Green for Danger: The Criterion Collection
Based on a novel by the celebrated British mystery writer, Christianna Brand, Green for Danger (1946) starts so quietly and unremarkably despite a buzz bomb caving in a post office in the opening minutes that one wonders what, aside from the participation of legendary actors like Alistair Sim, Leo Genn, and Trevor Howard, could possibly distinguish this seemingly by-the-numbers medical thriller sufficiently to earn it a place in the Criterion canon. Sure, director and co-writer Sidney Gilliat, probably best known for teaming with Frank Launder (who produced Green for Danger) on a number of Hitchcock's early British productions (the most noteworthy being The Lady Vanishes), carries the whole production off with estimable Expressionistic panache in the best Carol Reed tradition (another Gilliat collaborator), while the company of accomplished British players strikes every emotionally treacherous note with pleasing precision; there's never any doubt that one is watching a very above-average whodunit. But that's all it ever seems to be, all it's really aspiring to be, which renders it something of an agreeable trifle that is, until Gilliat executes a final, delicious twist after the murderer is revealed that one longs to discuss but cannot in good conscience lest the experience of watching Green for Danger be utterly ruined. And while that twist is not altogether uncommon in mystery writing, it's certainly unexpected for a work this rigidly formulaic. But for most of its efficient running-time, Green for Danger goes about its nasty business like a high-style episode of "Columbo," though its sleuth, Inspector Cockrill (the inimitable Sim), doesn't enter the narrative until a good 30 minutes in. Until then, Gilliat and co-writer Claude Guerny (whose only other screen credit is an apparently OOP adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse's Brother Alfred) cleanly set up the series of suspicious deaths occurring in and around a rural British hospital during Nazi Germany's 1944 V-1 rocket campaign. As if dodging buzz bombs weren't enough, the harried medical staff now has a killer in their midst, with the suspects including the suave surgeon Mr. Eden (Genn), the lovely Nurse Linley (Sally Gray) and her jealous ex-fiancée Dr. Barnes (Howard). The intrigue begins with the seemingly accidental expiration of a patient during anesthesia and gets gruesomely heightened when Sister Bates (Judy Campbell) turns up murdered after hysterically announcing to a stunned crowd of revelers that said patient didn't die unintentionally (the stalking and killing of Bates being a bravura piece of filmmaking from Gilliat). This occasions the high-handed intercession of Scotland Yard's Inspector Cockrill, who's so pleased with his own investigative brilliance that even he seems due a comeuppance (something he acknowledges himself in his more measured narration). The sly manner in which Cockrill traps his prey is strictly stock for the genre, but Sim goes about his business with such a giddily childlike disposition that one doesn't mind the pile-up of clichés. And Gilliat matches Sim's enthusiasm with consistently sharp shot composition (check out the discomfiting subjective camera as a patient is wheeled into the operating room) and a subtle gallows humor that was unusual when dealing with matters even on the periphery of the just concluded World War II. In fact, Gilliat is so comfortable behind the camera it's surprising that he never matured into a more substantive filmmaker. Regardless, he deserves more attention as one of British cinema's more skilled technicians.
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The Criterion Collection presents Green for Danger in a tidy full-screen (1.33:1) transfer with crisp monaural audio. Extras include a feature-length commentary from film historian Bruce Eder (recorded in 1993 for the Criterion Laserdisc release), a new interview with film historian Geoff Brown, and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien and a remembrance from writer-director Gilliat. Keep-case.