Sunday 2 December 2007

Green for Danger (1946) Sidney Gilliat

A Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat production, as were so many films that I grew up watching back in England as a kid. We're in 1944, so war time and with doodlebugs dropping, but the police are investigating murders at a rural hospital called Heron's Park. The first appears to be Joseph Higgins, a postman who dies on the operating table, but we're told at the beginning of the film that of the six doctors and nurses working on the case, two would very shortly be dead too.

This is one of those films that tend to fit half a century ago when people seemed to appreciate cleverly designed plots full of intrigue, hidden but hinted at backgrounds and numerous complex connections between the suspects. It's structured very cleverly, both intellectually and cinematically, but always modestly. Often, when something nowadays even attempts to be clever, the people behind it can't resist relishing their cleverness. This was simply a solid adaptation of a novel, by Christianna Brand.

Judy Campbell is the trigger, playing a jealous and bitter nurse called Marion Bates who interrupts a dance in a highly obvious manner to announce that Higgins was murdered, that she knows how it was done and, most importantly of all, that she knows who did it. Needless to say she's the next to die and we're quickly let in on a chilling fact courtesy of Scotland Yard Inspector Cockrill. There are five people left who were connected to both murders, the killer is likely to be one of the five and he or she has four lethal pills in his or her possession. Thus everyone but the killer is in mortal danger.

There's excellence everywhere here, making this is a real treat of a film. Beyond the fact that the story is tight and cleverly scripted, it's full of extra little touches that bring character to it, like the unique fight scene, Cockrill's method of reading detective stories and the peach of an ending. The acting is superb, with Sally Gray credited above people of the calibre of Trevor Howard and Alistair Sim. Sim is a joy to watch, as he always was, with so much expression in his face and movements. Howard and Gray are excellent too, as is the always reliable Leo Genn, but so are people less known like Rosamund John, Judy Campbell and especially to my mind, Megs Jenkins.

Sidney Gilliat's direction is powerful, aided to no small degree by some awesome cinematography by Wilkie Cooper. What's notable to me is that while certain scenes are thoroughly rooted in film noir with striking lighting and oppressive shadows, that's not the only style in the film. Cooper used what was appropriate for each scene, so some are charming pastoral scenes, some dark and dangerous, some thoroughly everyday. It's a wonderful achievement and seemingly unsung.

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