With my new full-time writer status, part of my transition with the site is to write about movie I get truly excited over, whether it makes me so mad I just have to discuss it or wows me to the point that I’m urging you to watch it immediately. If you’ve noticed, my most recent reviews have been for films I’ve enjoyed and I’m going to give you one I outright loved!
I’m embarking on a year-long celebration of stars turning 100 for TCM Backlot, and February’s star is director/actress Ida Lupino. Thus if you’ve been following my Twitter or Letterboxd account you know I’ve been trying to watch every Ida Lupino movie available to me. Lupino started her career in England, playing dizzy dames or bad girls dating married men, the Jean Harlow of London, complete with platinum blond hair. When she came to American shores her character took a fair bit of time to stand out, and by the 1940s Lupino was a big enough star that she could dictate her costars. All of this leads us to the film I’m raving about, Out of the Fog.
Director Anatole Litvak tells a story of two Russian immigrants, Jonah Goodwin and Olaf Johnson (Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen), whose only joy in life is going out four nights a week to fish. They’re forced to take an offer they can’t refuse from racketeer Harold Goff (John Garfield) to pay $5 a week to “protect” their boat. Meanwhile, after fleecing Jonah, Goff starts to take a shine to the old man’s daughter, Stella (Lupino). The whole thing comes to a head once Goff decides to take Jonah for his life savings and take Stella off to Cuba.
Out of the Fog is an intriguing film from its standpoint in history. Released six months before the U.S. would formally enter WWII the movie boasts a message about stopping villains before they have a chance to gain significant toehold and crush the common man. Jonah – whose last name blatantly tells you about his personality – and Olaf are two men trying to follow the American dream. They work hard, they have some money saved; Jonah, to his credit, is attempting to raise a daughter with good values. The only thing these men need in life is a little boat and a fishing rod. Goff’s arrival is akin to the bubonic plague, or the rise of Nazism. As Jonah lays out, first Goff wants a little money, then it’s a man’s job, his family, etc. For Jonah, paying a little something here and there to make a problem go away doesn’t solve the problem; it just makes the problem believe it has more power. This narrative could just as easily apply to Communism or big government, giving Out of the Fog a timeless quality.
Anatole Litvak’s camera seeks to remind audiences of why America is the greatest country, again, no surprise considering the time period. Mitchell and Qualen are darling as the two old men at the center of this story. They’re your father, your grandfather, and watching John Garfield beat one of them with a rubber hose stands out, especially when placed next to Ida Lupino’s cynical Stella. This isn’t Lupino’s story, per se, but Stella is a woman who sees the unbalanced nature of the world. She sees a man like Goff as a quick route to excitement, riches, wealth. It helps that, though he controls her, there’s an animal attraction between the two that pales to Stella’s chaste relationship with good boy George (Eddie Albert). Considering Lupino’s issues with her roles off-screen, Stella’s character knows the world isn’t kind to women, and her cynicism is the result of being told what to do, how to be a “good girl.”
As well-thought out and emotionally resonate as Jonah and Olaf’s story is, there’s some serious heat in the plot between Goff and Stella. This was the second time Lupino and Garfield worked together, after their turn in The Sea Wolf (1940). The studio initially offered this to Humphrey Bogart, but Lupino didn’t get along with him and, being the bigger star, demanded someone else. Honestly, Bogart wouldn’t have worked here. I’ve seen John Garfield in a few other films but holy cow, why didn’t anyone tell me how amazing he is?! He could have easily turned Goff into a discount Cagney character, and his “baby’s” does veer that way. However, Garfield makes Goff a florid showman. He’s frightening, but any woman could easily be seduced by his confidence and devil-may-care attitude. There’s a palpable sexual chemistry between him and Lupino, and for a minute you really want the two to run off to Cuba together. He may claim he’s “got rocks” in soul, but I’d be okay with that!
The foggy docks and gritty narrative make this one of the darker noirs, aided by its healthy dose of cynicism. The third act, with its reminder that good people are rewarded might seem hokey, but it works to remind audiences what they were fighting for at the time. The destruction of Goff is the destruction of evil that was feared to spread to the entire world.
I was enthralled by Out of the Fog. Give me more John Garfield and Ida Lupino, though I believe this was their last pairing. Mitchell and Qualen are brilliant. The message resonates and transcneds its time period. Just go watch it!
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.