Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide is maybe most notable for a performance by a young Dennis Hopper, 6 years after he surfaced as Goon in Rebel Without a Cause. This is a Hopper who would be remarkably different from the one so familiar to 70s-forward audiences. Here he’s so vulnerable and quiet; he’s not yet the easy riding anti-establishment figure to come.
Night Tide would make a great double feature with Carnival of Souls from 1962. Hopper plays Johnny Drake, an itinerant sailor, who falls in love with Mora (Linda Lawson), a mermaid in the local carnival with a dark past.
For being a thin, no-budget (IMDb estimates it at $25,000) film, Night Tide has some nice atmosphere. It’s a little thin on plot at times, but its fun set pieces and jazzy, A Bucket of Blood feel, make it a good watch.
One of the funniest moments is a nightmare sequence that has Hopper wrestling an obviously fake octopus:
It’s a little cheesy, but I like the homemade, no-money aesthetic, and Hopper plays it entirely straight-faced.
There’s a nice sequence towards the end of the film that really takes advantage of the beach-front location. Johnny goes out alone on the beach searching for Mora, who has disappeared. It’s mostly quietly shot, really just emphasizing the sound of the waves. Harrington has a pretty good shot selection here, emphasizing the depth underneath those docks:
Harrington keeps the camera pretty eye-level here, save that one overheard shot (#4 above). That’s in contrast to the lead-in to the climax of the film when Johnny trots through the carnival:
That lone close-up brings us even nearer to Johnny and the other two camera angels are low. It’s a good use of the dramatic angle, and really uses that ferris wheel well (love that first shot just above). I really like it when filmmakers shoot different locations in different ways. Granted sometimes it’s not called for, but here I think it is. Harrington’s inflected angles in this last sequence recall something closer to The Lady from Shanghai and all its noir-ness, where that beach scene and its brooding pace couldn’t be further from Welles’ trickery.