2 May 2016 | the_mysteriousx
FOG delivers on its namesake
This rarely-seen 1933 mystery film definitely toes the line on classifying as horror. If you think early 30s films such Double Door, The Ninth Guest, and Six Hours to Live fall into the category, you will agree this belongs. Tending to be liberal with the horror label, I would throw it in too.
As some readers may remember, TCM teased us by listing it on its schedule and abruptly removing it a few years back. I saw the print that was digitized at the Library of Congress. It runs 70 minutes and despite digital glitches in viewing it on their computer screen, it was a solid print.
The film has, as you would expect, excellent atmosphere. Only the final scene is devoid of fog. The art deco sets are wonderful (cabins of passengers seem to be tailored to the eccentricities of its guests). There's a brief, but gruesome shot of a victim hanging by a noose; a standard 30s séance; the constant blare of a foghorn; and of course, some nice low-key lighting. The film is devoid of a musical score, has lots of fade outs to end scenes and overall has a grim and somewhat distanced feel to the viewer. There's no one to really root for in this film.
For those of you who follow 20s, 30s and 40s mystery films, I often find what I call the "2 Real Suspect" films. You often see the many obvious recurring red-herrings such as ex-cons hiding behind aliases, jealous ex-husbands and ex-wives and suspicious-acting servants. This film has all of them and after discarding these stereotypical characters, there are really only two viable suspects and they are the two male leads in this one. As they both need to look suspicious, we really don't have that "go to" lead that this type of film does better with. The audience doesn't identify with either man.
As the leads are dry and distant and as there is no character development in these genre films, FOG suffers when compared to better contemporary films. That being said, there is still much to recommend. Samuel S. Hinds is terrific in an atypical servant role in which he summons some genuine pathos. The cinematography by long-time Hollywood veteran Benjamin Kline is excellent. There's terrific use of close-ups and medium close-ups throughout. The ship setting also lends itself to a nice claustrophobic feel complemented by all that engulfing fog.
The plot is straightforward. An old, rich, mid-western oil tycoon (Robert McWade) has a lot of bad relationships. His treats his two aides poorly, is hounded by a semi-phony mystic (nicely overplayed by Helen Freeman), and has an unknown long-lost son who may become the heir to his fortune. They are all on board a cross-Atlantic sea voyage. Naturally, the old man is the murder victim, and after his death, the ship's captain (the always fine, Edwin Maxwell) and Brown (Donald Cook) take over and begin investigating all the suspects. Madame Alva (Freeman) is called in to hold a séance (with the entirety of the ship's passengers attending!) and
..well, when the lights go out
..take a guess what happens next.
There's a rumor that there's a ghost in this film – there isn't. At the end, they try to summon the "ghost" of Holt (the murdered oil tycoon), but there is nothing supernatural about this moment. FOG has tons and tons of fog and this is an asset. Completists of 30s horror/mysteries will want to check it out.