Adapted from a novel by Christianna Brand, one of six humorous whodunits
featuring Inspector Cockrill of the Kent County Police, Green For Danger (d.
Sidney Gilliat, 1947) considerably alters Brand's story and its protagonist.
Originally set in a military hospital during the Blitz in 1941, the film
relocates the action to a civilian emergency hospital during the doodlebug
campaign of 1944. The major changes in Gilliat and Claude Guerney's
screenplay, however, were reserved for the main character. Although Launder
and Gilliat made a number of thrillers over the years, Gilliat disliked
whodunits, and hoped to largely remove that element from the plot, but Brand's
original story was too carefully constructed to survive without it. Their
solution, as Gilliat later recalled, was to "make capital of the very clichÃ©s
of the detective novel".
To this end they structured the screenplay so that the first third set up the
mystery in a traditional fashion, though undercutting it somewhat with a wry
voice-over. When Inspector Cockrill arrives, most of the viewer's assumptions,
about the characters and the mystery genre, start to unravel.
They turned Cockrill into the narrator and cast the comic actor Alastair Sim
in the role. The film subtly guys the whole genre, with the Inspector
frequently proved wrong and even partly responsible for the last death. In one
priceless scene, he smugly turns to the last page of a mystery novel to find
that he has incorrectly guessed the identity of the murderer.
Green For Danger is a remarkable mixture of sly comedy and genuine thrills,
with the sardonic and sarcastic humour of the protagonist providing a good
counterpoint to the darkly atmospheric surroundings of the hospital - shot
with considerable panache by Launder and Gilliat's regular cameraman Wilkie
Cooper. This is seen at its best in the night-time sequence in which the
various characters roam around the hospital grounds before one of them meets
her end at the hands of a spectral murderer dressed in a surgical gown. Except
for two establishing shots at the beginning of the story, the film was shot
entirely inside Pinewood studios, including all the 'exteriors'. The result is
probably Gilliat's most visually accomplished and controlled film as director.
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