Time once again for the monthly Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Movie Challenge, in which blog friend Mike’s Take on the Movies assigns me a movie I’ve never seen and vice versa. This is the third time he’s suggested a Stewart Granger film–The Last Hunt and All The Brothers Were Valiant were the others–and that’s just fine with me; in fact Mr. Granger is on the short list for my next movie fest, as soon as I’m done watching through Alan Ladd’s career.
Moonfleet (1955) was an exciting adventure story that I really enjoyed. Little orphaned John Mohune (Jon Whiteley) shows up in the smuggler’s cove Moonfleet looking for his “friend” Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger), who was once in love with John’s mother. It was her last wish that the boy be looked after by Jeremy, a likable and dashing but bitter dandy who leads a gang of smugglers. He’s in the middle of planning a big con with a Lord and Lady (George Sanders, Joan Greenwood) and not at all interested in having the boy underfoot. Jeremy tries to get rid of the kid but slowly warms to the boy’s spunk and loyalty and has a last minute change of heart about cheating and leaving John.
John claims there’s a lost treasure in Moonfleet, left from the time the family built the church and manor, and after falling into the churchyard crypt, the boy finds a family pendant and coded document that leads him to a massive diamond. That crypt is also the creepy underground hideout for the smugglers, so after a comical bit where Jack Elam mistakenly puts on the boy’s cap, they find, kidnap and almost kill little John. There’s a lot of that kind of entertaining adventure and action, knife-throwing, fights, and sticky situations, like John held at knifepoint when the magistrate (John Hoyt) comes snooping, or Jeremy posing as an officer to search a well, then getting called on to inspect the troops.
This swashbuckling treasure hunt has a good dark tone as you might expect from director Fritz Lang, just the right amount of Gothic horror, and (from a kid’s point of view) eye-opening and sometimes scary looks at double lives, greed, deception, death and other adult realities including a seductive Gypsy dance by Liliane Montevecchi, the jealousy of Viveca Lindfors who left her husband to be with Jeremy, a frightening cemetery statue, a hanged man out on the road, villainous partners killed, a shocking coach crash. John is resourceful and bold, doesn’t scare easily and is always confident that his “friend” Jeremy will help him out, even when Jeremy’s gone forever. Whiteley is cute and Granger is the perfect heroic rogue with a soft centre but unpredictable to the end; together they’re a pleasure to watch.
The ending is emotional and bittersweet and the reversal of fortune poetic. John’s mother was once rich and Jeremy an unsuitable match, so the family set the dogs on him. Now that John’s mother died in poverty, she sends him to a very different Jeremy who’s filled his emptiness with smuggling profits and beautiful women. By the end of this story, John is back at the manor, riches, name, heirloom and ideal of both mother and fatherly friend, all restored, and gates open to the future and a day a friend might return.
Moonfleet is based on the book by J. Meade Falkner, features music by Miklós Rózsa, pretty CinemaScope colour and fine costuming. Now find out which classic gritty journalism drama I picked for Mike.