Green for Danger
Pinewood Studios, England, 1946
Directed by Sidney Gilliat
Screenplay by Sidney Gilliat and Claude Guerney
Stars Alastair Sim, Trevor Howard, Sally Gray and Rosamund John
Green for Danger is a difficult film to categorise. Crime, obviously. But also it has healthy doses of horror and comedy.
It opens with a doodlebug flying over a small English town in 1944. The doodlebug has a horrible, wasp-like sound which is presumably (given the date the film was made) realistic. The silence when it is about to fall from the sky is spooky.
The local postie Joseph Higgins winds up at the business end of the explosion, and he finds himself in Heron’s Park, an Elizabethan manor house converted into a military hospital.
Heron’s Park is the kind of hospital where a doctor-patient conversation involves a cigarette and a pipe, the surgeons are obsessed with the nurses, and the nurses anticipate a certain level of sexual harassment as an occupational hazard. Even so, a death on the operating table is something to be avoided – but guess what? It just isn’t Joseph Higgins’ day. For some reason, his breathing stops.
Inspector Cockrill of the Yard soon appears on the scene. Alastair Sim is brilliant as Cockrill, portraying him as a puckish and cold-blooded provocateur.
My presence lay over the hospital like a pall – I found it all tremendously enjoyable.
At one point a fight breaks out and he grabs a chair to sit down and watch – placing it almost on top of the brawl. When the murderer strikes again, he tells the others: ‘Fewer suspects and less work for me. My ideal is a forty hour week.’
The suspects are a closed circle. Trevor Howard, looking old enough to know better, portrays the lovesick Dr Barney Barnes. He has previous form in terms of deaths on the table, having lost a patient a year ago. Barnes is engaged to the winsome Nurse Linley (Sally Gray) who in turn has had her head turned by smarmy pipe-smoking Mr Eden (straight into his smoking jacket after an operation and not afraid to corner nurses in the staff-room). Howard turns to pipe-smoking himself later in the film, to make himself look more jealous.
Aside from Linley, three more nurses are implicated. Nervy nurse Sanson, who lost her mother to a doodlebug, is played by Rosamund John. Judy Campbell plays wild-eyed and dangerously obsessive Sister Bates with gusto. Some of the best lines go to Megs Jenkins as Nurse West, describing Mr Eden’s former private patients as lovely ladies ‘drifting in and out of your consulting rooms in a flutter of cheques and eyelashes’.
So it’s a comedy, but at two points Green for Danger openly steps into horror territory. The scenes in the operating theatre are almost Cronenberg-esque – especially as the masked and gowned surgical team stare with goggle-eyed horror at the inflating and deflating of the almost-organic rubber pump apparatus. The second murder, in a dark room during a lightning storm, is pure Gothic.
Even given Cockrill’s character, I can’t quite believe his tactic for catching the killer would be countenanced in any civilised country. Still, it works – even if it leads to unexpected consequences.
Look out for my review of the Christiana Brand novel Green for Danger, coming soon.
Thanks to More4 for screening Green for Danger. You can read more about this film at alastairsim.net.
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.