I Covet the Waterfront

Here’s a minor but highly enjoyable Litvak WB drama with a comic tone — a companion in some ways to THE AMAZING DR. CLITTERHOUSE. As with that charming oddity, there’s a serious villain and a comic hero, or in this case, heroes.

Or is that strictly correct? The pic’s leading man is John Garfield, who gets the screen time commensurate with this status, and what I suppose we must call the romance, with Ida Lupini. Garfield plays a nasty character, not only a racketeer but a sadist, albeit one with dangerous charisma and a slick line of chat.

The film’s clitterhousing is divided by part-time fishermen Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen (in maybe the closest he got to co-lead). Garfield’s protection racket puts the squeeze on them, the law proves ineffectual (the script’s least convincing moment, and surely it could have been made credible) and they are driven to contemplate… murder.

The trouble is, unlike Clitterhouse, who was what I’m going to term genre-fluid, able to become a melodramatic psycho when the plot demanded it, then shift back to absurdity, these guys exist in only a few closely-aligned modes — sympathetic, pathetic, and comic. Can comic characters kill a serious one, and get away with it under the Production Code? As with CLITTERHOUSE, the answer is surprising.

Maybe the balance isn’t as neat as in DR. C., and maybe that’s because Garfield has to be given a substantial enough role to justify his presence, or maybe he’s not given enough genuine appeal to make his wooing of Lupino compelling (she loses sympathy for taking any interest in him, over poor Eddie Albert’s honest schnook). But still, it generates a ton of suspense and gets itself out of narrative trouble with surprising wrinkles. Fun.

Plenty of the the eponymous fog fog fog, and WB atmosphere. The impressive dock set seems to be decorated with one of Errol Flynn’s cast-off galleons.

OUT OF THE FOG stars Porfirio Diaz; Elvira Bonner; Uncle Billy; Irving Radovich; Nicholas Pappalas; Miser Stevens; Kate Canaday; Miles Archer; Delphine Detaille; ‘Slip’ Mahoney; Louie Dumbrowsky; Minor Role (uncredited); Wormy; McNab; Uncle John Joad; Big Bertha; and Hamilton Burger.

7 Responses to “I Covet the Waterfront”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Quite an effective little melodrama with Lupino firing on all cylinders and Garfield quite radically cast as a villain. I don’t know of this innately heroic actor ever playing a role quite like this before or since.

  2. chris schneider Says:

    OUT OF THE FOG was based on a Group Theater play, THE GENTLE PEOPLE: A BROOKLYN FABLE, which was written by Irwin Shaw. It had 141 performances in 1939. The gangster’s encroaching on the neighborhood was a version of the then-current situation of Hitler encroaching on Europe. Harold Goff, the Garfield role, was played by future PHANTOM LADY actor Franchot Tone. The Lupino role, Stella Goodwin, was played by Sylvia Sidney.

    IMDb says that Bogart, post HIGH SIERRA but pre-CASABLANCA, was initially supposed to play Goff, only Lupino — with whom relations were not happy — complained and the studio gave in to her. True? Not true? Supposedly Bogart sent a telegram to Jack Warner saying “When did Ida Lupino start casting films at your studio?”

  3. Wow!

    This is probably the first Irwin Shaw adaptation I’ve enjoyed, maybe because it was a play and therefore had a tight structure. He returned to work with Litvak postwar in Act of Love, which is at least interesting (the ending is extremely strong).

  4. C. Jerry Kutner Says:

    Never considered this comic, more of a proto-noir with a surprisingly evil and scary performance by J.Garfield. The screenplay was co-written by Robert Rossen.

  5. Rossen also worked on the marvelous Blues in the Night.

    I find a lot of it funny, in a good way, Mitchell & Qualen being so ill-suited to homicide. And Quaken’s Yumping Yiminy accent seems to belong to a comic universe.

  6. Simon Kane Says:

    I was bowled over by this film when I caught it decades ago on the telly. Have I said that on here before?… “Everyone’s equal. It says so in the books. Who am I equal to? Nobody! Throw away the books.” is a throwaway piece of dialogue that’s always stuck with me. It makes perfect sense this was a play.

  7. It’s da poetry of da streets! The theatrical flourishes work great with the Warner house style in expansive mode. Multiple expressionisms.

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