902 Film History: High Tide at Noon

by Ron Foley Macdonald

Lately, Northwest Cove on the South Shore near Chester has been the backdrop for several scenes from the popular SyFy series Haven. The photogenic seaside community is no stranger to motion pictures, however. In the mid-1950s it hosted an entire British feature film crew that shot the family flick High Tide At Noon for international big screen distribution through the Rank Organization.

Adapted from Maine author Elisabeth Olgilvie’s novel, part of a long–running series about the Bennett family and the island they owned off the East Coast based on Olgilvie’s own life, High Tide At Noon was directed by Philip Leacock, a filmmaker who spent the bulk of his latterday career directing episodes of Dynasty, Murder She Wrote and Fantasy Island. Leacock was born on the Canary Islands and educated at British Private Schools, and is perhaps better known as the brother of Cinema Verite pioneer Richard Leacock, who visited the Atlantic Filmmaker’s Co-op in Halifax in the early 1980s.

Indeed, I remember giving tech assistance to the rather cranky, newly installed 16mm projectors at the Maritime Museum where Richard Leacock was showing his Middleton film, made for PBS TV in the US in 1980.

High Tide At Noon starred future Prisoner lead Patrick MacGoohan as the dark rival for the Bennett family’s tomboyish daughter, Joanna. The storyline revolves a love gone wrong which eventually empties the island of everything except ghosts.

The film also featured one of the first screen performances by Paul Massie, the St. Catherines, Ontario-born actor who won a BAFTA award in 1959 for ‘Most Promising Newcomer’. Massie would go on to star in the lead of the Hammer Horror film The Two Faces of Doctor Jeckyll. Massie so loved the location work on High Tide At Noon that he retired there after a long stint as a popular and well-loved Professor in the Theater Department of South Florida University. He died only recently, in 2011, in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.

Being a British picture there’s quite a bit of exactitude when it comes to getting the Maine and Nova Scotian accents just about right.

What is also neatly captured in the black and white film, is the profound sense of place and the gentle rural seaside outlook brought about by island life.

Anyone familiar with Northwest Cove, or the South Shore in general, will want to see the film just to witness how everything looked in the 1950s.

Unlike the Oscar-Winning Johnny Belinda, a Warner Brothers production of a decade before which was shot in Northern California but set in Cape Breton, High Tide At Noon took pains to connect with the local community. They also attempted to secure funding from the Nova Scotia Provincial Government, to no avail. 

Philip Leacock made his reputation working with young people on film, and while he might have been eclipsed by the rising British ‘Kitchen Sink’ tradition of Tony Richardson, Karl Reisz and Lindsay Anderson, his work has recently undergone some trenchant re-evaluation, with viewings on Turner Classic Movies spurring new discussion on the filmmaker’s importance in the British and International pantheon of film directors.

Fascinatingly, High Tide At Noon was the second time Leacock had done a story set in Nova Scotia using young people. In 1952-53 he shotThe Little Kidnappers, set in the Bluenose Province but actually filmed in the UK. Both of the two very young boys – Jon Whitely and Vincent Winter – in the film won a special juvenile Oscars for their parts in the film. It was the 8th most popular film in Britain in 1954.

Even more fascinatingly, The Little Kidnappers was re-made by Disney in Nova Scotia in 1990 with Going Down the Road’s Don Shebib in the director’s chair.

The lead in the TV movie was none other than Charleton Heston, who certainly caused the waters to part at that year’s Atlantic Film Festival when he made a special appearance, perhaps the biggest celebrity ever to arrive in Halifax for a Film Festival.

High Tide At Noon can be viewed at Amazon Prime.

Ron Foley Macdonald

Ron Foley Macdonald

Ron Foley Macdonald is a filmmaker, musician, author, and arts journalist who lives in Halifax, NS. He has written for such publications as the Halifax Daily News, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, and Take One. He taught film history for 15 years at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and has also taught at Dalhousie University and Mount Saint Vincent University. For two decades he was the Senior Programmer at the Atlantic Film Festival. He is currently the curator of the film and video series at the Dalhousie Art Gallery, and the producer of the recent feature films Exit Thread and Roundabout.
Ron Foley Macdonald

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