Love the title of this film, though I was a bit disconcerted to find out it's just the name of the town in the film. This was a very dark movie, quite literally as well as figuratively-- there's only one scene filmed in daylight! This film drips with creepy, gothic atmosphere, accentuated by... guess what! Another Miklos Rozsa score! This film offers one of the creepiest statues I've ever seen. It was directed by Fritz Lang.
This film tells the tale of a newly orphaned boy, John Mohune (Jon Whiteley), sent by the dying request of his mother to stay with Jeremy Fox (Granger). Fox and the mother had fallen in love in their youth, with dire consequences for both. The mother presumes upon that brief, painful past to find a home for her son from a marriage to another man. Fox is wealthy, unmarried, dissolute, and leads a secret life -- wants no part of being responsible for a child. But John impresses Fox enough with his spunk that he ends up keeping him on. When John stumbles onto Fox's secret -- he's the ringleader for a bunch of smugglers in town -- Fox opts to send the kid to America, but things rapidly start going wrong. There's also various subplots. One about a lost treasure dovetails nicely with the smuggling aspect. There's multiple betrayals, some exciting escapes and chases, and that oppressive darkness that pervades everything.
I quite enjoyed this movie. Granger's a bitter, but self-assured and selfish bastard on the surface, but the movie gives him quite a bit of complexity beneath that. He has a sad, violent back story that explains why he won't let himself love anyone or care about anything anymore. His harsh past also explains why he leads the smugglers now. And because he has that past, and he slips and lets show what kind of a good man he could have been if fate hadn't derailed him, he maintained my sympathy throughout the film. The boy, of course, gets to him, brings out the better side of him. I liked their relationship, how much the boy sticks up for Fox, despite how Fox initially treats him. I liked watching priorities and goals shift for Fox throughout the film, how he changes because of both the boy and circumstances. Redemption is one of those themes of which I simply never tire.
There's one nice sword fight in the film... where Granger's opponent cheats and grabs a poleaxe instead of the proffered sword! Eep! Was a little worried how that lopsided match would turn out!
The always excellent George Sanders co-stars as an aristocratic friend of Jeremy Fox, who isn't exactly on the side of right himself. And Joan Greenwood, who was Granger's co-star in Saraband for Dead Lovers, is in this film as Sanders' wife, who also very openly and brazenly chases Granger. I can't say there's that many honest or upstanding people in this film! A young but unmistakeable Jack Elam has a small humorous part as one of the smugglers. And the poleaxe-bearing opponent is played by Sean McClory, who I love in Plunder of the Sun.
So, good cast, very creepy direction, great score, great dialogue... all in all, I have to say I really liked it. I watched this one on youtube and would really like to see it again on DVD (not sure it's available), as it was so dark on my computer monitor, I couldn't always make out the details. I think viewed on my television, it'd be considerably brighter.
I'd be remiss if I didn't add how much I have always loved this time period's clothes -- and how well Granger wears them. I think this is my favorite time period look for him, from the pigtail and tri-cornered hats, to the shirts and boots. Just adore it.
Which leads me into one other thought, switching topics... All those not interested in opera... fell free to click away now!
Since I'm such an opera lover, and since Tosca is my favorite opera, my sister and I often play casting games, where we try to select various sets of people to put in the lead roles. Sometimes it's combinations of opera singers who never performed together, sometimes it's actors. Tyrone Power is still my idea of the perfect cinematic Mario Cavaradossi (I went on about that once here). And I've always thought Deborah Kerr would make a perfect Floria Tosca. Scarpia has always been trickier, because there's so many different types of Scarpias, whereas the two protagonists are pretty cut and dried. So, depending on the dynamics I'm craving in Act 2, I often settle on very different casting choices. George Sanders would make an absolutely ideal Scarpia, along the Cornell MacNeil lines -- elegant and scheming, his dangerous, evil side camouflaged by that oh-so-suave exterior. So also, I realized while watching this movie, would Stewart Granger play a perfect cinematic Scarpia, but he's more the Sherill Milnes type -- more outright threatening physically, charming but not so smoothly urbane, and twice as dangerous a villain because he's sexy on top of it all.
In Moonfleet, Granger's character's entrance was so much like Scarpia's entrance in Tosca that I was singing Scarpia's first words "Un tal baccano in chiesa! Bel rispetto!" for him. Kind of shocked me when he didn't start speaking Italian like the moment required. LOL! But the flung-open door, the pose, the whip, the outfit, the expression of distaste... wow. Quite utterly perfect. I haven't had the chance to share that entrance with my sister, but I can't wait to!