Night Tide & Mermaid

DATELINE: Dennis Hopper Fantasy

How wrong could a movie genre be? Try Night Tide,a strange little low-budget movie from 1963. It stars Dennis Hopper as a sailor who meets a sideshow freak star Mora, the mermaid. The question is whether this creature is like a werewolf—she turns back from a lovely woman to a part-time fish with the full moon.

Now, this hardly qualifies as a horror movie unless you are slightly off-kilter to begin. It does qualify as a movie direction for Dennis Hopper that is off-the-beaten path of Hollywood mainstream.

For all his traditional looks, Hopper was a true rebel to the system, and his selection of $25,000 budget movies indicated his went against all Hollywood norms in the early 1960s. It likely spoke volumes about where his buddy James Dean would have gone, had he lived.

Yet, it now seems like a marvelous jazzy film noir choice, daring and delightful. Mora (Linda Lawson) lives over a merry-go-round and special effects are more suggested than actual. She is hooked into some middle-aged harridan who may be queen of the gypsies, Madame Romanovitch (Marjorie Eaton).

Hopper was absolutely stunning in his little sailor outfit, out on shore leave—by himself. That, in itself, is an odd plot twist. The seaside arcade he visits and quite cosmopolitan beatnik bar are a scream. We love the patrons with dark glasses at night inside a bistro while a jazz quartet plays David (Laura) Raksin’s film score.

We almost expected him to walk into a gay bar of the 1950s, but that would mean mermen, not mermaids.

Curtis Harrington wrote and directed this small masterpiece, which channels Edgar Allan Poe with a twist.