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Green for Danger (1946) is a relatively forgotten post-War British classic that truly deserves your attention. The plot revolves around the buzz-bomb wounding of an unfortunate postman who dies while under anesthesia at a local hospital. A Scotland Yard detective (Alastair Sim, who is best known for his 1951 performance as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol) investigates the crime, and winds up driving six suspects, including Trevor Howard as the anesthesiologist, to distraction with his peculiar crime-solving techniques. Writer-director Sidney Gilliat manages to mix froth with an unexpectedly dark heart, to memorable effect. The script is entertaining on a variety of levels, and all the performances are first-rate.
Gilliat was already an old hand at this type of tightly-controlled British narrative when he filmed Green for Danger. Along with his occasional writing and producing partner, he penned the classic script for Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938), and the team went on to a long a career that included such pictures as State Secret (1950), The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950), and The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954), with the latter two starring Alastair Sim.
In Geoff Brown's 1977 book Launder and Gilliat, the director commented on his decision to film Green for Danger: "The novel, by Christianna Brand, had not been recommended as film material by the story department of the Rank Organization, and I bought a copy at Victoria Station just to while away a journey. I was attracted not by the detective, Inspector Cockrill, who, though by no means as dull a plodder as Inspector French, did not exhibit very much in the way of elan; nor particularly by the hospital setting, then still held by many distributors and exhibitors to be death at the box office. No, what appealed to me was the anesthetics - the rhythmic ritual, from wheeling the patient out to putting him out and keeping him out (in this case, permanently), with all those crosscutting opportunities offered by flowmeters, hissing gas, cylinders, palpitating rubber bags, and all the other trappings, in the middle of the Blitz, too...The Blitz of the novel we changed into the 1944 V-1 attacks, as being by far the most dramatic of the various assaults on the old folks at home."
Green for Danger was the first film to be made in England's famous Pinewood Studios when it reopened after WWII. With the exception of a pair of very quick shots in the first act, the film was shot entirely in the studio, even the exteriors. The entire Pinewood lot was taken up with sets from the picture, which was a strangely expensive way to shoot. The operating room was even built twice, so there would be no need to break down the set to get a different angle. The cameras and crew could just shift over a few feet to film in the "other" direction!
Perhaps the oddest thing about Green for Danger, though, was how powerful British censors reacted to it. Initially, the picture received a total ban, because it was feared that British soldiers just back from the war might become fearful that hospital staff members would try to kill them during surgery! This was an interesting theory, to say the least, since there aren't even any soldiers being operated on in the movie. It turned out that the censor was commenting on the contents of Christianna Brand's 1944 source novel, which was set in a military hospital. The overzealous arbiter had initially written a letter stating that he felt the movie shouldn't be shot at all, but nobody ever received the letter and it was filmed anyway. It all worked out in the end, though. Green for Danger was eventually approved for general release after receiving a single, minor cut.
Director: Sidney Gilliat
Producer: Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder
Screenplay: Sidney Gilliat, Claud Gurney (based on the novel by Christianna Brand)
Editor: Thelma Myers
Cinematographer: Wilkie Cooper
Music: William Alwyn
Cast: Trevor Howard (Dr. Barney Barnes), Rosamund John (Nurse Esther Sanson), Alastair Sim (Inspector Cockrill), Leo Genn (Mr. Eden), Judy Campbell (Sister Marion Bates), Megs Jenkins (Nurse Woods), Moore Marriott (Joseph Higgins, the Postman), Henry Edwards (Mr. Purdy), Ronald Adam (Dr. White).
by Paul Tatara