Sad Hill Media

Film & Lesser Arts with Will Ross, Devan Scott, & Daniel Jeffery.

by Will Ross

Let's be clear about this from the get-go: Green for Danger is a straight whodunit. Its sole original contributions to the genre are the setting in a rural wartime hospital in Britain and the characters' positions there as doctors and nurses. Beyond this, all is business as usual: In the midst of a company of friends connected by love, affairs and working relationship, murder is done, and a brilliant detective arrives to piece together the clues and expose the killer. With that established, let’s be clear about another thing: Green for Danger is a splendid straight whodunit.

The film’s director, producer, and co-writer, Sidney Gilliat, was already familiar and proven in the field of movie mysteries: He and his writing collaborator Frank Launder had previously adapted the novel The Wheel Spins into Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Lady Vanishes. Having this and several other films’ experience working together, they based Green for Danger on a novel of the same title by Christianna Brand. What results is a film that uses nearly every standard plot device of the whodunit, but does so with practiced hands, demonstrating the difference between tropes and clichĂ©s. The film begins with six members of the hospital’s medical staff, including a surgeon, three nurses, a theater sister, and an anaesthetist. During a simple, safe surgery on a postman named Higgins, something goes wrong and he inexplicably stops breathing. It is assumed to be accidental, until Theater Sister Bates announces at the hospital ball that not only was Higgins’ death intentional, but that she knows the name and method of the culprit. Of course, she is stabbed to death before revealing the truth, Scotland Yard sends an unflappable detective to the hospital to solve the case, and the surgery’s five surviving medical staff are soon identified as the prime suspects.

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Of special focus is the love triangle subplot between the stubborn, hot-tempered anaesthetist Barnes, his fiancĂ© Nurse Linley, who is tired of Barnes’ possessiveness, and the suave, womanizing surgeon Mr. Eden. Linley, hoping to spurn Barnes, is receptive to Eden’s advances, and the ensuing competition for Linley’s affections hampers the investigation and serves as a dramatic interest in moments when the mystery’s sleuthing could otherwise become arid. The other characters more or less serve as supporting players, but their own deep-seated secrets are revealed in due time.

Despite all this, the film never takes itself too seriously, largely thanks to the wry tone of the Inspector and narrator, Cockrill. The Inspector is a man of unflagging self-assuredness and arrogance. He takes pleasure in needling the suspects, constantly hinting to them which of their actions have raised suspicion of their guilt. His smirk fails him rarely and only in private moments, but his loopy nature never does: Even after its dark conclusion, Cockrill avoids an unhappy ending with one final joke. The film's punchline suggests that the tragedy was a minor downer that does not spoil a good fun show.

And a fun show it is. The dialogue is of consistent wit and tension and capably delivered by the actors. Gilliat allows their exchanges to go no more time than they need to make their points, because he is only interested in telling a good story at a brisk pace. As such, the direction has panache but little bravado, with consistent framing and stylization. It is designed to thrill, the only cogitation it wishes of its audience is their attempt to solve the mystery.

And a thrilling mystery it is, with new clues and motives coming to light in nearly every scene. It's a credit to the strength of the story that even when it uses the most common of tropes - identifying the killer by trying to recreate the circumstances of the crime, the cast standing around explaining the crime once its perpetrator has been found, or even an evil twin - the wartime hospital setting and circumstances keep things fresh and engaging.

It performs very well on all levels, but what keeps the movie from true greatness is that it never reaches for the stars. The dialogue is witty but never truly cutting, the direction is solid but never inspired, and Cockrill's lightweight delivery of the story in his narration reaffirms the film as a work of simple entertainment. It doesn't stay in your thoughts for days, but for an hour and a half of chuckles, quick wallops, and a genuinely puzzling murder mystery, you could do far worse than Green for Danger.

Complete with dark and stormy night, with bombs as rain and explosions as thunder.


Anonymous said...

I saw it recently too and pretty much agree with everything you said. It's a very good way to kill a couple hours, but not much more.

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