There's a blurb in one of the copies of Christianna Brand's Green for Danger floating around my family that mentions that Ms. Brand was inspired to write her first mystery novel when she imagined bumping off an annoying co-worker. It is not easy living or working with some people. Close quarters can often inspire intense feelings. In Green for Danger, published 1944, the close quarters are a military hospital and nerves are frayed by overwork, German bombs and murder.
The 1946 film based on the novel was adapted by Sidney Gilliat and Claude Guerney, and directed by Gilliat whose usual partner, Frank Launder, was producer. The setting is a rural emergency hospital outside of London in 1944. A Tudor mansion has been refurbished to care for patients with outbuildings rigged up as operating theatres. Staff sleep in old coach houses and towers. The intense working hours are not the only reason for stress among staff. German buzz bombs or V1 rockets are a constant threat. One of the local postmen is wounded when a bomb falls on a shelter and he requires an operation. Mr. Higgins dies on the table before the cutting begins under troubling circumstances. He had made some comment about the anesthetist Dr. Barnes (Trevor Howard, The Third Man) having some nerve to be doing the job. And whose voice did Higgins recognize before being wheeled into surgery? The new head of administration, Dr. White (Ronald Adam, The Haunting) would like the whole thing to go away, but Dr. Barnes will not co-operate by resigning.
Sally Gray, Leo Genn, Rosamund John, Megs Jenkins
We discover more about the staff at a jolly party arranged for the good of morale. The surgeon, Mr. Eden (Leo Genn, Quo Vadis), has a reputation with the ladies. Barne's fiance Freddie Linley (Sally Gray, The Saint in London) is being swept off her feet by the dashing fellow from Harley Street. Sister Carter (Wendy Thompson, Stairway to Heaven) is a former flame of Eden's who has been swept aside. Nurse Sanson (Rosamund John, Spitfire) and Mr. Eden go away back. Nurse Woods (Megs Jenkins, Oliver!) is honest to the point of bluntness. There may be some who don't appreciate that characteristic.
A dumped and distraught Sister Carter informs all gathered at the party that murder is afoot and she knows who has done what and can prove it. Poor Sister doesn't get the opportunity. Her stabbed body is found in the operating theatre and it is now a job for Scotland Yard.
Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill
"My presence lay over the hospital like a pall – I found it all tremendously enjoyable."
Scotland Yard in Green for Danger is represented by Inspector Cockrill as played by Alastair Sim (Stage Fright, A Christmas Carol, The Belles of St. Trinian's). While the plot, the setting and the fine ensemble of actors make for a excellent whodunnit viewing, it is Sim's droll portrayal that places Green for Danger at the very top. Sim would work for/with Gilliat and Launder in 13 films altogether starting with 1939s Inspector Hornleigh on Holiday through to 1959s Left Right and Centre.
The story unfolds through the unobtrusive narration of Cockrill's report to his superior at the Yard. We hear the good Inspector's point of view and we see the Inspector in action. No one is more confident than our Inspector Cockrill. No one more observant. No one more able to strike fear into the hearts of foes. No one is so able at wrapping up a murder case in a matter of days or of outrunning doodlebugs than Inspector Cockrill. The puzzle pieces are all there for you. Will you be able to fit them together as neatly as the Inspector? Green for Danger is a perfect mystery movie full of delights. Like a perfect solitaire diamond it stands alone, but how you will wish there were sequels filled with Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill.
TCM is screening Green for Danger on Sunday, October 5th at 8:15 am and is a great way to start your day. I only hope it is a nice, rainy day for you wherever you are. It will enhance the mysterious atmosphere and the slyly humourous dialogue.