|Green for Danger (1946)
Run time: Approved | 91 min | Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Director: Sidney Gilliat
Writers: Christianna Brand, Sidney Gilliat
Stars: Alastair Sim, Sally Gray, Trevor Howard
Sim is the model of comic finesse as insouciant Inspector Cockrill, attempting to locate a killer in a rural English hospital. A witty comedy-mystery with impeccable British style and
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The British film industry has had a chequered history, but was arguably at its finest in the 40’s and 50’s when it produced little gems like this.
Straightforwardly plotted convergent mysteries of this genre, with or without a major twist, never fail to give simple satisfaction when acted by such a cast of stalwarts and regular journeypersons as we find here. Some may find the stiff upper lips and well modulated tones of the middle classes a little grating for modern tastes, where nurses all speak naicely and ordinary folk are played by caricature cockneys. Speaking of stiff upper lips, their very personification Trevor Howard is, of course, in it, playing a surgeon with a cloud over his career. Which is why the whole is leavened by the unique figure of Alastair Sim.
No matter how serious the role he must play, his lugubrious features invariably betray an innate whimsicality, that essence of grown-up-naughty-schoolboy that we find so universally engaging, and which is the world’s view of Britishness at its best. He makes it possible to insert a pratfall or quip to lighten the atmosphere without losing it.
Films like this were very easy and cheap to make – minimal locations, scenery munching, explosions or car wrecks. Current film makers might take note of their bang-per-buck in an era when nostalgic baby boomers are making their cinema presence felt again. But where will they find another Alastair Sim?
Directed and produced by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, the British mystery-comedy Green for Danger is a rare treat. Featuring the incomparable Alastair Sim as Cockrill, a bumbling Scotland Yard detective and the redoubtable Trevor Howard as a suspicious doctor, the plot is a convoluted murder mystery in which five people have motive and means to commit murder — but whodunit?
Set in a rural British hospital (that looks like an Elizabethan mansion) during the latter stages of World War II, two people are murdered before you can say "buzz bomb". The first suspicious death occurs when a postman suddenly dies on the operating table after receiving an anaesthetic. This is soon followed by the death of Nurse Marion Bates (Judy Campbell) after she announces at a party that she has found evidence to expose the killer. The possible killer includes the uptight Dr. Barnes (Trevor Howard), the emotionally unstable Nurse Sanson (Rosamund John), Nurse Woods (Megs Jenkins), Nurse Linley (Sally Gray), the object of affection from both doctors, and the philandering surgeon, Mr. Eden (Leo Genn). Each one of the suspects looks and acts guilty.
There are many twists and turns and, without giving anything away, a staged mock operation after an attempted third murder ultimately will tell the tale. But the film belongs to Alastair Sim. The word whimsical must have been invented with him in mind. You just cannot take things too seriously when he is around. His capricious charm and impudent smile lights up every dark shadow in the old hospital. Green for Danger is a bit stodgy but lots of fun.
With its darkly atmospheric tones,Green for danger works extremely well.The second murder is incredibly well shot with scenes reminiscent of ‘I walked with a Zombie’,the noise & movement caused by wind being particularly effective.A stellar cast interact perfectly with a special mention for Sally Gray,on her first role after a 5 year break due to ‘a mental breakdown’,comes across as a glacial goddess.I’m not worthy.Alistair Sim’s lugubrious narration provides a perfect framing device building a sense of anticipation and atmosphere.I don’t find the movie slow and I was surprised that people find it ‘talkie’,maybe its modern audiences with their legendary short attention span!
Green For Danger (and how cheeky is THAT title!) is a bravura example of simplicity in the art of movie making. It’s a rural whodunnit set in WWII (it was nearly banned in case it frightened soldiers from going to hospital!) wherein a small group of medical professionals soon discover there is a murderer in their midsts after the homicide of a soldier. Enter a Scotland Yard Inspector (Sim) to tidy up the loose ends and swiftly solve the case – before handing in his resignation!!!
This film, despite its whimsical charm, is replete with fine examples of every film-making ingredient. The acting (though a tad stiff) is dead on the ball; the dialogue is always precise and frequently ingenious (Sim’s music hall gag about impurities…); the editing is never less than effective and the direction and cinematography constantly inspired (the mood and lighting for the second murder is awesome). It is clear from this type of gem that the ingredients of cinematic success are not always excessive ones – unless it is an excess of skill and talent; and this film has that in abundance. On top of this it also has the gorgon-eyed brilliance of Alistair Sim: a man late to his profession but BOY did he make up for it! Check out his delivery in this film and his constantly out-of-kilter (and surely spontaneous) body language. He is an actor relishing being the fulcrum of every scene he’s in – and even those he isn’t: The night-time scene in the woods being a perfect example of his equal gift for comedy and scene stealing. And he still makes me laugh out loud!