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Monday, October 18, 2021

A Mystery That Doesn't Cheat and Pays Off


Green For Danger (1947) is Who Done It For The Ages

Yank trades sure kept UK pics on the grill over what reads like hostile environment for imports, showmen outside art housing egging on discontent with outsider product flopping within our walls. Even most gracious Brit visitors got the ice, as here when Variety damned Green For Danger with faintest praise: "Very acceptable mystery film but hardly one that warrants giving Hollywood back to the Indians," cute at expense of what I'd call a masterpiece of whodunits, foreign or domestic. You know a mystery works when you're immersed enough in the set-up to forget there's going to be (has to be) murder within a next reel, this by way of saying the thing works well outside genre convention. Here is occasion where we really can defy guest viewers to guess the killer. Credit for that goes to writing/directing (and co-producer) Sidney Gilliat, whose name on UK credits make any a must to watch, his wit having enhanced The Lady Vanishes, Night Train To Munich, numerous others.

I've seen Green For Danger numerous times and still am surprised by the reveal. Follow closely and rewards are great, most memorably the great Alastair Sim as oddball Inspector Cockrell, a fabulous creation you could wish upon a series of thrillers over decades to follow, but regrettably this was a one and only case for Cockrell, though Sim would approximate him elsewhere. The actor, his performance, and Green For Danger itself were of such unconventional type as to put columnists to search of fresh accolades. Highest praise for the film would come from outside trade establishment like Variety protecting borders. Rave reviewing compared Green For Danger to The Thin Man and the best of Sherlock Holmes. Syndicated Billy Rose wrote that "it makes Hollywood's latest shoot-'em-ups look like pillow fights in a girl's dormitory," and called Alastair Sim a "civilized funnyman."

In fact, Sim's acerbic Cockrell was funny to extent of one's appetite for blackest of humor and character capacity to switch suddenly from apparent buffoon to sly and efficient investigator. Cockrell would see modern tribute in the person of Columbo and other sleuths habitually underestimated. Green For Danger was US-handled by Eagle-Lion, which got J. Arthur Rank leavings after Universal creamed best of his for distribution (E-L dealt twelve from Rank during 1948). Initial dates were LA saturated as second feature to E-L's Repeat Performance, while New York play at the Winter Garden yielded $16K over a first four days, unusually good for an import minus marquee lure.

What lit Gotham was rave notices from critics previewed by Eagle-Lion, the latter knowing it had strong merchandise to ride reviewer wave toward further word-of-mouth from satisfied patrons. A good enough picture could catch on thus where newspapers and radio guided movie choices, "smart" shows like Green For Danger a hook for those seeking something out of the ordinary. Airwave support was a big help, WOR running week-long contests tied to Green For Danger and conducting interviews with visiting star Leo Genn. Eagle-Lion had itself an urban hit if not one that would click in the heartland. As distribution rights reverted back to J. Arthur Rank, Green For Danger and others of his would be handled by Allied Films, Inc. for 1951 reissue. TV soon got the leavings, Green For Danger, like others of Rank origin, an early arrival to home consumption. Criterion offers a splendid DVD, and TCM has played Green For Danger occasionally in HD.


Blogger DBenson said...

Haven't caught this one, but a couple of other amusing Sims:

"The Belles of St. Trinian's", inspired by Ronald Searle's cartoons of cheerfully malicious schoolgirls. Sim plays the headmistress and her wastrel brother. There were several sequels, but I think Sim only appeared in the first.

"School for Scoundrels", the original, based on a series of mock self-improvement books then popular in England. Declaring themselves texts of the art/science of Lifemanship, they detail "how to win without actually cheating" in sports, business, love, etc. via gambits developed at a seedy "college". Put-upon Ian Carmichael enrolls and learns to out-cad Terry-Thomas; Sim is the school's founder and top professor.

These are not classics, but affable sitcom-style amusements a tad less raucous and more middle class than the Carry Ons. An interesting look at what 50s British moviegoers got on an ordinary bill.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

My film series patrons loved this. As for co-star Leo Genn, I worked with him when we video-taped a stage performance of CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA at Penn State. My favorite Brit actor was always Sir Alec G. (hence the book). Sim makes the last five minutes of SCROOGE magic.

10:49 AM  
Blogger James Abbott said...

I was lucky enough to befriend Christianna Brand during the last decade of her life. She was a wonderful, charming, sweet and generous lady.

She LOVED the movie version.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Jim Lane said...

Jim Lane here; I'm not sure I'll be properly identified when I post this comment; Google may insist on calling me by my sweetie's name, But it's me.

Anyhow, I strongly recommend another picture where Alastair Sim "approximated" Inspector Cockrell: An Inspector Calls (1954), directed by Guy Hamilton from J.B. Priestley's play. Quite different from Cockrell, for reasons I can't explain without raising the Spoiler Police, but Sim is as commanding and indelible as ever. There's a DVD I can't speak for, but I have a splendid 16mm print that I've been trying to get on the program at Cinevent in Columbus (shall continue to try when Cinevent is superseded by the Columbus Moving Picture Show).

4:40 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Growing up in Canada, we were exposed to a greater number of British features on TV; that changed beginning in the 1980s as cable and then satellite-delivered TV expanded the area in which wider choice was available, but as a result of those youthful experiences, some of the films I enjoy most revisiting now are films made in Britain.
This has me thinking that a comparison of the criteria used by the British film censors and those promulgated and enforced by the US Production Code while it was in effect could be of interest; I suspect the differences would illuminate the differences and perhaps show the similarities, too, between these different cultures.

9:13 AM  
Blogger tmwctd said...

Am very late to the party here of course but thanks a lot, John, for bringing "Green for Danger" to the forefront again.
A great (comedy)-thriller based on an equally great book. I have read all of the Christina Brand-mysteries but this is the only one I remember.
Leslie Halliwell wrote a great piece on this movie in his "Halliwell┬┤s Hundred".

Like "The Cat and the Canary" (1939), this movie can make you laugh and scare you within minutes...

An equally great mixture of mystery and laughs would the the Gervase-Fen-books by Edmund Crispin (Bruce Montgomery), unfortunately they were never turned into movies.

4:10 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon remembers GREEN FOR DANGER, and its link with SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD:

As a result of being the default fixer upper around here, I haven't been able to be a very good correspondent, to say the least. Just want to comment on two random posts I see in your stack which I enjoyed, though wasn't able to give them as thoroughgoing a 'read' as I would like to. One, on "Green For Danger". I agree--wonderful movie, and yes, very unusual. I laugh to myself that I've even forgotten "whodunnit"! I bought this along with some other British classics in Blu-ray in Region B (playable normally only in Europe, but I have one of those doped Blu-ray players which can defeat this block), some years back. It made a fine impression, I know that. I'll have to watch it again now! BTW, the photography was by Wilkie Cooper, who lent such playful distinction to the best of the Charles Schneer/Ray Harryhausen collaborations, to my taste. He had no fear of lavishing all kinds of very artificial and theatrical lighting effects on the sets which far from being detrimental lent them a kind of magical fascination, in my view. Strict realists or documentary film lovers would perhaps object to caves with purple, blue, and yellow patches of lighting all over them, but to me, Cooper did this so unselfconsciously and imaginatively that he transformed good but ordinary sets into wonderful spaces which complement Ray's incomparable special effects sequences. Add (often) the music of Bernard Herrmann and you have movies that will forever exert a very particular magic for those of us who love them. I'd hate to think this is merely my inner one-time baby boomer expressing itself, but that's a very real possibility, it not to my mind a liability. We can't help when we were born and we also can't help having been impressed by what we were then, nor what we came to love.

1:12 PM  

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