When two aging fishermen (Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen) attempt to buy a new boat, they run into a problem with local mobster, Harold Goff (John Garfield). As Goff explains, if they do not pay him $5.00 a week, something bad could happen to their boat. When one of the fisherman’s daughter (Ida Lupino) falls in love with Goff, she makes the mistake of letting him know that her father is planning on giving her $190 so that she can take a trip to Cuba. When Goff demands the money for himself, the fishermen attempt to go to the police, just to be told that there is nothing that the authorities can do. Goff tricked them into signing an “insurance” contract that allows him to demand whatever he wants. The two fishermen are forced to consider taking drastic measures on their own. Out of the Fog is an effective, early film noir, distinguished mostly be John Garfield’s sinister performance as Harold Goff.
Out of the Fog is also memorable as an example of how Hollywood dealt with adapting work with political content during the production code era. Out of the Fog was based on The Gentle People, a play by Irwin Shaw. In the play, which was staged by The Group Theater in 1939, Harold Goff was obviously meant to be a symbol of both European fascism and American capitalism. In the play, the two fisherman had Jewish names and were meant to symbolize those being persecuted by the Third Reich and its allies. In the transition for stage to film, Jonah Goodman became Jonah Goodwin and he was played by the very talented but definitely not Jewish Thomas Mitchell. The play ended with Harold triumphant and apparently unstoppable. Under the production code, all criminals had to be punished, which meant the ending had to be changed. Out of the Fog is an effective 1940s crime thriller but, without any political subtext, it lacks the play’s bight.
One final note: while Out of the Fog had a good cast, with up and comer John Garfield squaring against old vets Thomas Mitchell and John Qualen, the original Broadway play’s cast was also distinguished. Along with contemporary film stars Sylvia Sidney and Franchot Tone, the play’s cast was a who’s who of actors and directors who would go on to be prominent in the 1950 and 60s: Lee J. Cobb, Sam Jaffe, Karl Malden, Martin Ritt, and Elia Kazan all had roles.