Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Strange Story under the Moon, 2

A few days ago I uploaded a post here about the 1940 novel Moon Tide (by Willard Robertson--link to that earlier post), an LA-waterfront novel that John O'Hara later converted into the screenplay Moontide, his only solo screenwriting credit (he shared a number of others). The film appeared in 1942. I'd watched it a year or so ago but just recently read the novel, and because I could not remember the film well enough (and had taken notes on my earlier viewing with all the assiduity of a bored seventh grader), I watched it again the other night.

Why am I doing all this? Well, in a bit I'll be uploading to Kindle Direct a long memoir/essay about chasing the story of writer John O'Hara (1905-1970), whose complete works I've read and whose "territory" I've visited a number of times--from his birthplace (Pottsville, PA--which he called "Gibbsville" in his fiction) to his grave (in Princeton, NJ--not far from Jonathan Edwards!). I have a paragraph or so about Moontide (and Moon Tide) in the piece, and I wanted to be sure about some things. And now I am.

As I said the other day, Robertson published his novel before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and so one of the major minor characters (I know: sounds like a contradiction; it isn't), identified in the opening sentence as a pockmarked Jap, turns about to be a kind, generous man with a capacious heart. Not the sort of thing that filmgoers in 1942, a year after the attack, wanted to hear. It was a time of virulent anti-Japanese propaganda (and round-ups, to our enduring shame), and had Robertson released the novel after Pearl Harbor, it not have been just the face of Hirota that would be been pockmarked; it would have been his soul, as well.

Anyway, O'Hara changed the nationality of the man to Chinese (named Sen Yung)--but retained his genial generosity. He also changed the nationality of one of the two principals from Swedish ("the Swede" in the novel) to French. Casting, I'm sure, was the issue there. Jean Gabin, a popular international French star, was cast in the lead--shown below with the other lead, Ida Lupino, whom I remember from boyhood as the star of Mr. Adams and Eve (1957-1958), a TV show I liked. As I look at her credits on IMDB, I see that she appeared as a guest star on a number of shows I watched faithfully as a boy and adolescent--including 77 Sunset Strip, Have Gun-Will Travel, The Rifleman, The Untouchables, and The Fugitive among them.

As I wrote the other day, O'Hara retained the arc of the plot: Gabin (know as Bobo in the film ... geez) rescues Lupino from drowning (a suicide attempt); they take up house together aboard a bait barge owned by Sen Yung, where they ... three guesses! The villain remains the same--"Tiny," Bobo's friend, played by Thomas Mitchell. The picture shows Anna confronting Tiny--not a good idea (in book, in film).

But the novel has a darkness at its center that O'Hara (and the studio, 20th Century-Fox) elected to dissipate. The film has a far brighter ending--wise move in 1942 as the US geared up for the war that would kill so many of its younger generation (some 420,000, I believe)--that would send my father both to the South Pacific and to Europe (where he landed in France a few days after D-Day). He returned safely.

One odd thing: Claude Rains plays an older, educated friend of Bobo's; in the book he's an old fisherman nearby identified only as "the old man"; in the film his name is "Nutsy," which, to me, often sounded like "Nazi" when people addressed him. He even looks a little ... Gestapo-ish? ... in this studio still from the film, doesn't he?
Rains as "Nutsy"

You can watch the whole thing (with French subtitles!) at this link.

I'll have a bit more to say about this novel-to-film in a future post ...

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