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My presence lay over the hospital like a pall - I found it all tremendously enjoyable.


Green for Danger
(1946)

Generally identified as a Launder and Gilliat comedy, the only clowning here comes from leading man Alastair Sim; the murder plot is played “dead” straight. But Sim is such a delightfully eccentric, invasive presence that its misrepresentation is entirely understandable. And that’s in spite of his Inspector Cockrill not appearing until more than half an hour into the proceedings (only Sim’s voiceover announces his involvement).

The screenplay was adapted from Christianna Brand’s novel of the same name, one of seven to feature the Inspector. Set around a rural hospital in 1944, foul play is suggested by Sister Bates (Judy Campbell) after a postman (Will Hay regular Moore Marriott) dies on the operating table. When Sister Bates is killed, Inspector Cockrill is summoned and immediately focuses his suspicions on the doctors and nurses attending at the initial death. These include Dr, Barnes (Trevor Howard), Mr. Eden (Leo Glenn), Nurse Linley (Sally Gray), Nurse Woods (Megs Jenkins) and Nurse Sanson (Rosamund John).

Naturally, there is elaborate misdirection and numerous red herrings; the Inspector-free opening section ensures that the Agatha Christie-esque melodrama of the suspects’ obsessions and indiscretions are involving in and of themselves, helped by a strong cast. Howard’s Barnes is jealous with a shady past, Glenn gets to play up the oily ladies’ man, while Jenkins’ broad affability instantly invites closer scrutiny. But this is Sim’s show, and his gleefully inappropriate attitude to his investigation is frequently hilarious. His irreverence is on display as soon as he arrives at the hospital. Asked what’s wrong, he responds, “Just the usual slight discomfort after meals”.

Whether he’s swiveling on a chair with childish delight, appearing out of the darkness to complete Eden’s quotation from Troilus and Cressida (as he woos Nurse Linley) and then pushing back a shrub to reveal the spying Barnes, or pulling up a chair for a grandstand seat as Eden and Barnes roll around the floor scrapping, Sim’s behaviour is endearingly unpredictable. Asked who would want to murder the postman, he replies “My dear young lady, how on Earth should I know? I’ve only just got here”. When Dr. Barnes expresses concern over the attention of the Press, Cockrill responds, “I don’t mind; they always give me a good write-up”.

So it comes as something of a surprise that Cockrill’s confidence leads to a conclusion exposing his fallibility (“In view of my failure - correction, comparative failure - I feel that I have no alternative but to offer you, sir, my resignation, in the sincere hope that you will not accept it."), albeit one that doesn’t seem to put him on the back foot for too long, as the quote suggests. As much fun as the film is, the Inspector’s plan to expose the criminal is an enormous stretch for a number of reasons – not least the danger he puts one individual in. But I’ll wager you won’t guess the murderer (I couldn’t remember, and I’ve seen the picture several times before).

****

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