Spoiler Theater: In Curtis Hanson’s beautiful, haunting and unsettling romantic thriller, it’s a case of Boy meets Girl, Boy gets Girl and Boy, Oh Boy, does Boy lose Girl, But That’s Sort Of A Good Thing? Night Tide is a dark and moody film set by the Pacific, with an old pier carnival and its seaside surroundings as the main setting and what could be seen by some today as a few problematic elements in some of its troubled characters. I still think it’s an excellent film, mind you. But after watching it with a few friends recently, I see it’s also a film where some viewers applying more modern thoughts to its story may find an issue with their overall enjoyment. You’ll see.
A young sailor on leave named Johnny Drake (Dennis Hopper) goes to a seaside amusement park at night. He pops into a jazz club where he sees a lovely woman (Linda Lawson) sitting alone enjoying the music. He crosses the room, asks her if he can sit at her table because he can’t see the musicians from where he is, then proceeds to sit facing the woman, not the musicians. He tries to strike up more conversation, but she asks him to let her listen to the tunes instead. He then tries to buy her a drink twice, but she refuses both times. Suddenly, a strange, middle-aged black-clad woman (Marjorie Cameron) comes into the club, approaches the other woman and starts speaking an untranslated foreign language (Greek?) to her. The young woman is upset by this and quickly hands Johnny some cash to pay for whatever she was drinking and rushes out of the club.
A too-persistent Johnny doesn’t give up. He follows her outside like a lost puppy and gets yelled at when he catches up with her. The woman then wisely asks if she’ll be safe with him following her home and of course, he says she will and that the black-clad woman was what was really frightening her. They eventually make it to her home, a small apartment above a merry-go-round. Johnny asks if he can come up for a while, then steals a kiss. The woman, who we find out is named Mora, is surprisingly receptive despite her understandable initial hesitation. Johnny asks if she’s free the next morning, and Mora says she is and will fix him breakfast at 11 am.
Ah, the quaint times, huh?
The next day, Johnny meets the merry-go-round operator (Tom Dillon) and his pretty granddaughter, Ellen (Luana Anders) before he heads up to see Mora. Breakfast goes, let’s just say, swimmingly, and it looks as if there’s a new couple for you and happy times ahead for them. As they enjoy their meal, Mora tells Johnny she has to go to work. She plays a mermaid at the amusement pier and all she needs to do is wear a set of fins on her lower half and lay in a glass-topped case that has a layer of water on the surface so it looks as if she’s underwater.
After escorting her to work, Johnny meets Mora’s employer, one Captain Sam Murdock (Gavin Muir). An ex-British Navy man, he tells a tiny bit about finding her on his travels and notes he’ll talk to Johnny more about her later as he gives him a business card with his name and address. It’s “a very unusual story”, the Captain says, cryptically. Johnny goes inside the small exhibit to see Mora in costume and he’s even more hooked in by how stunning she looks as a “mermaid”.
“Hold up.” Said the expected voice from the chair on the left side of the couch. “I have some questions.” We all looked at at my friend’s college-aged daughter with a bit of amusement. She was in town for a visit to her folks for a bit and happened to be there with a friend when I popped by with a few films. Pausing the DVD, we let her take a restroom break and look at the notes she was taking (yes, she’s studying film in school). She came back a few minutes later and pointed out a few things she didn’t like and right away, Johnny’s less than smooth moves were the main thing she found she didn’t appreciate. But she did also make a note of Mora’s sudden acceptance of Johnny’s behavior as equally unusual and plot convenient.
Her friend shrugged and said “A teacher at school once said “It’s all Greek to me”, when he’d handed back some graded papers.”, noting that she had to look up the old saying when she got a C- grade on what she thought was a better done report. Daughter Dear looked over at her parents and asked if she’d suddenly gotten a sailor boyfriend in that same way as Mora, would they be pleased? Her mom smiled, put up both thumbs and just said “Well, two or three new grand-kids!, duh!” and let out a laugh while Dad muttered something like the Navy would have a sailor-sized ship go missing or something like that. I was busy laughing at the extremely wide-eyed reaction to the multiple grandchildren comment from the two college pals, so apologies are in order.
As I was chuckling away, I noted to the Studious Kid and her friend that they had to see the whole picture to, you know, see the whole picture and the older folks watching agreed. The Mom as Eager Future Grand-mom in the Room slyly noted “Oh, wait until she sees the ending!”, which was met with a withering glare and a “Mom! Don’t you dare spoil the movie!”, followed by an “Anyway,” guess from the Grade A Student that Johnny would likely end up with Ellen at some point, and her friend agreed. I think Daddy-O was ticked off by no one laughing at his joke, but that’s overlapping dialog for you, folks.
Then again, barge-slow Dads have some good comeback lines. He suddenly said “Wait, what was that about grandchildren? Do I need to start buying cigars?” Moms in battleship-sinking speedboats have better comebacks, though. She said something like babies aren’t supposed to smoke, but she’d heard of bubblegum flavored vape on the market, which made everyone laugh. The dog, who until this point was sleeping nearby, looked up with a start at the laughing people, likely thinking “Meddling kids…” or something similarly Scooby-like.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch:
The next day, the pair take a bus trip to a beach in Santa Monica, and Johnny quizzes Mora again about Sam. Mora tells Johnny about the Captain adopting her from a Greek island (Mykonos) and that he’s just her guardian and father figure. Later that night, at a beach party with a live band performing, Mora and Johnny see the woman in black appear and during a wild dance, Mora collapses. Other than Johnny, no one in the crowd seems to notice the other woman. Even a dazed Mora seems to have forgotten her despite seeing her a few seconds beforehand.
The next day, Johnny pops into the merry-go-round and runs into Ellen, who’s serving tea to a tarot card reader (don’t you dare call her a fortuneteller!) named Madame Romanovitch (Marjorie Eaton). Ellen goes off to get Johnny a cup of coffee and as she returns, her granddad appears. A detective (H.E. West) then swings by to report there’s no new news about a certain serious subject. Johnny inquires and is told that Mora’s last two boyfriends had ended up dead by drowning in the ocean. Ellen notes that while she may not be a suspect, Mora is definitely “bad luck” to be around. A pay phone call for Johnny interrupts, but no one seems to be on the other end. Suddenly, Johnny sees the woman in black across the street walking quickly somewhere. As he’s about to go after her, Madame Romanovitch hands him her card and tells him to come by for a reading when he can.
Johnny goes after the woman in black for a while, following at a distance so she won’t notice, but she appears to be leading him somewhere. She disappears around a corner at one point and Johnny finds himself at Captain Sam’s run-down place. It’s “a very unusual story” time, that’s for sure. Sam tells Johnny of finding and adopting Mora as a child in Greece and that yes, she used to live with him until she left a few years ago. He also says Johnny is in mortal danger because she’s actually a Siren. A disbelieving Johnny asks about the black-clad woman, but a now drunken Sam says he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, noting he’s all alone since Mora left him before he passes out. I’ll have what he’s having, which seems to be too much Ouzo. Johnny sneaks up to Mora’s old room – there’s nothing there save for an open window and a sea breeze.
Back at Mora’s, Johnny listens to her side of the tale and while it seems mystical but emotionally convincing, he refuses to believe it, even the part about the woman in black being a sea creature in human form calling for Mora to return to the deep. The next day, Johnny goes to sea…, uh, see Madame Romanovitch (don’t you dare call her a fortuneteller!), pays the two dollars for a tarot reading and really gets more than his money’s worth as she delivers some not too good news. There’s definitely something fishy about Mora, and he’s told he’s in “danger, grave danger!” but Madame Romanovitch can’t say more as “the cards don’t lend themselves to oversimplification”. That, by the way, may translate loosely to Johnny should have paid a few more bucks for a bus ticket back to his ship ASAP.
Guess where Johnny goes next? Well, Mora’s working, so who else is quite nearby, co-operates a merry-go-round, has a really sympathetic ear and makes good hot beverages? There was an almost giddy “Ah-ha!” whispered from the left of the couch and some scribbling down of notes at this scene. I was going to ask if I should pause the film again and ask what the that was all about, but The 12th Level Guesser said to keep going before I even spoke. I paused anyway, as the College Friend had gotten up and dashed to the restroom. By the way, David Raskin’s music is brilliant in that sequence, but then again, so is the rest of the score.
“Madame Romanovitch’s reading, right?” Her mom said to no one in particular, but I saw a lot of nodding and smiling from a certain person. The Dad, being new to this film, just salted his popcorn a little, which got him a side-eye from his salt-watching spouse. About a two minutes later, the friend returned and told me to fire up the movie again. “I didn’t miss much!” she noted, plopping back down in her seat as I hit the PLAY button.
Later that evening, Johnny goes to Mora’s and she’s bathing. He drifts off while waiting for her to finish and has quite a nightmare, only to wake up and see her footprints going outside and downstairs. A bit of searching and calling gets an answer back, but Mora’s in an odd way seemingly from the moon and sea calling to her. The next morning, Johnny wakes up on Mara’s floor and at her insistence, gets a massage from a guy at the end of the pier (quiet, you in the back!). Sam happens to be in the spa, and he asks Johnny if he remembers their conversation from the other day and ominously also asks if Mora’s been acting strangely because of the moon’s phase.
In her apartment that night, Mora asks Johnny to go scuba diving with her the next day and he very hesitantly agrees. My spoilers stop here but a penny divided between all the readers is the reward for a correct guess at what happens next. Note that you lose that reward because there’s a twist and double back flip with a gainer you likely won’t see coming. A quiet doozy, as it were. Especially if you miss a a certain scene or don’t grasp what a character is saying more fully.
“The ending is weird unless you’re paying attention.” was the verdict from our film student, but her friend called the woman in black a “red herring” (ha!!), but I think that was because she ran to use the restroom and missed a bit of a key scene. She did note that “I guess the moral is sometimes you get a person you need in life only after being with a person you want.”, which made everyone look at her for her profoundness (record scratch sound effect and all) because that’s more or less something a parent would say. Yes, “Well, that’s what my mom says.”, followed that sentence when she saw we all looked as if we wanted to hear more sage commentary.
The Dad changed the subject with “Well, it was much better than The Terror“. which had The Mom laughing because she thought a few films were also better that that one. The two teens thought the end was a bit of a cheat, what with the Psycho-like explanation of things as a wrap-up. But The One Who Stayed was left to explain things to the One Who Got Up To Use The Restroom, but both still didn’t like the ending because “today, there would be help” for certain things of a mental nature and they both didn’t like the control issues on display from one character. Film Student noted the movie was kind of the reverse of The Shape of Water, as if Michael Shannon’s character had caught the creature instead, which made me wonder how Guillermo del Toro would approach this. But that’s nether here nor there, right? But still… that’s a remake I’d definitely see if it were made.
Put a shell to your ear and listen up: This long-winded review is part of the Out to Sea Blogathon hosted by Debbie over at Moon In Gemini. from March 6 – 8, 2020. It was a much shorter review a few weeks ago, but I got waylaid by some medical stuff and over-expanded things while I was laid up. You could said I was obsessed like a sailor too fixated on fantasy, but it was more me trying to write the Moby-Dick of Night Tide reviews. I guess.
I’m feeling better now, but I do have a bit of major catching up with posts to do, but… wait a minute. Did I just compare myself to Herman Melville in that last paragraph? Yeesh. I’m thinking I’m gonna need a bigger boat just to fit my fool head into.