Out of the Fog (1941) Anatole Litvak

(Out of the Fog is the fourth in a series of film noir titles I recently purchased from Warner Archive. I previously discussed Riffraff [1947], The Threat [1949], and Southside 1-1000 [1950]).

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Out of the Fog (1941)
Directed by Anatole Litvak
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay by Robert Macaulay, Robert Rossen, Jerry Walk
Based on the play Gentle People by Irwin Shaw
Cinematography by James Wong Howe
Warner Bros. DVD (1:32)

When I was looking for that all-important fourth film in the recent 4 for $44 sale at the Warner online store, the names Ida Lupino and John Garfield initially pulled me in. (I’d greatly enjoyed them both in The Sea Wolf, a film I’ve already seen twice this year.) Then when I noticed the film also includes two other favorites, Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen, I was sold.

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Two middle-aged men living near Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay, Jonah Goodwin (Thomas Mitchell) and Olaf Johnson (John Qualen) have been neighbors and best friends for years, finding their greatest joy in life from late night fishing. Both men dream of buying a large fishing boat and traveling to the Gulf for a life of bliss, but for now, their smaller humble boat will have to do.

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Into their lives steps Harold Goff (John Garfield), a fast-talking racketeer who tells the men they can keep on fishing to their hearts’ content, as long as they pay him $5 a week in protection money, otherwise their dreams (and their boat) will go up in smoke. To add insult to injury, Goff has his eye on Jonah’s lovely daughter Stella (Ida Lupino), a young woman who’s tired of her ordinary life, of dating an ordinary guy (Eddie Albert) and of doing ordinary things.

Jonah is quite ordinary as well, but will he behave in an out-of-the-ordinary manner when he finds out his daughter has fallen for the man extorting him? John Greco at Twenty Four Frames does a great job of discussing the themes of the film and how they differ from the potency of original play (yet be aware of spoilers), but standing on it’s own, Out of the Fog displays both wonderful strengths and disappointing weaknesses.

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James Wong Howe’s cinematography is, as always, outstanding. The darkness of the film (most of which occurs at night), combined with the ever-present fog creates a moody atmosphere and somewhat hides the fact that most of the action takes place on sets. No matter; we buy into it. Yet the supporting cast of Mitchell and Qualen (who probably receive more screen time than Garfield and Lupino) are the reasons to watch Out of the Fog. The chemistry of their friendship is wonderful and it’s a pleasure to see two such gifted actors in roles that allow them to display their talent.

Lupino (who was only 23 here, but in her 28th film!) is excellent. You can’t blame her for the way Stella is written, but it’s hard to believe she would spend any time whatsoever with Goff, a man whom she clearly knows is destroying her father’s life.

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Speaking of Goff, Garfield does a nice job with him, but the character is simply too cartoonish. He even foreshadows and overstates (many times) the form of his demise, which brings me to the ending of the film, a finale that’s not believable for one second. Here’s yet another example of the Hays Office throwing out the original, more believable (and more satisfying) ending.

Although Mitchell and Qualen provide their own comic relief in the midst of danger, the producers feel the need to add even more levity. We see our good friend (previously mentioned in my review of Southside 1-1000) George Tobias as a Russian immigrant who laments his inability to balance his books for the past 16 years, forcing himself into bankruptcy. Odette Myrtil plays Caroline, who bosses her short order cook Olaf around, but really yearns for him to marry her. And while not necessarily comedic, let’s not forget the appearance of Jerome Cowan, who must hold the second-place record for the most screen appearances with the shortest on-screen time. (Clearly Ray Teal is the all-time champ in this category.)

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Although it contains definite noir elements, Out of the Fog is really not a film noir, despite the fact that the title appears in many works on film noir. While it’s certainly not a great film, it contains enough strengths for me to recommend it. Available on DVD/MOD from Warner Archive.

Photos: Twenty Four Frames, Flickers in Time

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5 thoughts on “Out of the Fog (1941) Anatole Litvak

  1. Thanks for stopping by, Joel! I agree with your take on this film. I’m going to keep the DVD, mainly for the Mitchell/Qualen chemistry. Yeah, Garfield does what he can, but we as the audience can’t get behind him, even as a villain. I haven’t yet come close to seeing all of his work, but this is certainly his most disappointing role so far.

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  2. Since its cast list is a veritable list of performers I love (even the great Aline MacMahon is here!) I wanted to love the film equally but couldn’t.

    The cinematography is very evocative and everybody does their best (Mitchell and Qualen are dynamite together) but the narrative has things that don’t make sense in many instances. However the real failing for me was Garfield’s character, he was just too unpleasant to blend with the story and isn’t really suited to Garfield’s strengths.

    He’s as good as he could be in the role but he always did best as a character at some sort of disadvantage where the forces were against him in some way. This is probably the most reprehensible person he was ever handed which cuts the audience sympathy and undermines both him and more fatally the overall film.

    It’s not a terrible picture, the quality of the cast and production prevent that, but it’s minor and of all his films it’s one of the ones I return to least, the other being the mess that is We Were Strangers.

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