Tuesday, August 04, 2020

The Tide Continues

After reading The Ebb-Tide I looked to see if it had any film adaptations. Turns out there were four--I watched the 1937 version because it looked like it had the best cast. Ray Milland plays Herrick and Barry Fitzgerald plays Huish, which I thought was perfect, even if I doubted Fitzgerald could pull off a Cockney accent. But while Milland as he was in The Lost Weekend might have been perfect, in the 1930s his gig was playing straight forward, romantic leads and that's what Herrick is transformed into here. The attempt in doing so is to give him centre stage but paradoxically it makes him a far less substantial character. Who is Herrick if he isn't wrestling with his pride and conscience? Well, he's the wouldbe lover of Francis Farmer who plays a beautiful stowaway named Faith Wishart. There isn't much for her to do, either, but look beautiful which, to be fair, she accomplishes admirably. Also on the plus side, Barry Fitzgerald is every bit as great, and unable to hide his Irish accent, as I expected. Would you believe he plays a fantastic drunkard?

The only American in the book is Captain Davis who's replaced by Captain Thorbecke in this film, an identical character except he's European and played by Austrian actor Oscar Homolka with a thick accent. Milland was Welsh but, as usual at the time, even when playing British characters (like here), he has an American accent. I guess the studios generally didn't like to make Americans look weaker than Europeans and there were still concerns about audiences being unable to understand foreign accents. So they were usually relegated to character actors like Fitzgerald or Eric Blore, save for exceptions like Charles Boyer or Cary Grant, or carryover stars from the silent era big enough to have whatever accent wanted, like Greta Garbo.

Ray Milland as he was in Dial M for Murder would've been perfect as Attwater, who's played by American actor Lloyd Nolan, another British character with an unexplained American accent. In addition to the wrong accent, Nolan completely fails to give Attwater any of his fascinating complexity--his charming manner coupled with paradoxical piety and sadism. I can easily imagine this scene being played between Dial M for Murder Ray Milland and Lost Weekend Ray Milland:

'And what brings you here, Mr Herrick-Hay, or Mr Hay-Herrick?' asked the voice of Attwater. 'Your back view from my present position is remarkably fine, and I would continue to present it. We can get on very nicely as we are, and if you were to turn round, do you know? I think it would be awkward.'

Herrick slowly rose to his feet; his heart throbbed hard, a hideous excitement shook him, but he was master of himself. Slowly he turned, and faced Attwater and the muzzle of a pointed rifle. 'Why could I not do that last night?' he thought.

'Well, why don't you fire?' he said aloud, with a voice that trembled.

Attwater slowly put his gun under his arm, then his hands in his pockets.

'What brings you here?' he repeated.

'I don't know,' said Herrick; and then, with a cry: 'Can you do anything with me?'

'Are you armed?' said Attwater. 'I ask for the form's sake.'

'Armed? No!' said Herrick. 'O yes, I am, too!' And he flung upon the beach a dripping pistol.

'You are wet,' said Attwater.

'Yes, I am wet,' said Herrick. 'Can you do anything with me?'

Attwater read his face attentively.

'It would depend a good deal upon what you are,' said he.

'What I am? A coward!' said Herrick.

'There is very little to be done with that,' said Attwater. 'And yet the description hardly strikes one as exhaustive.'

'Oh, what does it matter?' cried Herrick. 'Here I am. I am broken crockery; I am a burst drum; the whole of my life is gone to water; I have nothing left that I believe in, except my living horror of myself. Why do I come to you? I don't know; you are cold, cruel, hateful; and I hate you, or I think I hate you. But you are an honest man, an honest gentleman. I put myself, helpless, in your hands. What must I do? If I can't do anything, be merciful and put a bullet through me; it's only a puppy with a broken leg!'

'If I were you, I would pick up that pistol, come up to the house, and put on some dry clothes,' said Attwater.

'If you really mean it?' said Herrick. 'You know they—we—they. .. But you know all.'

'I know quite enough,' said Attwater. 'Come up to the house.'

There is a definite attraction between the two men in the book that's not present in the film. I don't generally like to hold up all such things as "code for gay" though I wouldn't be surprised if homophobia were the culprit in the attempt to reroute this chemistry--unsuccessfully--to Francis Farmer's character.

The book has no female characters unless you count one of Attwater's native servants--a beautiful woman mentioned very briefly in the book. Every film adaptation shoehorns a female character in--the first adaptation, from 1922, introduces a daughter for Attwater while a French version from the 60s introduces yet another character. The 1947 version is basically a remake of 1937's, with Rhonda Fleming in the same role as Faith Wishhart.

Faith is the daughter of the captain Herrick, Huish, and Thorbecke steal the ship from. She attracts both Herrick and Attwater but the film doesn't actually make much hay from the love triangle it sets up. The last act is so muddled it presents a lot of plot points while forgetting that it deleted a lot of setup. It's not even clear why Herrick is horrified by Attwater who's condescending attitude about the power of life and death he holds over the natives isn't nearly as pronounced in the movie as it is n the book.

The movie doesn't seem to be streaming in HD anywhere. I watched a lousy VHS rip on YouTube, which is too bad, because I suspect Farmer emerging from the sea in one scene in a totally unexplained evening gown/sarong is really beautiful. But Barry Fitzgerald is a delight in any resolution.

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