Floodtide (1949)


Just two weeks ago Park Circus distributed the lost Scottish classic The Brothers (David MacDonald, 1947), and clearly they think they’re onto a winning double bill with the release of Floodtide, another John Laurie starring melodrama, this time set against the backdrop of the Clydeside shipyards. Except that Floodtide isn’t really a melodrama; it just desperately wants to be. It’s a typical rags-to-riches tale, concerning a young country lad named David Shields (Gordon Jackson) who dreams of making it big in the city, designing ships. He spends his days dreaming and falling in love, and that’s about as complicated as things get…

The biggest problem with Floodtide is the way in which it makes mountains out of molehills. Melodrama should be about spurned passions and fevered tempers; emotion on a majestic scale, overwrought and unashamedly so. The scenarios in Wilson’s film are pretty straightforward affairs, and the characters are more than a little damp, so the frequent earnestness of the tale and the amplified reverb of emotions fall a little flat. Petty arguments are performed with life and death sincerity, bubbling out of hand when they should be controlled and considered. Floodtide is quite tame material, and the obstacles our characters face are rather small. Wilson doesn’t seem content with this idea, and seeks to wring every ounce of emotion out of day-to-day scenarios, drowning his picture in needless sensationalism. But then he never was the most confident of directors, having helmed only three pictures, and none of them met with any particular acclaim. His true profession was as an editor, on pictures as diverse as Mysterious Island (Cy Endfield, 1961) and The Mechanic (Michael Winner, 1972). Maybe if he’d turned his hand to directing later in his career he would have succeeded, but he’s just too eager with Floodtide, making amateur mistakes (and ironically the film occasionally feels like it’s had a rough ride through the editing room).

This isn’t helped by a frankly bland narrative arc, as we move from A to B in pretty linear and uninspired fashion. The characters are all likable, yes, but we could map out their journey from the opening minutes, and Wilson doesn’t deviate from the expected path any more than he needs to. The film is well paced, largely due to concise yet emotionally encompassing scripting and a pretty solid editing job from Peter Bezencenet, save for those scenes which feel like they’re picking up from material left on the cutting room floor. Floodtide definitely benefits from a lean 86 minute running time, and despite the straightforward progression and predictability it engages the viewer with its precision and pace; there’s no fat, and that’s a good thing.

And the film isn’t without its share of positives. DP George Stretton lends the film some beautiful imagery; not so much in the interiors, but in the shots of the shipyard itself, which are expansive and well shaded. One wide shot, focusing on the top deck of a half-built liner, is especially impressive. There is also a standout boating sequence in which David and his love interest Mary (Rona Anderson) test out a flat-billed yacht. It’s one of the best scenes in the film, and Stretton captures it wonderfully. Simplicity seems to be the key to his method, as he never exaggerates or over-saturates a scene. The light seems natural, and beauty is evoked from the surroundings rather than in-camera trickery.

Robert Irving’s (this is his only feature credit) score is also lovely, complementing the action with surprisingly subtle tones. Melodrama often has strings which stir the soul and break into screeches of emotion, hitting the highs and lows of the action, yet Irving’s score underplays every scene, simply adding to the emotion. It would seem he understood the material better than anybody. It’s not that the film is overplayed either, just that it has a frequent tendency to slip into overripe sentiment, straining to make us feel something, especially in the high-stakes action finale. But it doesn’t need to, because Floodtide is strong enough on its own merits and would have worked better without these forced little moments. It’s entertaining and all, but if you only pick up one Scottish melodrama this month, make it The Brothers.

The DVD/Extras

The DVD transfer is crisp and clear, save for a few wrinkles in the print during the latter third of the film; like those tracking lines you used to get on VHS. It’s unremarkable on the whole, but highly watchable. As with The Brothers, I wish the film was on Blu-Ray. It’s a very vanilla package too, with only an image gallery comprising the extras. It’s pretty good, but unsubstantial on the whole. Park Circus can do better.

Floodtide is out on DVD 20th June 2011.

Director: Frederick Wilson
Stars: Gordon Jackson, Rona Anderson, John Laurie
Runtime: 90 min
Country: UK

Film Rating: ★★★☆☆

DVD Rating: ★★½☆☆

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