals Jonah Goodwin (Thomas Mitchell) and Olaf Johnson (John Qualen) acquire a small boat for their personal fishing adventures, Goff even moves in for kickbacks from them. As the pair haggles, but ultimately gives into the demands, the situation is complicated when Jonah’s daughter Stella (Ida Lupino) meets and falls for rising racketeer Goff. Stella longs for a way out from the struggling existence of Sheepshead Bay and sees the flashy Goff as the perfect opportunity.

On one level, the romance between Stella and Goff makes sense, as Goff is able to flash money and presents on the young girl to win her over. Things like promising steamship trips around the world would certainly do the tick. On the other hand, the one sticking point to the story for me was why Jonah never simply made Stella well aware of the fact that her newfound boyfriend was bleeding her own parents dry? It then seems like the breaks would at least temporarily be put on the affair. This is more of a commentary on Shaw’s original play, I would guess, rather than the actual screenwriters and filmmaker. Chalk it up to one of those minor plot details that you either go with or you don’t. I went with it, because at times it seems like Garfield as Goff truly is conniving and charismatic enough to pull off the deception. I already mentioned the darkness and shadows overtaking everything in the film, which is an acknowledgment of the work of James Wong Howe. Wong Howe is a fascinating individual and one of the finest cinematographers of the era. His work is the key contribution that makes Out of the Fog feel like a genuine movie, rather than a play on film.

My guess is that this one is not well known, which is a shame. Then again, this could certainly be one that I rank this high because of the memories it arouses in me due to the particular circumstances and timing of the first time that I watched it. I won't bore everyone with more "cancer stories" but will say that it was a movie that I watched at a pivotal moment in my own life, so it will always maintain a special status for me. For everyone else, though, John Garfield’s performance is too good not to be seen and appreciated.


  1. I have never seen this movie but I also want to voice my love for John Garfield. I recently watched Force of Evil again and he was so great in that film. He is definitely a great actor. Besides searching out this movie your review makes me want to watch Body and Soul or The Postman Always Rings Twice again very soon......M.Roca

  2. M.Roca - I definitely agree on everything you mention here about Garfield - a truly great actor. And every film that you mention here is likely to be covered at some point in the countdown.

  3. “James Wong Howe is one of the greatest cinematographer and is a key ingredient this fine film, in addition to Garfield and Lupino who are a potent combination. As you mention, Garfield is particularly strong in his role and the film is worth seeing just for his performance. I am sure we will be seeing more of Mr. Garfield, and Ms. Lupino as this countdown goes on.”

    The film has a great supporting cast, Aline MacMahon, John Qualen, Thomas Mitchell, Eddie Albert and the Gorcey brothers.

  4. John - Glad to hear that you enjoy this one. Garfield was a spectacular actor, making every role feel genuine and just as adept at playing a hero as a villain.

  5. In addition to Howe, I think we need to acknowledge this film's director, Anatole Litvak, who has one masterpiece in 1936 with MAYERLING, and other popular/formidable films with SORRY WRONG NUMBER, ANASTASIA, CITY FOR CONQUEST, CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY and THE SNAKE PIT (which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Director). I am sorry to say you threw me for a loop here, ("My guess is that this one is not well-known") as this is the one Litvak film I have not seen, but it's thrilling to know there's one more by this solid helmer that is essential-viewing.

    Truthfully, it's ALWAYS terrific when potentially stagey material is opened up to create a cinematically fluid work, which according to what you say here is exactly what happened.

  6. Sam - I agree with you on Litvak, a true unsung director of the era. He might not match the influence of some of his noir contemporaries, but he made a number of highly entertaining films. Check this one out if you get the chance (which, incidentally I might be able to help with in the near future).

  7. Hi Dave, I'm late in commenting on this one as I haven't had much time over recent days, but want to say I love Garfield too - he is one of my favourites, as is Litvak, and I think this is a wonderfully atmospheric, dark film. I also think Ida Lupino gives a fine performance as the bored, frustrated daughter - a part right up her street as an actress - but for me maybe the best performance here is Thomas Mitchell as the father. I'd say he is really the lead in this film even though Garfield gets top billing. I was also puzzled, as you mention, over why Jonah doesn't tell his daughter what Goff is doing, especially when he has just brutally beaten him up so he can hardly walk. What loving daughter would look twice at a man who is violently assaulting her father? I did look up some reviews a while back of both this movie and the original stage play, which suggested that the story is partly an allegory about fascism, and how the "gentle people" are being driven to use violence to defeat it. I suppose this idea could partly explain why Goff is such a figure of unmitigated evil, and also the way he casts a glamorous fascination over Stella, trying to turn her into his follower, while beating and robbing those he has no use for. Anyway, a very interesting review, Dave, and I hope Garfield might crop up again in your countdown, though I know your lips are sealed...

  8. Anatole Litvak is one of the best directors in Ukraine, I remember that sometime ago I got an old newspaper that said "Litvak became the third husband of American actress Miriam Hopkins. Their short-lived marriage ended in divorce in 1939."22dd