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GREEN FOR DANGER

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Alastair Sim, Trevor Howard, Sally Gray, Leo Genn, Rosamund John, Meg Jenkins
Director: Sidney Gilliat
Audio: English monaural
Subtitles: English
Video: Black & white, 1.33:1 full-frame
Studio: Criterion
Features: Commentary, interview, essays
Length: 91 minutes
Release Date: February 13, 2007

I’m seeing the truth.  You get like that.  You get to see people like you never did before - all the rotten things about them you shut your eyes to once.” 

Film *** ½

Mention “British suspense-thriller,” and generally the name of Alfred Hitchcock pops into mind.  But, Hitchcock was not the only early British director capable of weaving a stirring yarn of intrigue and mystery.  Sidney Gilliat, for instance, used the backdrop of World War II in a gripping whodunit of passion and murder, Green for Danger (1946), that would surely have received a stamp of approval from the Master of Suspense himself.  Gilliat was, after all, the co-screenwriter for Hitchcock’s finest pre-Hollywood suspense-thriller, 1938’s The Lady Vanishes!

As Green for Danger opens, the year is 1944, and Germany has initiated a campaign of terror upon England.  Each day, whether by the peak of the noon sun or in the dead of night, jet-engined V-1s rain down upon the weary denizens of Britain.  “London under fire!  Terrible V-1!” proclaims one such victim in face of his impending demise, those “doodlebugs” and “buzz bombs” of descending doom.

Casualties become the regular preoccupation of wartime hospitals struggling to keep abreast of each new wave of the afflicted and the maimed.  One evening in just such a country hospital, an old and injured postman arrives, delirious from pain after a V-1 attack.  He is scheduled for routine surgery in the operation theatre but expires while under anaesthesia, just another sad statistic among many other war casualties.  But, was this man’s death a consequence of his injuries, an accident...or intentional murder?

The hospital’s Sister Marion Bates (Judy Campbell) believes she knows the truth.  She boldly announces that she has discovered the method and motive behind this unholy murder only to be herself brutally...silenced.  Following the death of the nun who knew too much, Scotland Yard becomes involved.  Enter, Inspector Cockrill!

As portrayed by Alastair Sim, Cockrill is a slightly bumbling but utterly fastidious chap.  In his mind, he is positively the right man to unravel this unfortunate tangle of tragedies that has led to two premeditated murders.  The suspects here number five, doctors and nurses all.  Each has a motive.  Professional or romantic jealousy, perhaps?  Post-traumatic stress?  Nervous nurse Esther Sanson (Rosamund John) is traumatized and unhinged by the recent death of her own mother from a V-1 bombing.  Streetwise and observant nurse Woods (Meg Jenkins) may have something to hide; the beady-eyed ones always do.  Anaesthetist Barney Barnes (Trevor Howard) was once implicated in the accidental death of another surgical patient; might this be a case of history repeating itself?  But perhaps the key to this mystery lies in the punctured romance between nurse Freddi Linley (voluptuous blonde bombshell Sally Gray), her spurned ex-fiancé Barnes, and a new love interest, the suave surgeon Mr. Eden (Leo Genn).  Although there is certainly no love lost between the two jealous rival doctors, only one of these five suspects can be the murderer...but who?

The true identity of the killer is, of course, for Cockrill to exhume.  And the inspector, with a keen mannerism and unflappable cool that foreshadows the omniscient likes of Telly Savalas’s Kojak or Peter Falk’s Columbo, is not above sleight-of-hand to lure the killer into committing an error and exposing himself...or herself.  Of course, the self-assured Cockrill could just be too clever for his own good, and all his forensic double-talk and cross examinations may not be sufficient in the race against time to prevent the killer from claiming a third victim!

Green for Danger was based on a 1944 Christianna Brand novel about murder in a military hospital.  Gilliat’s film adaptation actually removes all references to soldiers and changes the setting from the London Blitz until later in the war after the commencement of the V-1 attacks.  The result is a more taut suspense-thriller that hints at the terrible long-term strain of the war on Britain’s civilians.

That said, Green for Danger has no actual aspirations to be labeled as an anti-war film.  In fact, it is as it seems - just a clever whodunit laced with typical British wit and dark humor.  The ensemble cast is superb all around, but Alastair Sim in particular has a delightful stage presence that routinely commands the spotlight whenever he is on-screen.  Today, Sim is best-remembered for his memorable performance as the irascible title character in 1951’s Scrooge, but his headlining performance in Green for Danger certainly illustrates Sim’s broad range, which by 1950 would help transform the comic stage star into Britain’s most popular film actor.

Upon its initial theatrical release, Green for Danger became director Sidney Gilliat’s biggest hit to date.  Even now, it is that rare and thoroughly entertaining mystery that holds up well to internal logic and repeat viewings.  Regrettably, Alastair Sim never reprised his role as Inspector Cockrill.  A pity, as the potential was lost for an English rebuttal to that most bumbling nincompoop of all screen detectives, French Inspector Jacques Clouseau of the Pink Panther films!

Video ***

Green for Danger, shown in 1.33:1, has a slightly window-boxed presentation.  The transfer was created from a 35mm nitrate fine-grain master positive.  The bit transfer rate averages about 6Mbps for this dual-layer DVD-9.  The black & white images are crisp with very deep black levels. 

Audio ** ½

The English monaural soundtrack is presented with optional English subtitles and has been remastered to minimize clicks, pops, hiss, and crackle.

Features ** ½

The bonus extras include an audio commentary by film historian Bruce Eder that was originally recorded for Criterion’s laser disc release of Green for Danger.  Eder discusses the film’s stars and their characters, the myriad clues sprinkled throughout the story, and differences between the book and its film adaptation.  He even talks at length about the dreaded V-1 itself.

There is a new interview (14 min.) with film historian Geoff Brown as he discusses Sidney Gilliat’s career as a screenwriter and later director.  Other topics broached upon include Gilliat’s long-term collaboration with Frank Launder and production details of the Green for Danger adaptation.

A booklet is provided with this DVD and offers cast and crew information, film credits, and a pair of essays.  “Laughing While the Bombs Fall” by Geoffrey O’Brien focuses on the Christianna Brand novel and the film adaptation’s symbolism and stylization.  The second essay, “Sidney Gilliat on Green for Danger,” is actually an interview excerpt reprinted from Geoff Brown’s 1977 book “Launder and Gilliat.”  Director Gilliat recalls the production of Green for Danger and the film’s most interesting aspects for him.

Summary:

Sidney Gilliat’s Hitchcockian suspense-thriller Green for Danger captures the essence of the best whodunits of the day.  It has delightful British wit, eccentric and secretive characters, and a healthy enough dosage of false leads and red herrings to satisfy any mystery fan.

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