Green for Danger
February 9, 2007
Based on Christianna Brand’s novel of the same name, Green for Danger (1946) is a first rate example of the classic English murder mystery with game-like rules including false leads, plot twists, adherence to certain decorum of the time period and clues (both major and minor) that force you to pay close attention to everything. The film takes place on August 1944 with England being caught in the grip of World War II. A postman is brought in, the victim of a recent bombardment. He is operated on by the confident Dr. Barnes (Howard) and Mr. Eden (Genn) but something happens on the operating table. His mix of gas and oxygen somehow gets messed up and he dies.
We become privy to the relationships of some of the hospital staff, like the forbidden romance between Eden and Nurse Freddi (Gray). It comes out that Dr. Barnes has suggestions of a checkered past by the hospital staff administrator (Adam) who wants him to take responsibility for the patient’s death. However, Nurse Freddi is involved with Barnes so there’s Eden’s motivation to make the doctor look like the killer – the love of another woman. However, Nurse Esther (John) loves Eden and sees him kissing Freddi which upsets her to no end. She tells Barnes what she saw which only complicates things. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Nurse Esther is murdered after a tense after-surgery party.
Wading into this complex quagmire is Inspector Cockrill (Sim) from Scotland Yard. He arrives the next day to investigate the murder. He’s a delightful chap who uses his jovial façade to take people off their guard. He’s also a bit of a smart-ass and Alastair Sim plays him with just the right amount of cynical bravado. He is aloof one minute and intensely focused the next and this disorients everyone he questions. One of Cockrill’s tactics is to get everyone in the same room together where he proceeds to brilliantly play them off each other. This also makes everyone suspicious of each other and he hopes that this will, in some way, expose the killer. And so begins the Inspector’s shrewd cat and mouse game with the hospital staff as he uses deductive reasoning to expose the guilty. Cockrill’s not afraid to turn the hospital upside down and he takes great enjoyment in watching his suspects turn on each other.
Green for Danger is one of those nice, Sunday afternoon diversions – an intricate whodunit set against the backdrop of WWII with Sim in top form as a slightly too-cocky-for-his-own-good detective. This film is a pleasant equivalent of an engaging page-turner.
appeared on the 1993 laserdisc edition. He states that the Gilliat had previously written for Alfred Hitchcock in the 1930s and Carol Reed in the 1940s and so he had honed his thriller chops by the time he made Green for Danger. He points out that the narration is unique in that Cockrill is not a central character but for the most part an observer. Eder says that if you pay close attention, all of the clues are apparent in the opening minutes, including the means, method and way to cover up the first murder. He goes on to provide an excellent, in-depth analysis of this movie while also putting it into a historical context which is quite informative.
Also included is an interview with Geoff Brown, a film scholar who has written several books about British cinema. He provides a brief history of the filmmakers (how they broke into the industry, etc.) and the backstory to the film itself.