Saturday, August 23, 2008

Trevor Howard on TCM

Yesterday was British actor Trevor Howard's day on Summer Under the Stars. Thankfully, TCM didn't show Brief Encounter, a well-made movie that is unfortunately irritating as a chick flick. One of the best Howard movies they did show, and which is available on DVD, is the delightful mystery Green For Danger.

Howard isn't the star of this 1946 British movie; that honor goes to Alastair Sim, who plays Inspector Cockrill, a Scotland Yard detective who is sent to a makeshift small-town hospital in the waning days of World War II to solve a murder. Apparently, during one of the German V-bomb raids, a postman was injured, and died on the operating table for reasons seemingly unrelated to his injuries. Naturally, everybody who was in that operating room (including Howard, who plays one of the surgeons) is a suspect -- and every one of them also has motives for having committed the murder. You wouldn't have a good mystery without that, of course. This isn't the only murder, though. One of the nurses declares that she's got evidence that will lead to unmasking the murderer -- and she promptly winds up dead, herself.

As is the case with any good mystery, there are a lot of twists and turns, and it turns out that the good Inspector Cockrill figures he can solve the murder of the postman (and by extension, the murder of the nurse) by recreating the conditions of his death in the operating theater, leading to what is in some ways trite: the suspense of a "patient" nearly dying before it's determined who the actual murderer was. Still, the ending is well-crafted.

Green For Danger is highly enjoyable on a number of levels. Alastair Sim is excellent as the Inspector, bringing the same mix of humor and resolve to his crime-solving that Barry Fitzgerald would show a few years later in The Naked City. The rest of the cast is good, filled with the British stalwarts who populated British films in the postwar era. There's some excellent set design, notably in turning a mansion into a hospital; and some very good cinematography too -- watch especially for the murder of the nurse. All in all, Green For Danger is a prime example of the movies the British movie industry was turning out after 1945: constrained by lower budgets than Hollywood could have, but more than making up for it by experience on the part of the cast and crew; and ever-so-slightly eccentric. As mentioned above, Green For Danger is available on DVD, but being in a genre of less interest than the traditional Hollywood movie, it's been released to DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection, which makes it more pricey. However, it's well worth renting.

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