Friday, March 18, 2011

Another Good Mystery Movie: GREEN FOR DANGER Starring Alastair Sim and Trevor Howard

I watched this recently, hadn't seen it in years. By the way, Netflix has suddenly added tons of older, lesser known 'classics' to their Instant Play lists. I hadn't been paying attention and lo and behold, to my delight, there were tons of 'em listed the other night. I am having a great time checking out these titles and finding old films from ancient memory. I even found a film which, to my chagrin, I'd seen in the theater with my mom. (It was a B-movie on a double bill - that much I remember.) It was the first 'grown-up' film I'd ever seen with her. Read: there were heated love scenes. To my surprise I don't remember being all that hideously embarrassed that my mom was sitting next to me. What was the first 'grown-up' film you ever watched with your mom or pop? Do you remember? Were you terribly humiliated?

Well, the truth is, I tried to watch the film yesterday. OMG! Was it awful! I had to stop about a third of the way in. It was cringingly unwatchable. I won't say what the film was or who starred in it. That kind of info is better left unrevealed. HA!

Back to GREEN FOR DANGER starring Alastair Sim. I thought about posting my review for St. Patrick's Day - but resisted the impulse.

The film is a moody, atmospheric mystery based on a book by Christianna Brand. It is set mostly in an English countryside hospital during the early part of WWII when the Germans were routinely sending rockets over the Channel nearly every day. The director, Sidney Gilliat, does a great job of supplying the requisite moody, melodramatic tone and shadowy camerawork appropriate to the story.

Leo Genn is properly smarmy as one of the hospital's surgeons. He's supposed to be a ladies' man though in my view no woman in her right mind would give this guy a look. His 'routine' is so blatantly obvious, it actually made me cringe. But I seem to be in a cringing mood lately.

Trevor Howard (a sexier guy in my book, though certainly, not a typical movie star-looking actor), plays the anesthesiologist under whose care the first murder victim dies. In truth, a thankless role in which Howard mostly gets to stand around wringing his bands and glowering or pining for one of the nurses - his supposed fiancee.

The rest of the cast is made of indivisible women (whose character names I can't remember) played by actresses who just don't stand out much in memory, except for one pudgy young woman who seemed to be the only one who saw Leo Genn's character for what he was. When you're pudgy in a film it ALWAYS equals unattractive, brains make up the difference.

Here's the thing that annoyed me: In many films of this era (and later in the 1950's), women were depicted as either stupid or hysterical. GREEN FOR DANGER is no different even if the women are playing operating room nurses. According to the screenplay by Sidney Gilliat and Claude Gurney, when it comes to matters of the heart, women are liable to hysteria and absurd indecision. Still, the murder mystery in this film is such a good one, I watched it fascinated and do recommend it. (I wonder if the book by Christianna Brand has this tone of hysteria running through it as well. I'll have to read it at some point.)

Admittedly, there is also the kind of hysteria (a bit more understandable) that springs from the terrors of the war and the threat of constant bombardment. After a rocket attack, the mother of one of the nurses was buried under rubble for days and died when she was finally dug up.

Here's the story told in flashback in the form of a resignation letter written by Scotland Yard's Inspector Cockrill: Joseph Higgins, an innocuous postman is hurt in a rocket attack one night - not a life threatening injury. But while on the operating table, before the surgeon (Leo Genn's character) even makes the first cut, Higgins dies - to the horror and surprise of the operating team.

The death was completely unexpected, but these things happen. The post mortem doesn't show anything suspicious. Scotland Yard doesn't get involved until the second death. When the body of a nurse is found in the hospital lab a couple of nights later, stabbed with a surgical blade, there's no question but that it is murder.

A policeman from Scotland Yard is sent to sort things out. Alastair Sim plays the eccentric Inspector Cockrill who will attempt to catch a murderer in his own inimitable fashion.

The murdered nurse and the postman seem to have no connection except this: the previous night at a weekly dance - the sort of thing given for and by the hospital staff to keep up morale during the seemingly endless days of rocket attacks - one of the nurses had declared before one and all that she knew the postman was murdered and how it was done. NOT the sort of thing you'd ordinarily want a killer to know, but you see, the nurse was the recently discarded mistress of Leo Genn's character, Mr. Eden. (In England, the doctors don't seem to be addressed as Doctor.) The nurse was, all together now: HYSTERICAL! Yes, hysterical with jealousy (Mr. Eden has his practised eye on another of the nurses), suspicion and unhappiness - a deadly combination when it comes to women. (Well, we ALL knew that.)

Anyway, while in the thrall of this mad hysteria she announced she'd hidden the evidence only SHE knew where AND also announced her intention to reveal the TRUTH on the morrow. IT doesn't take a genie to figure out what happens next. And when it happens it's really creepy. The nurse leaves the dance and runs out into the blustery night (the hospital appears to be farther from the 'dance hall' then at first appears), jumping in and out of shadows (while 'urgent' music plays) heading, one assumes, back to the 'hiding place.' Though why she should want to get her hands on the 'evidence' at that point in time is not explained NOR does it make any sense her running around in the dark. So, another thing we must put down to: HYSTERIA.

Once back inside the dark and creepy hospital rooms, she lurks about and while she attempts to get at the hidden 'evidence' - no surprise - she is stabbed by the killer. The murder is handled very well as far as the atmospherics. Hence my use of the word 'creepy.'

After Inspector Cockrill shows up, this small band of operating room doctors and nurses, of course resent the direct implication that one of them is a killer, but life goes on. Actually, it's a wonder what with all the crazy stuff going on that anything constructive gets done in this hospital. Much is made of the maddening Inspector's gleefully unctuous manner (Alastair Sim, as usual, is perfection) and his unorthodox methods of observation and interrogation.

There is a frantic attempted murder, a reenactment of the original crime before the killer is caught (after a stunning bit of misdirection ) in the nick of time, but not before the Inspector makes an important mistake.

I have to say, despite my dislike of how the women are treated in this screenplay, I still enjoyed the movie. (Maybe that makes me a hypocrite - oh well.) Despite the faulty characterizations, it is a finely crafted mystery. There are several red herrings sprinkled throughout and the killer's identity is a surprise. I had remembered it being someone else, so double surprise for me. I also liked the use of gloomy atmospherics which added to the suspense and tension. All in all, not a bad little mystery film. (Incidentally, I'm not in the employ of Netflix, nor do I get paid to say nice things about them. I just like giving credit where credit is due.)


  1. Wow! That was a great review. I saw the film a few months ago, and really liked it, but I do get your point about the women. I tried reading the book twice and just couldn't get into it. I know it is well-respected in the mystery-reading world, but not for me, I guess. I thought AS was so good in this movie.
    Sadly, we don't have Netflix anymore. They are all about the 'instant' now and we can't do it with our satellite connection. We decided to let it go, and instead we got DISH tv and are very happy with it. My movie choices now are at TCM which so far has worked out well.

  2. Thanks, Nan. This is an odd little film. Alastair Sim is such a hoot. Well, he usually is. In this film he shows both humor and relentlessness, not so easy to do. But Cockrill knows he made that mistake in the end, maybe that will take him down a peg or two.

    I don't have cable anymore, so Netflix for me is the only way to view my beloved vintage films. Unless I buy the dvd, that is.

  3. I'll try it if the library has it.

    I'm scared already and I didn't even see it.

  4. Nah, it's not scary, Kathy. It's just eerie. You'll like it. Ask one of your friends to get if for you on Netflix. ;)

  5. Success: I found it at the library, and it's on reserve.

  6. Oh excellent, Kathy. Let me know how you like it!

  7. I love Alistair Sim. I could probably forgive any plotholes just to watch him. If you get a chance watch him with the great Margaret Rutherford in "The Happiest Days of Our Lives" its a hoot

  8. Lucy: I never heard of this film. I am slowly getting another inferiority complex. HA! I'll see if I can find it. Thanks for the tip. I love Margaret Rutherford too!

  9. Christianna Brand wrote a number of books and shortr stories about Inspector Cockrill. I thoroughly enjoy the character, mostly because Cocky is all too human and makes mistakes - sometimes very serious ones, as we see in Green for Danger. It's been years since I saw the movie, so perhaps it's time I take another look - like you, I'm a fan of Alastair Sim.

  10. Les: I actually enjoyed the film more than I did the first time I saw it years ago. I might even watch it again at some point.

    I'm adding Brand's name to my HUMONGOUS tbr list. :)


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