Film Length: 91 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Subtitles: Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
The Film - ***** out of *****
“Green for Danger” comes from the talented writing and directing hand of Sidney Gilliat. Gilliat is normally known for his productive partnership with Frank Launder, the team responsible for “State Secret” (1950), “The Belles of St. Trinian’s” (1954), and screenplay writers of Hitchcock’s excellent “The Lady Vanishes”. For “Green with Danger”, however, he partners with Claud Gurney, turning in a clever and witty whodunit tale based on a novel by Christianna Brand.
This is a murder mystery with wit and style of the highest order. After surviving an explosion from one of Germany’s V1 bombs (a frequent attack weapon in the latter part of WWII), a local postman is taken to the provincial hospital for care. After he dies on the operating table before the simple and routine operation can even begin, the doctors and nurses quickly become suspects, and, after a second murder, a smug, quirky and profusely sharp Scotland Yard Inspector arrives to solve the crime.
This is an immensely enjoyable murder-mystery filled with a wit seldom found (even today). It is sharp, intelligent and genuinely intriguing and manages to be ‘post-war film fun’ at its very best. The film employs a voiceover narration, with Inspector Cockrill providing a concise blend of insight and humor, that allows the tension and intrigue to unfold onscreen unabated, and adds yet another layer of charm to this fine piece of British cinema.
Released in 1946, at a time when the British public would have been provided plenty of films based on the war that had just ended, it portrays a side of the British dealing with the stress of war in fairly realistic ways. The strained nerves of the staff and their ‘getting on with it’ attitude become an intricate part of the characters and an interesting side to the film.
When Sidney Gilliat was seeking to get this film made, the censors were concerned over some of the scenes, particularly those taking place in the Operating Theater, and the somewhat casual approach taken to the relationships between doctors and nurses (a no-no at that time.) But, despite their unease, Gilliat pushed ahead with the film.
“Green for Danger” was the first film to be made at Pinewood Studios after the war, and the first fictional tale made there since 1942, when the mandate for the films made at the studio was that they support the war effort. It has a marvelous cast, and is filled with characters infused with sharp tongues and genuine likeability. The solid cast includes Meg Jenkins (Nurse Woods), Rosamund John (Nurse Esther Sanson), Judy Campbell (Sister Marion Bates), Trevor Howard (Dr. Barnes), Sally Gray (Nurse Freddi Linley), Leo Genn (Mr. Eden) and Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill.
Between Dr Barnes and Mr. Eden, there is a palpable dislike that churns into distrust as the murder mystery unfolds. Trevor Howard, playing Dr Barnes, brings an affable quality to the character which is a perfectly suited counter role to the somewhat ego-centric Mr. Eden. But, as slimy as Leo Genn plays the Eden character, he manages to hold one of my favorite lines in the film. As he attempts to reason with Sister Bates, explaining how their relationship was expected to be non-binding and casual, he conceitedly states that “The truth isn’t less true for being brutal”. Pure gold!
But the true stand-out performance must go to Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill.
The Video - **** out of *****
“Green for Danger” is presented in its original aspect ration of 1.33:1 and has been “slightly window-boxed to ensure that the maximum image is visible on all monitors”. It has been given a brand new high-definition transfer from a 35mm nitrate fine-grain master positive, and while it looks very good, it is not as stunning as other films in Criterions carefully restored collection, but that is a very high bar that has been set. I found some scenes just a little too soft, but, in all honesty, that could just be me. It is remarkably free of blemishes and still looks fantastic so it gets a solid 4 stars from me.
The Sound - **** out of *****
I found myself totally immersed in this film, which may very well have more to do with the great characters and razor sharp screenplay, but I found no issues at all with the audio presented here.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio is mastered at 24-bit from a 35mm optical soundtrack, so all the sound is focused in the center channel but, again, since this movie lives and breaths on the slyness of the script, the clever use of narration and the brisk pace of the story, it serves the film well.
The Extra’s - ***1/2 out of *****
This Criterion special edition comes with an interview with British film historian Geoff Brown and a audio commentary from film and music historian, Bruce Eder.
Recorded in 1995 and presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen, the interview with Geoff Brown contains a lot of good information, including how, after WWII, British cinema benefited from having a common canvas (the war) in which to set stories. It runs just a little under 14 minutes and while interesting and valuable, leaves you wanting more.
The commentary, recorded in 1993 for the laserdisc release, contains Mr. Eder’s familiar level of insight and steady balance of artistic and historic appreciation. And while the commentary could be a little livelier, the level of understanding and context provided here more than makes up for the times when it is a little dry.
I give the extras 3.5 stars because I selfishly wish there was more here to satiate my utter enjoyment of this true 1940’s gem. What has been included is a treat, but I would like to have seen more.
It also has a nice booklet that contains a “new essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and a director’s statement”. Both interesting to read.
Green for Danger is simply wonderful. A clever murder-mystery that has more than its fair share of humor; characters that have a real sense about them and a performance by Alistair Sim as the Inspector, that is charming, witty, sly and incredibly memorable. It isn’t free from the occasional melodramatic moment, by the dry sense of humor and sense of fun more than overshadow them. A classic moment in the film comes as Dr. Barnes and Mr. Eden enter into a bout of stiff and silly fisticuffs as Inspector Cockrill gleefully watches on with a delight in his eye that represents everything about his character. I highly recommend this one.
Overall Score - ****1/2 out of ***** Highly Recommended.