Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Green For Danger (1946)

A wonderfully constructed mystery Green for Danger is a wartime murder mystery that is a great deal of fun. The fun of the film is in the performances particularly Alastair Sim as Detective Cockrill and in the changing nature of the film, from hot house potboiler to medical mystery to straight on detective yarn with a dash of comedy.

The film begins with an unseen Sim dictating the story of the case he had just been working on. Its 1944 and in a small country hospital the doctors and nurses are bust tending to the various patients many of whom are brought in as a result of V1 attacks. One day the local mailman is brought in to the hospital, a victim of just such attack. As he is tended to the various members of the surgical team end up in a soapy romantic quadrangle…which only gets stickier as the patient dies under mysterious circumstances; which is then declared to have been murder and is then complicated when the accuser ends up stabbed to death…

At this point Alistair Sim, a smarter than he looks sort of fellow, is brought in to try and get to the bottom of it all. As Sim tears through the suspects and attempts are made to kill the people who might know something, the terror is cranked up with only an occasional joke by Sim to lighten the atmosphere.

While I would be hard pressed to say this is among the finest murder mysteries ever, I will say it’s a great one. It’s a film that plays with your expectations and turns things on their heads.

When I saw this film for the first time I was completely confused by what I was seeing. Much of the first third of the film is little more than a romance between doctors. Its really not what I was expecting and was quite happy when people actually started dying. Then, despite the fact that he is narrating the story, the film is almost half over before our detective shows up.

Now, I was certain, it would get good. And it did.

The intriguing thing is that the film had been good all along, I just didn’t notice it. The long lead up was full of clues and seemingly random bits which actually point the direction of who did it and why. As Sim bemoans at one point he had all the information in front of him early on but was too smug to notice it.

You won’t notice it either, even though I’m telling you to keep an eye out you won’t catch it all until you see the film a second or third time because it’s so well done.

Forgive me, it’s so nice to see a mystery and be completely fooled by having everything laid out in plain sight. Its rare in mystery films, especially ones from the period which tended to throw in a few monkey wrenches or random left turns just to to seem clever.

While the cast is good, its hard to talk about any one but Alastair Sim. While he was kicking around in various roles for years (including the Inspector Hornliegh films and various Bryan and Edgar Wallace based films) this was the film that made him a real star. This was the moment where audiences suddenly said, “Hey you know I like that Sim guy”.

And with that his career was made and he was on his way to all of the iconic roles we associate with him such as Scrooge or in the St Trinians films.

This move is a blast. It really is.

Currently out in a really nice Criterion edition that includes a commentary track and a couple of other extras, this is a film to hunt down and savor on a dark and stormy night.

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