Cast & Crew
After a long journey by foot to Moonfleet, England in 1757, young John Mohune passes out, and awakens at a tavern surrounded by smugglers. The smugglers search his possessions and discover a letter written by John's late mother Olivia, instructing the boy to seek out a man named Jeremy Fox, who has returned from the colonies to live in the house that was once hers. Jeremy soon arrives at the tavern and, after questioning the boy, alludes darkly to a past "folly" between John's mother and himself. The following day, Jeremy's men load the struggling boy into a carriage and send him away, but John leaps out and is discovered by a girl named Grace, who offers to take him to Jeremy's home. Grace takes John to Mohune Manor, a once grand country estate showing the effects of years of neglect. Interrupting a festive dinner party, John tells Jeremy he wants to stay with him, and Jeremy is impressed by the boy's spirit. That night, John tells Jeremy he has had a nightmare about being attacked by dogs in the summer house, as his mother told him once happened to a friend of hers. Jeremy blanches but dismisses the tale, until his mistress, Mrs. Minton, pulls down his shirt to reveal a mass of scars. When Mrs. Minton privately accuses Jeremy of still being in love with Olivia, he coldly tells her she must leave when the ship comes in the following week. The following day, John accompanies Grace to church, and Parson Glennie reprimands the congregation for their superstitious belief in the legendary ghost of Red Beard, who is believed to haunt the graveyard searching for his lost diamond. He adds that Red Beard was John's ancestor, Sir John Mohune, who betrayed his duty to the crown for a valuable diamond, then died a madman. After the service, John is walking through the churchyard when he stumbles into an open grave and falls into an underground tomb. John accidentally knocks over one of the stone caskets and finds a locket among the crumbling bones. He hides when he hears voices, and watches as a band of smugglers meet with Jeremy, who is the leader of their enterprise. The departing smugglers then cover up the grave, leaving John trapped in the catacomb. Later, at a party at Lord James Ashwood's house, Jeremy engages in a passionate flirtation with Lady Clarista Ashwood. Lord Ashwood asks Jeremy to go abroad with them as their business partner in a new venture. Just then, Jeremy receives a message from his aide, Felix Ratsey, that John has been found in the catacomb. He returns to the smugglers' lair, and the men proclaim that John has seen too much and should be killed. With the smugglers on the brink of rebellion, Jeremy defeats their ringleader, Elzevir Block, in a savage duel. As he prepares to leave with Jeremy, John retrieves the locket he found in the tomb from Ratsey. The locket contains a sheet of paper, and Ratsey observes that there are Bible verses written on it, but all the chapter citations are wrong. At home, Jeremy tells John he has no choice but to send him to the colonies, then reminds Mrs. Minton that she must depart that evening. Furious at her rejection, Mrs. Minton sends for the police, and Jeremy is ambushed on the beach. Mrs. Minton is killed in the shootout, but Jeremy and John escape. While they hide from the police, John shows Jeremy the locket and the paper with the misnumbered Bible verses, and Jeremy deduces that the numbers refer to a word in the verse, which spell out the location of the diamond, in the deep well at Hollisbrook Castle. Intending to use the diamond as his investment capital, Jeremy arranges to depart for the colonies with the Ashwoods the following night. In the morning, wearing a stolen military uniform, Jeremy takes John to Hollisbrook Castle and uses a bucket to lower him into the well, where the boy discovers a loose brick with the diamond hidden behind it. Later, in their hideout on the beach, John talks about their future life together in the colonies, and after he falls asleep, Jeremy leaves him a note and slips out to meet the Ashwoods. As they ride to the ship, however, Jeremy grows glum thinking of John, and abruptly stops the carriage and orders the driver to return to the beach. The driver fights with Jeremy, and Lord Ashwood stabs him in the back. Jeremy shoots Lord Ashwood, and the horses bolt, causing the carriage containing Lady Ashwood to crash. The mortally wounded Jeremy returns to the hideout and wakes John. Telling the boy their plans have changed, Jeremy gives John the diamond and instructs him to return to Moonfleet at dawn and tell Pastor Glennie everything. Assuring the boy he will return to England as soon as he can, Jeremy bids John goodbye and, with the last of his strength, pushes off to sea on a small boat. Later, at the Mohune estate, John tells Grace and Parson Glennie that he is sure Jeremy will come back because he is his friend.
Lillian Kemble Cooper
Jean Del Val
Van Alen James
Wesley C. Miller
Edwin B. Willis
In the mid 1700s, on the southern coast of England, orphaned John Mohune (Jon Whiteley) seeks out Jeremy Fox (Granger), a roguish gentleman who has been appointed the child's guardian. Unwilling to be passed along to another custodian, young Mohune remains in Moonfleet and discovers a nest of secrets lurking within the rocky, windswept town. Fox enjoys a camaraderie with wealthy lords, a secretive involvement with a band of smugglers, and an association with a series of exotic women including a gypsy dancer (ballet star Liliane Montevecchi), a mysterious lady in a gilded coach (Joan Greenwood) and a sinister mistress (Viveca Lindfors). John also learns he is the rightful heir to a large diamond once belonging to Redbeard. Only through the selfless intervention of Fox does the plucky lad stand a chance of ever receiving his legacy, even though it means defying the heartless thieves once under his command.
Cut from the pattern of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped and Treasure Island, the script was adapted from the 1896 novel by John Meade Falkner. Screenwriters Jan Lustig and Margaret Fitts embellished the story with flavorings of Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn and Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, in an effort to boost the film's romantic intrigue quotient.
Producer John Houseman understood that the screenplay was, in his own words, a "sparse, rather somber tale." The New York Times called the script "a thoroughly boneless thing." The melodramatic ingredients were contrived and the action was limited to the inns and manors of Dorsetshire. The script simply did not have the makings of the swashbuckling epic MGM anticipated. But, as Lang says, "Look -- you sign a contract.... Having signed a contract, you have to do your best."
Rather than exaggerating the story into something it wasn't, Lang zeroed in on the true essence of Moonfleet: a child's-eye view of the mysteries of adulthood and the horrors of 18th-century pirates. Moonfleet is thus a Grimm's fairy tale in which a child's curiosity leads him into a nest of murderous thieves, nightmarish graveyards and skeleton-filled tombs. To Mohune, the monstrous cutthroats that crawl among the open graves of Moonfleet are hardly distinguishable from the decaying bodies that reside therein.
Hoping for a colorful spectacular, MGM commissioned the film in Cinemascope and Eastman color. Working with cinematographer Robert Planck and designer Hans Peters, Lang deviated from the studio plan, rendering the film in a palette of subtle earth tones. This allowed for bursts of highly dramatic color, as when John stumbles through the cemetery, beneath brown-and-yellow painted skies, watched over by a ghoulish angel statue with sickly green, luminous eyes.
Moonfleet was shot almost completely in the controlled environment of the studio, which allowed for the baroque compositions and stylized settings Lang was aiming for, and which give the film its distinctively "dreary" flavor. The only notable exception to the studio scenes are certain seaside exteriors filmed on the stony shore of Oceanside, California.
Lang's aim was romanticism -- not the stuff of flowery love stories but the haunted, often tragic literature of Goethe, Shelley or Poe, and the evocative paintings of Blake, Delacroix and Goya. "If you would make a contemporary horror story, you would use a different atmosphere," Lang explained. "But if there are ghosts (which there are in this because they think the smugglers are ghosts) and it plays in a churchyard and so on, you have to make it romantic."
Granger recalled that, during production, studio head Louis B. Mayer and producer Dore Schary visited the set with a promising actor they were trying to recruit to MGM: James Dean. Granger was disappointed with the method actor's sullen lack of courtesy: "I told him how much I had enjoyed his last film, but he didn't return the compliment.... I learnt later that he'd met [Clark] Gable and [Spencer] Tracy with the same indifference.... Hadn't Gable's performance in Gone With the Wind moved him at all? Or, more important, even if it hadn't, couldn't he have had the good manners to pretend that it had? I'm afraid I was as unimpressed by him as he seemed to be by all of us."
Moonfleet was Lang's first and only Cinemascope film, and from the start he expressed concern about how the process, still in its infancy, would affect screen language. "The power of the screen always has been its intimacy....[I am] not certain that we still will have the same power with Cinemascope [but] one has to learn to live with changes, to make compromises." In later years, Lang established a more firm view of Cinemascope, declaring it "only good for funerals and snakes."
"If you think about famous paintings," Lang told interviewer Peter Bogdanovich, "there is only one I know of that has this format, and that's 'The Last Supper.'"
Producer: John Houseman
Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Jan Lustig and Margaret Fitts
Based on the novel by J. Meade Falkner
Cinematography: Robert Planck
Production Design: Cedric Gibbons and Hans Peters
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Principal Cast: Stewart Granger (Jeremy Fox), George Sanders (Lord Ashwood), Jon Whiteley (John Mohune), Viveca Lindfors (Mrs. Minton), Joan Greenwood (Lady Ashwood), Liliane Montevecchi (Gypsy Woman).
C-87m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Bret Wood
The film begins with the following written prologue: "Two hundred years ago the great heath of Dorsetshire ran wild and bleak down to the sea. Here, in hidden coves and lonely villages, the smuggling bands plied their violent trade. And here, one October evening of the year 1757, a small boy came in search of a man whom he believed to be his friend." A January 1952 news item in Daily Variety announced that William H. Wright would produce the film. A September 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Ronald Green to the cast, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
According to Hollywood Reporter news items, portions of the film were shot on location along the Southern California coastline, in Laguna, Corona del Mar, Palos Verdes and the Point Dume area of Malibu. A September 2, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that director Fritz Lang and cinematographer Robert Planck planned to shoot with minimal lighting in an attempt to create the "turbulent and brooding atmosphere" of an English smugglers' cove from the eighteenth century. According to the news item, the lighting would not exceed 500-foot candle power-the level used for black-and-white films-compared with the 1,000-foot candle power often used on color films.
Moonfleet was Lang's first film for M-G-M since Fury in 1936 (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40), and his first film shot in CinemaScope. In a modern interview, Lang claimed that producer John Houseman reedited the film without his knowledge or consent. "Producer's cuts not only drastically reduced Viveca Lindfors' part," Lang said, "but rendered certain sequences almost unintelligible." Moonfleet marked British actress Joan Greenwood's American film debut.
Released in United States Summer June 1955
Re-released in Paris December 19, 1990.
Released in United States Summer June 1955