Green for Danger (1946)

green2

Director: Sidney Gilliat

Last week I watched a mystery in the form of a hospital soap opera that revolved around the use of anesthetic. While that one, The Murder of Dr. Harrigan (1936), was light fluff, Green for Danger is a hefty bona fide classic of the genre, a darkly comic, more realistic, expertly crafted and executed whodunit set in a country hospital near the end of WW2. In the wartime setting, the usual drama of a murder plot is heightened by the stresses, losses, secrets and devastation of war. Crimes are easier to overlook against mass tragedies and easier to hide, along with questionable pasts, in the wreckage of bombings and the clean slate of relocation. Between personal losses and professional demands, the characters in this film are under constant pressures and “some form of bombardment for years.” Their resentments and pasts converge when a local postman, Higgins (Moore Marriott), is brought in with injuries from a bombing. His recognition of one of the characters’ voices leads to his murder while on the operating table, which is then followed by a chain of crimes and attempts to cover the truth and eliminate those who know too much.

Inspector Cockrill (Alastair Sim) is our guide, narrating from the start through his dictation of the facts, characters and victims of the mystery about to unfold. With his voice over we meet all the masked medical professionals in the OR and then unwinding with chats about their relationships and plans for the evening. Surgeon Dr. Eden (Leo Genn) is a slick heartbreaker applying his practiced and hollow charm to the nurses and caring little for the emotions of the ones who get too attached. Anesthetist Dr. Barnes’ (Trevor Howard) carefree exterior hides his anguish over a broken engagement to Nurse Linley. Barnes is threatened with suspension and inquest over Higgins’ death, which brings forth details of his exoneration in a similar tragedy, and a lasting anonymous grudge against him. Barnes’ fiance Nurse Linley (Sally Gray) is unsure about their relationship and welcomes Eden’s attention. Sister Bates (Judy Campbell), strung along and rejected by and yet hopelessly in love with Eden, perceptive about Barnes’ romantic frustrations and warns him of Eden’s unkind intentions. Bates gets herself killed after she stops a party to announce she knows who murdered Higgins and how. Nurse Sanson (Rosamund John) is high strung and uncomfortable with independence after living so long under her mother’s thumb. Nurse Woods (Megs Jenkins) is a frank, no-nonsense outsider whose confrontational style masks grief and shame.

green3

Scotland Yard Inspector Cockrill finally appears about halfway into the picture, and thanks to Sim’s brilliant performance instantly becomes one of the movies’ most likable and memorable detectives. With a shark-like smile, informal tone and direct efficient manner, he disarms and disrupts. He clownishly dives for cover when he hears approaching bombers or motorbikes, condescendingly tells everyone he’ll allow them time to cook up their false alibis, and gleefully pulls up a chair to watch as Eden and Barnes brawl. He tightens the screws so he can assess everyone when they lose their cool. His eccentricities are signs of genius and deliberately staged to push people off-balance, like the scene where he spins in his chair, holding his umbrella out so the tip has Barnes dodging every time it circles around.

Cockrill brings a vast store of knowledge gleaned from a lifetime of cases and an addiction to mystery fiction, and loves to tell you so with smug confidence. He’s fast to pick up clues, but his flaw in this movie is far too quickly arranging them into the wrong conclusions. In his narration he admits he overestimated his intelligence and was so “idiotically pleased” with himself that he missed out on preventing another death. That creates more suspense and makes for a powerful scene when those mistakes are revealed and Cockrill’s triumph and his self-image shatter. He’s solved the crime but is so ashamed of his failure that the movie ends by showing us he’s been dictating not only his case file but also his resignation letter.

Green for Danger gives you everything a great mystery should: engaging characters, sparingly but meaningfully distributed pieces of personal background and history by which to construct possible motives, elegantly placed clues and clever red herrings, and enough gaps and unknowns for the viewer to fill. Among the items to piece together or discard: missing drugs, fistfights and hysterics, stab wounds through a gown, Churchill and Shakespeare quotes, a shilling in the gas meter, a mock surgery to reproduce circumstances of Higgins’ murder and draw out the killer, deep shame over acts of treason and plenty of other motives thanks to revenge, rivalry and romantic rejection. There are also many attractive images, like the camera peering through the OR door’s porthole window, those same swinging doors giving us a scary glimpse of the killer in surgical gown and mask, a stylish chase through a garden on a stormy night, and the creative presentation of all the surgical equipment and tools vital to both lifesaving and the murders.

Green for Danger was adapted from a popular novel by Christianna Brand. Director Gilliat also co-wrote the adaptation with Claud Gurney, who died during filming, and produced with frequent partner Frank Launder.

This was another fun opportunity to do a joint view and review of an essential with a fellow blogger, Liz at Now Voyaging. Read her thoughts on Green for Danger here.

Advertisements

19 thoughts on “Green for Danger (1946)”

  1. Hooray! So glad you liked it! It is one of my favorite murder mysteries and I adore Alastair Sim in it. Thanks for doing another joint review with me! 🙂

  2. I love this little movie, which is so much of its time. The war and the bombings are treated just as a fact of daily life, unlike any other film I’ve seen from that period. It has so much going for it, I hope people will look for it–it’s available online.

    1. The war/bombings as part of everyday life strikes such a good balance too, creates stress, tension and opportunities for humour, and like you say a different kind of setting well used for a mystery. Wonderful movie, thanks for reading

  3. This is a wonderful film with so much going on, having just read two blog postings on it I may have to watch it yet again. When watching this film I am always reminded of ‘An Inspector Calls’ 1954 another fine film in which Alastair Sim shines although I do think ‘Green for Danger’ is the better film of the two.

    1. I know I’ll be watching again soon, the mark of a great mystery, even when you know the solution it’s still rewarding to rewatch. Sim is wonderful, changes on a dime as he realizes what’s going on, and it’s original to have him fail in a way, even though he solves it. Thanks!

  4. I saw this film a long time ago so it’s time to see it again. Alistair Sims is one of my favorite classic British film actors.

    Tam

  5. I love this one too, and yes, it bears multiple viewings… you can’t pick up all the clever dialogue the first time around! The murder method was brilliantly plotted and chilling. (I will add that the ending isn’t quite as sad as it sounds at first… Cockrill submits his resignation ‘in the confident hope that it will not be accepted,’ and amends the reference of his ‘failure’, to ‘partial failure.’ 😉

    1. That’s right (I was leaving some suspense about the resignation), you can’t see a character like that ever truly resigning or being fired since he’s so great. And even in the quotes you used, you get more insight into his character, he admits a failure but knows he’s good. That’s why he’s the main part of this being so rewatchable, as well as catching the dialogue and style. Any mystery you can watch again after knowing the solution is a special one. Thanks so much!

  6. Oops, me and my big mouth. I wondered why you worded it like that, but I haven’t been terribly bright lately (insert silly looking smiley face here.) Now I feel like we should perhaps remove the comment…. on the other hand, I recall the main reason I kept putting off seeing this one, was because I had read in a review that Cockrill blew the case and then resigned. So maybe it will re-encourage some ninny like me to see it. (lol)

    1. haha! no, don’t worry about it, you’re no ninny 🙂 I’m glad we got the chance to talk about how that letter reveals his character. I really like that device of the dictation and his telling us he makes a mistake BEFORE it happens, it adds another layer of suspense to be watching him mess up as well as solve the crime. Thanks again!

    1. It is great, as a big mystery lover I’m shocked (shocked!) that I only got around to seeing this now. I can see why it’s so highly regarded. Thanks!

    1. That’s a real nice use of the imagery from the opening and murder recreation scenes. Great British mystery, check It out when you get a chance. Thanks!

Comments are closed.