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  Night Tide Something Fishy
Year: 1963
Director: Curtis Harrington
Stars: Dennis Hopper, Linda Lawson, Gavin Muir, Luana Anders, Tom Dillon, Marjorie Eaton, Marjorie Cameron, H.E. West, Bruno VeSota
Genre: Romance, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Johnny Drake (Dennis Hopper) is a young sailor on leave, spending his time on Venice Beach. That night, as he wanders the streets, he hears jazz music from the doorway of a bar and goes in. Buying himself a beer, he notices an attractive, dark-haired woman (Linda Lawson) sitting alone, and tries to strike up a conversation with her, but they are interrupted by a mysterious older lady (Marjorie Cameron) who speaks in a strange language, and the young woman makes her excuses and leaves. Johnny chases after her, ending up at her door where she reluctantly agrees to have breakfast with him the next day, but little does Johnny know he is being drawn into a mystery that may cost him his life.

Written by the director, Curtis Harrington, this was his first attempt at a feature length project, after previously making experimental films, although Night Tide still has the quality of one of those efforts, only bolstered with a solid, romantic story. It owes a debt to the low budget, forties chillers of Val Lewton, specifically Cat People, with its female character unwilling to commit to a relationship she nonetheless wishes to be involved with, and a possible supernatural explanation behind the mystery of why. But here it is Johnny's character who is the innocent, a lonely soul who is enchanted by the young woman at great cost.

The woman reveals her name to be Mora, and at breakfast she tells Johnny that she is a mermaid - that is, she works as a mermaid in the amusement arcade, dressed up with a fish tail and sitting in a tank of water. But she has a strange affinity with the sea, as illustrated when she lures a seagull over and pets it (don't encourage them, I'd say), and she has a history of being obsessed with the water, believing herself to be one of the "Sea People", or a Siren of Greek myth. She was found on a Greek island as a little girl by retired sailor Captain Murdoch (Gavin Muir), who brought her up and now runs the mermaid attraction.

However, this is where the danger comes in, because Johnnny is informed by Ellen (Luana Anders with lots of coffee), the granddaughter of the merry-go-round owner, that Mora's previous two boyfriends have died in mysterious circumstances (just about everything happens in mysterious circumstances in this film), making Johnny understandably nervous. Could he be the equivalent of one of the seamen of those legends, lured to his death by the Siren? Proceeding with a dreamlike lack of urgency, the plot arranges it so that he is in two minds about whether his new girlfriend is a possible murderer, but it's funny how you accept that the rumours about Mora could all be true.

Maybe Night Tide is a little too leisurely paced for its own good, as the puppyish, inquistive Johnny bumbles his way from character to character, with the odd nightmarish scene, such as when he catches sight of a severed human hand in a jar in the Captain's house, or the one where he is ravaged by a giant octopus, breaking up the woozy flow. While the solution to what is really going on is perfectly reasonable, but an anticlimax, Harrington wisely lets a few enigmas remain - we never, for instance, find out the purpose of the foreign woman. The not quite stilted, almost naive presentation lends itself well to the haunting atmosphere, and the tragic dimensions make the film stay with you - it's just like a dream, in fact. Jazzy score by David Raksin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Curtis Harrington  (1928 - 2007)

American cult director who graduated from experimental films (he was an associate of Kenneth Anger) to working as an assistant on Hollywood films like Peyton Place and The Long Hot Summer. He made several distinctive B-movies during the 60s and 70s, before turning his hand to mainstream American TV. His most notable films were Night Tide, starring a young Dennis Hopper, Queen of Blood, Games, the twisted thrillers Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? and What's the Matter with Helen?, and possession horror Ruby.

 
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