Curtis Harrington (1926-2007)
"I was now reaching the age where the idea of sex began to go beyond the theoretical into the actual, and I must confess that I began to make a few explorations in this direction with some of my male school chums. Of course, I went to parties and school dances with girls, and was endlessly admonished by my mother that I should not form a liaison with either a Catholic or Jewish girl. But she need not have worried, because I was more interested in good-looking young men of my age.
This seemed perfectly natural to me, since I followed my feelings and impulses, and it did not occur to me to attach any sense of guilt or shame to my activities."
from his biography, Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood
2013, Academy Foundation & Drag City Incorporated
Emerging from a period of making post-film school experimental shorts, writer-director Curtis Harrington made his first full length movie, Night Tide, at the turn of the decade. Based on a short story he wrote while in France, title taken from Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabel Lee, the film tells the story of an American sailor who has an encounter with a sideshow mermaid who just may be the real thing.
In his biography, Harrington devotes an entire chapter to the production of Night Tide and it’s eye-opening for future filmmakers, particularly where financing is concerned. Over 60 years later, it’s fun to note how much luck also plays into the production of a movie. Dennis Hopper was an acquaintance who had seen Harrington’s short films and agreed to be in the film for union scale, $350 a week at the time.
I’m not sure Night Tide would have worked so well without Hopper. His natural acting style works well within a movie that’s slightly off-kilter. Sometimes it feels like he’s gone off script to make up his lines, and other times it feels like there is no script. This is to say his performance, and the performances of others, are not quite polished… and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that in this case.
Harrington experienced a series of challenges that probably weren’t unique. All the film from the first day of shooting was ruined in the lab, so they had to reshoot it. Then, the production ran into problems when it was discovered he was not using a union crew. Therefore, he decided to shoot all the interiors with cinematographer Floyd Crosby (High Noon and many of Roger Corman’s Poe films.)
Among other things, while the film was finished in 1961, it was held up in the lab due to unpaid bills. Although Pathe Film Laboratory loaned Harrington a copy to take to the Venice Film Festival, Night Tide was not officially released in the United States until two years later, at the bottom of an AIP double-bill with The Raven. Even though it received rave reviews, it was never considered commercial enough to have a major release.
This is a case of the making of the movie being more interesting to me than the actual movie. It moves slowly, but I never dozed because it was just odd enough to hold my attention. I wouldn’t classify it as “horror.” It’s at times unsettling, but the only horrific scene is a dream in which Hopper is being strangled by what appear to be octopus arms. I don’t mind the ambiguity, but I needed one more punch in order to advance it to a higher rating.
Written by Curtis Harrington
From the short story by Curtis Harrington
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Starring Dennis Hopper, Linda Lawson, Gavin Muir, Luana Anders, Marjorie Eaton, Tom Dillon
RT 86 min.
Released Feb. 1, 1963
Home Video Amazon Prime
Rating 6 knife-wielding psychos (out of 10)