Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Green for Danger (1946)

Green for Danger is a 1946 British film adaptation of Christianna Brand’s 1944 novel of the same name, widely regarded as something of a minor masterpiece in the detective fiction genre.

The setting is a temporary emergency hospital in England in August 1944. Most of the casualties seem to be victims of the V-1 attacks that were reaching their height at this time. At the beginning we are introduced to the surgeon, Mr Eden (Leo Genn), his anaesthetist Dr Barnes (Trevor Howard) and a collection of nurses and the voiceover informs us that within 24 hours two of these people will be dead, and one will be a murderer.

There’s clearly plenty of potential for romantic tensions. Dr Barnes and his nurse fiancĂ©e have just broken off their engagement while Mr Eden definitely has a roving eye. And Mr Eden has an emotional entanglement of his own to sort out.

A very minor very routine operation goes tragically wrong. There was absolutely no reason why the patient should have died but nonetheless he did.

There will have to be an inquest of course but at this stage it seems to be just a tragedy. Until an accusation of murder is unexpectedly raised, and another death follows. This time there is no room for doubt - this was quite clearly murder.

Inspector Cockrill (Alistair Sim) now makes his appearance. Not altogether surprisingly this leads to a slight change of tone, with Sim injecting some witty banter and even whimsicality into the proceedings. This change of tone is a little jarring and from this point on the movie shuttles uneasily between taut mystery thriller and cynical acerbic comedy.

Cockrill’s whimsicality is knocked out of him a little when the murderer strikes again. There aren’t very many suspects left - as Cockrill had already pointed out only a handful of people could possibly have been in the right place to commit the first two murders. Despite the limited pool of suspects the identity of the murderer remains as mysterious as ever. The climax is in the gloriously melodramatic style beloved of golden age mystery writers.

This film boasts a fine cast. Trevor Howard and Leo Genn are excellent as the two doctors who dislike each other intensely. Sally Gray is pretty good as the good-natured but faithless Nurse Linley. 

Naturally once he makes his belated entry Alistair Sim proceeds to totally steal the movie. He’s in fine form as the unconventional, perpetually amused but deceptively sharp policeman.

Writer-director Sidney Gilliat was a major figure in the British film industry throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s. His screenplay (co-written with Claude Guerney) offers the right mix of mystery, suspense, romance and humour.

The setting is used exceptionally well. The makeshift and temporary nature of the hospital, hastily converted from a picturesque Elizabethan country house, gives the film an interesting atmosphere. With V-1 buzz-bombs flying over and exploding randomly at various points throughout the movie it also emphasises the temporary and fragile nature of wartime relationships. It was shot at Pinewood and is a fine example of just how good a movie shot entirely in the studio can look.

This movie combines two sub-genres I’m usually not overly fond of - the medical drama and the wartime mystery - but it combines them very well indeed. The movie is reasonably faithful to the book insofar as plot is concerned but has a quite different feel, much more cynical and darkly humorous. This is entirely the result of the casting of Alistair Sim, but while he threatens at times to unbalance the film he’s so much fun to watch that it’s impossible to object. and somehow the two discordant halves of the film hang together.

Green for Danger offers an excellent mystery plot, an interesting setting and Alistair Sim at the top of his game. This all adds up to tremendous entertainment. Highly recommended.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this detailed overview of the movie. I enjoyed both book and movie, and we re-watch it from time to time. I don't care so much for medical melodramas either, but I do like war time mysteries.

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  2. Love this movie. It's like a sinister Cottage To Let. I read that Alex Guinness based his performance in The Lady Killers on Alistair Sims, which tickles me no end. Both actors were so delightful.

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