French Poetic Realism, as developed by Marcel Carné & Jacques Prévert in DAYBREAK/’39 and PORT OF SHADOWS/’38, snuck up on mainstream Hollywood in this stylized stage-to-film pic from Anatole Litvak. It doesn’t quite come off, a lack of unity in the playing and the source material (Irwin Shaw’s THE GENTLE PEOPLE) is sentimental punk populism, but it’s never less than fun to look at. Lenser James Wong Howe dapples mist & shifting light on the waterfront sets and character actors like Thomas Mitchell & John Qualen shine in front-and-center roles. The story has Ida Lupino, as Mitchell’s daughter, hoping to bust out of her drab little life by ditching her butter-and-egg boyfriend (Eddie Albert, very good in a lousy role) for the snappy patter of two-bit mobster John Garfield, even as his protection racket strikes her dad. Garfield & Lupino, just great last time out in THE SEA WOLF/’41, are all thumbs here. Yelling lines and indicating every emotion before playing it. Did Litvak encourage them or was it the prestige-factor of filming a recent play from the famous Group Theatre?* Still, worth a look for its unusual cast, plus a nifty ending that manages to let everyone have their cake and eat it, too.
DOUBLE-BILL: Ida Lupino got another dose of French Poetic Realism co-starring with the movement’s leading man, Jean Gabin, in his misbegotten Hollywood debut MOONRISE/’42 with flat-footed Archie Mayo taking the reins after Fritz Lang bailed.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY-I: *It doesn’t happen often, but the B’way cast was starrier than the film what with Sylvia Sidney, Franchot Tone, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden and future directors Elia Kazan and Martin Ritt in Harold Clurman’s original line-up.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY-II: A drowning a la AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY/’31 (also A PLACE IN THE SUN/’51) leads not to the murder rap envisioned by Theodore Dreiser, but to a happy ending. Go figure.