Night Tide

Night Tide is a 1961 thriller film, written and directed by Curtis Harrington and starring Dennis Hopper. It was filmed in 1960, premiered in 1961, but was held up from general release until 1963. The film was restored by the Academy Film Archive in 2007.

Night Tide
Was she human...
Directed byCurtis Harrington
Produced byAram Katarian
Written byCurtis Harrington
StarringDennis Hopper
Linda Lawson
Gavin Muir
Luana Anders
Marjorie Eaton
Marjorie Cameron
Music byDavid Raksin
CinematographyVilis Lapenieks
Edited byJodie Copelan
Virgo Productions
Distributed byFilmgroup
American International Pictures
Release date
  • 1961 (1961) (U.S.)
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited States

Plot summary

Seaman Johnny Drake (Dennis Hopper), while on shore leave in San Diego, meets a girl named Mora (Linda Lawson) in a local jazz club. Mora tells him that she makes her living appearing as a mermaid in a sideshow attraction on the boardwalk, operated by a Captain Murdock (Gavin Muir). She lives in an apartment above the amusement park that houses the merry-go-round. Soon, she and Johnny fall in love. Johnny becomes acquainted with the merry-go-round operator and his daughter, who warns Johnny that Mora may be dangerous. Her two previous boyfriends have both drowned under mysterious circumstances.

As Mora and Johnny become closer, Mora tells him that she believes she is a Siren, one of the mythical mermaids who, according to legend, lure sailors to their deaths. For some time, she has been followed and approached by a mysterious and seemingly sinister woman (Marjorie Cameron) whom she believes is one of the Sirens, calling her return to the sea to fulfill her destiny. Mora believes she is responsible for the deaths of her former boyfriends, and warns Johnny that it might be better for him to stop seeing her. Johnny is unable to believe Mora is capable of killing anyone, thinking that she must be suffering from a delusion. On the day of the full moon, Mora invites Johnny on a scuba diving outing. After briefly trying to dissuade her, he somewhat uneasily accepts. During the dive, Mora cuts Johnny's air hose, forcing him to surface. Remaining below, she swims away into the depths of the sea.

Johnny is devastated, but returns to the boardwalk the following evening and goes to the sideshow, where he finds Captain Murdock at the entrance, as usual, calling to passersby. When the Captain looks away, Johnny reaches up to the stand, buys a ticket and enters the sideshow tent. Peering into the tank, he sees Mora, only now, instead of lying at the bottom of the tank and languidly combing her long hair, she floats on the surface, her lifeless eyes staring upward. In a moment, Captain Murdock appears, brandishing a gun. He tells Johnny that it was he who killed Mora's former boyfriends because he couldn't bear the thought of her leaving him. Murdock fires at Johnny, but misses. The gunshots attract the attention of two policemen patrolling the boardwalk, and Murdock and Johnny are taken into custody.

At the police station, Murdock confesses to killing Mora's former boyfriends. He then relates the tale of how he found Mora, a young and helpless orphan wandering about on a Greek island, and adopted her. Knowing she would grow up and fearing that one day she would leave him, he planted the idea in her mind that she was a mermaid, incapable of living the life of a normal woman, as a way of binding her to him forever. Eventually, she did grow up and began to attract the attention of young men. Realizing that she was being drawn away from him, Murdock killed her former boyfriends out of desperation and let her think that she had caused their deaths.

While Johnny understands and accepts the Captain's account, one mystery remains: Who is the strange, elusive woman in black, who seemed to be following Mora and whom Mora thought was calling her to return to the sea? Captain Murdock denies any knowledge of such a woman, while the police lieutenant thinks Murdock may be protecting the woman.

The shore patrol arrives to take Johnny into custody and return him to his ship. The merry-go-round operator's daughter, who has taken an interest in him, visits the police station to bid him goodbye. He tells her that he will try to return on a future leave.


Harrington sold his original script, called The Girl from Beneath the Sea, to Corman in 1956.[1]

In order to film some of the underwater sequences in Night Tide, director Curtis Harrington gave detailed instructions to a cameraman who then shot the scenes underwater at the director's request.[2]

Harrington had previously worked with actress Cameron; his 1956 documentary The Wormwood Star is about her and her artwork.

The production company, Virgo, defaulted on their Pathe Lab loan of $33,793 and Pathé was preparing to foreclose on the picture. Roger Corman asked the lab to hold off on their legal actions to allow Filmgroup to distribute the film, guaranteeing Pathé $15,000 within 12 months of the film's release. Pathé agreed, and Filmgroup released it through AIP.[3]

The role of Mora the Mermaid (played by Lawson) was originally to be played by Susan Harrison, who had been the lead in Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Harrison, at the time a friend of director Harrington, initially agreed to take the role, but then reneged due to a personal relationship.[2]


  1. 'MATADOR' IS EYED BY TWO STUDIOS: Allied and United Artists Are Discussing Plan to Sponsor Jointly Conrad Novel R.K.O. to Share Arness Of Local Origin By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 12 Mar 1956: 23.
  2. "Retrospective in Terror: An Interview with Curtis Harrington - April 2005". The Terror Trap.
  3. Fred Olen Ray, The New Poverty Row: Independent Filmmakers as Distributors, McFarland, 1991, p 45-47
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