(Open Thread) Noir Side Street — “High Tide”

Nouvelle Vague (the residues of alphaville). Photo by Emiliano Grusovin.

Today’s film is 1947’s “High Tide” from Monogram Pictures, starring Lee Tracy (Hugh Fresney), Don Castle (Tim “T.M.” Slade), Julie Bishop (Julie Vaughn), Anabel Shaw (Dana Jones), Douglas Walton (Clinton Vaughn), Regis Toomey (Inspector O’Haffey), Francis Ford (Pop Garrow), Anthony Warde (Nick Dyke), Argentina Brunetti (Mrs. Cresser), Wilson Wood (Cleve Collins), and George Ryland (Doctor at the shooting scene). Directed by John Reinhardt; director of photography, Henry Sharp. Produced by Jack Wrather for Wrather Productions. Music by Rudy Schrager. Screenplay by Robert Presnell Sr.; based on the story “Inside Job” by Raoul Whitfield.

Restored by the Film Noir Foundation in 2013, the film premiered on TCM July 10, 2022. Run time is a very spare 72 minutes. It’s a film noir of the “police procedural/private detective” category.

I’d post the trailer or a scene or two from the movie, but there don’t seem to be any such clips available on YouTube. You can, however, find the entire film for free on YouTube, in case you want to watch it now and then discuss it in the comments below…

The movie opens at the scene of a car accident, with the car resting on the rocks of a beach. One man (Tim Slade) is lying on the ground while the other (Hugh Fresney) is still sitting in the front passenger seat, with the door flung open. Slade’s leg is pinned under the car, while Fresney says his back is broken; so neither man is in a position to save himself as the tide begins to come in. It may be only minutes before the two are drowned. As they talk about their dire situation, they begin to recount how they came to be in this predicament. So, yes, this is a tale told almost exclusively in flashback. (Sorry, Tiff…)

Fresney, a newspaper city editor, has called his friend and former colleague Slade to come down to LA from San Francisco — where he has a private detective agency — to help protect him from the criminals his paper has recently been investigating. But the situation is less cut-and-dried than it first appears as the story unfolds. The owner of the paper, Clint Vaughn, is meeting with one of the local gangsters Fresney is currently investigating (Nick Dyke), and when Fresney crashes the meeting, it’s clear Dyke is trying to get Vaughn to have his paper lay off him. While Slade is cooling his heels outside this meeting, he’s chatting up Vaughn’s new secretary, Dana Jones. He asks her out, and she agrees — to the “second Thursday of next week.” Heh, some brush-off, right?

Later, Fresney is driving Vaughn to his palatial estate as they’re disagreeing about the way Fresney’s been running the paper, making enemies of powerful men like Cresser and Dyke. They soon realize another car is following them. Once they reach the Vaughn mansion, they head toward the front door. The other car pulls up in the drive and its occupants begin firing at Fresney and Vaughn before driving off.

Once inside the house, Vaughn’s wife Julie asks what all the noise was outside. When she’s told some men took a shot at him, she’s very disinterested. At one point she even expresses dismay that they hadn’t succeeded in making her a rich widow! Vaughn is even more convinced than ever that his paper should drop the idea of going after Dyke, but Vaughn can’t fire Fresney as his city editor and Hugh has full authority on running the paper. Fresney then mentions he wants to hire Slade to do some investigating for him, and Julie perks up at the mention of that particular name, while her husband bristles, warning Hugh to “keep Tim away from me.” As Freeney’s leaving, Julie says he must invite Tim to join them for dinner real soon.

Fresney heads home to his Malibu beach house, where he’s invited Tim to stay while in town. The two talk about why Hugh really brought his friend here. Fresney’s worried his brash way of running the paper has made him many enemies and that death is near at hand. Slade says he’s never known an editor worth his salt whose life hasn’t been threatened breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Fresney mentions that someone took some shots at him tonight; he believes they were meant for him, since everyone knows Vaughn’s soft. Besides Cresser and Dyke, one of the possible suspects is a reporter Fresney recently fired named Halem. It seems Halem and Dana were pretty close. Hugh admits he’s made mistakes, he likes to “smash people who get in my way.”

“Smashed people hate easy, Hugh.”

Hugh says he wants Tim to avenge his death, in case whoever’s after him succeeds. Their debt would be squared (Fresney gave Tim $500 to start his detective agency) and Slade would also collect a $10,000 life insurance policy Hugh has purchased on himself.

Fresney tells Tim Julie’s still crazy about him; Slade promises to steer clear of her, but Hugh says she’s invited Tim to dinner, and he has to go. “Promise me you won’t make any passes at her.”

“I won’t if Dana Jones is there.”

So Fresney, Slade, and Dana are guests at the Vaughns’ place for dinner, where Julie makes a play for Tim once the two are alone together out on the patio. Her husband walks in on the scene and expresses his outrage. Vaughn tells Tim he doesn’t want to see him here or at the paper. Slade and Dana leave the dinner party. Julie asks Hugh to give Tim a note, but then decides to mail it to him, instead.

The next thing we see is shadow silhouettes on the wall of a staircase. Shots are fired, someone flees. Once the police have arrived, so does Tim, who — along with the doctor — realizes Vaughn is dead and Fresney wounded.

There are a number of clues which make it seem like Slade could be the killer: he’s the beneficiary of a $10,000 life insurance policy taken out on Vaughn (yes, it seems Fresney had taken out a similar policy on his boss), he was involved with Julie before she married Vaughn, contact between the two was ongoing (she called him in San Francisco fairly regularly), she wrote him a letter after the dinner the Vaughns had thrown the night before where she mentioned wanting to be free of her husband so she and Slade could be together, and she has her attorney draw up a document naming Tim the acting editor of the paper after her husband’s death. Kinda not looking good for our hero…

Did Slade do it? Was the killer some gangster the paper was investigating, like Dyke or one of Cresser’s men? Or was it someone else, like Julie? For that matter, was Vaughn the actual target, or had the killer intended to get Fresney instead?

This was definitely a true noir film, ticking all the right boxes, from visual style (thanks to director Reinhardt and DP Henry Sharp), to story and theme. You have the good girl and the bad one (in Dana and Julie, but which is which?) both vying for the hero’s attention. And there’s plenty of betrayal driving the plot. Even the framing of the story in flashback is typical for noirs of the late 40s. Very satisfying movie. 4.75 unfiltered cigarette puffs out of 5. (I’m not sure how you do a fractional cigarette puff, but there you go…)

Next week’s film is 1945’s “Scarlet Street.”

As always, this is an open thread, so feel free to discuss whatever you like in the comments below. And remember: when your friend wants a favor, you might want to ignore his pleas…

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