A few words come to mind when watching Anatole Litvak’s film noir, “Out of the Fog” (1941), or more appropriately, a few words come to mind once it’s over. The most common one is awkward. Perhaps this film seems to misfire because, due to the Hays Code, it wasn’t allowed to be honest and true to the original source material (Irwin Shaw’s play, “Gentle People”). Then again, maybe it’s just the fact that under the surface there simply isn’t much there.
The story revolves around Goff (John Garfield), a low-level gangster who extorts money from old men who like to fish after a long day of working. His new victims are Jonah (Thomas Mitchell) and Olaf (John Qualen), who, against their better judgment, begin paying Goff to stay out of harm’s way. While down by the pier, Goff also meets Stella (Ida Lupino), a young woman who just wants out of her monotonous and mundane life. The two begin dating, where Goff spends extravagant amounts of money on her and takes her to nightclubs that her longtime boyfriend (Eddie Albert) could never afford. The catch here is that Stella happens to be Jonah’s daughter, and even though she knows that Goff is chiseling her father’s hard-earned money, she proceeds to see him, and in fact, becomes more infatuated with his outlook on life.
The film starts off as many other crime noirish films from the early 1940’s. It’s a little mysterious, very intriguing, and is loaded with characters portrayed by actors that are easy to watch. Garfield plays the weasely Goff extremely well, and right from the onset he manages to have the audience rooting against him. Lupino is marvelous (as always) because even though she’s a little obsessed with getting out of her trapped life, she is still relatable, and her desperation and hopelessness feels very real.
The real problem here is the story, that despite arousing our interest in the opening, quickly begins to tread water, waiting for something to happen. The movie runs only 85 minutes, but 20 of those could have disappeared- easily. Even then, in the final reel, which should be the most energetic and suspenseful, everything completely falls apart. It’s fake, uninspiring, and to a degree, even aggravating to watch.
“Out of the Fog” certainly isn’t one of the worst films around, but considering how many quality film noirs were popping up around the same time, this one can be skipped. There is a great deal of quality cinematography from James Wong Howe that deserves praise for its style and charm, and Litvak’s direction is acceptable- if not good. Still, they aren’t enough to salvage this wreck. Rarely is there a film that has good acting, cinematography, and direction, but still can’t pull it all together to make a decent and entertaining picture. If only “Out of the Fog” was as awesome as its poster!