Saying a film is overly sentimental is a pejorative pretty well entrenched in film criticism. To me what matters is sincerity, something that is in pretty short supply these days. There should be more respect for genuine emotion.
The Raging Tide starts off as decidedly noir with a violent crime at night followed by shadowy visuals as the perp – Richard Conte in an expensive suit and tie topped by a fedora – hightails it on foot across the streets of San Francisco tagged by a pounding musical accompaniment and his anxious voice-over. There are only three ways out of Frisco, and the cops have wasted no time in jamming those exits shut – because Conte has incredulously tipped the police off by a phone-call from the crime-scene as part of a weird plan to establish an alibi. The alibi is soaking wet and falls apart in quick time. This is the first of more than a few plot holes. By circumstance he ends up on the waterfront and stows away on a fishing trawler heading out of Frisco Bay. The melodrama engine is now chugging along at a nice clip.
Back in Frisco Conte has left a girl behind. Shelley Winters is pure magic in this role with her winsome charm and simple unaffected beauty. Add a decent cop, an aging fisherman and his rebellious son on the cusp of criminality, each played with considerable skill respectively by Stephen McNally, Charles Bickford, and Alex Nicol, and you have the stuff of a misty-eyed Hollywood redemption story. Conte as the protagonist delivers in a nuanced portrayal that grapples with emotions and regrets, matters not always explored in b-pictures, and if you read the reviews of The Raging Tide on other noir blogs, matters considered unwelcome by some noir aficionados. I say there is more to film noir than shadows, wet asphalt, and dangerous femmes.
Director George Sherman, a journeyman who had made a string b-Westerns over a long Hollywood career and a b-noir, The Sleeping City, the year before, maintains visual interest with solid direction. Aided by his DP, the great Russell Metty, Sherman fashions two truly inspired scenes. The opening noir sequence and the climax aboard the fishing trawler in a savage storm out on the Pacific.
As we are in noir territory, redemption costs, and while there are melodramatic trappings to the scenario, the sincerity of the venture elevates the movie to something greater than the sum of its parts. Credit here should also go to Ernest K. Gann who adapted his own novel, Fiddler’s Green.
There are faults to be sure. Plot holes and longuers which focus on peripheral characters, and some corny humor, but they all go with the territory, and underscore the languor of Conte’s new life as his character evolves with the slow rhythm of the fisherman’s lot. Honest work without shame or grandeur. A decency which has been suppressed starts to emerge, and in its own fractured stuttering way changes the lives of others for the better.
So I am sucker for sentiment. Perhaps sentiment is about hope. About believing in hope. Hope that evil can be overcome, that with punishment also comes the possibility of redemption. That though life in its patent absurdity does not bare too much thinking about, faith in something beyond the expedient, beyond selfishness, and in a spirit of humility, can imbue existence with a kind of meaning.