Strong debut melodrama, solid as granite, not a cliché in sight.
Screenwriter Mills’s research into Long Island’s South Fork fishing village of Amagansett as it was in 1947 stands forth with superb detail. The story draws its subject matter from village lore, from wondrous fishing scenes (especially for giant tuna), and from the invasion of the town by wealthy snobs—who allow no Jews on the fancy golf course. Conrad Labarde, son of Basque fishermen, and his retarded mate Rollo are hauling a seine into shore when it becomes clear that there’s a woman’s body in with the fish and big shark in their net. She’s Lillian Wallace, a millionaire’s daughter and, as we later learn, Conrad’s secret lover—secret since her family would never approve of an affair with a fisherman. Conrad thinks she was murdered and begins a private investigation. Meanwhile, Deputy Sheriff Tom Hollis, with slightly more evidence, comes to the same thought and also begins his own secret investigation. The reader weighs various suspects until, halfway through, Mills lets us know who the bad guys are, although with no loss of suspense. So this is less murder mystery than, well, epic drama peopled with leathery fishermen, gabby townsfolk, and big-spending mansion dwellers. As background, perhaps a fifth of the pages fill in Conrad’s incredible war record of fighting Nazis all over Europe, experience that develops his charisma and underpins the climax. Typical native lingo: “I got a mess o’ clams and a bluefish needs eating. I’d boil up a lobster, only I’m sick to the hind teeth of the damned things.”
Sea, sky, tossing waves, curling whitecaps, foam, rowboats cutting through a wild unrest (as Whitman puts it)—not to mention high humor and heartfelt sex.