Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Stewart Granger, George Sanders, Joan Greenwood, Viveca Lindfors, Jon Whiteley, Liliane Montevecchi, Melville Cooper, Sean McClory, Alan Napier, John Hoyt, Donna Corcoran, Jack Elam, Dan Seymour, Ian Wolfe, Lester Matthews, Skelton Knaggs, Richard Hale, John Alderson, Ashley Cowan, Frank Ferguson, Booth Colman
Written by: Jan Lustig, Margaret Fitts, based on a novel by J. Meade Falkner
Directed by: Fritz Lang
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 84
Date: 06/24/1955
IMDB

Moonfleet (1955)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Graveyards and Gallows

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Moonfleet was Fritz Lang's first attempt at the widescreen format, which, playing himself in Jean-Luc Godard's Contempt, he later described as "It wasn't made for people. It's only good for snakes and funerals."

It was a period adventure, in full color, and had very little to do with the tightly-wound, paranoid crime films he had been making. It was made for MGM and was a costly flop. Lang was unhappy with the final cut and, at one time, dismissed it.

Yet today many critics consider it one of Lang's very best films, if not his best. It placed on an early poll of the 100 greatest films of all time (conducted by John Kobal in the late 1980s and published in book form), and more recently was counted among Cahiers du Cinema's top 100. Yet what does one look for when watching it? To start, it's certainly a case of spinning a silk purse from a sow's ear.

In the 18th century, a young orphan, John Mohune (Jon Whiteley), travels to the town of Moonfleet, searching for his mother's former lover, his birth father, Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger). Fox is a true scoundrel, a wealthy man who makes his money by helping smugglers, and has several women at his beck and call. Fox initially balks at having to deal with a child, but then decides it might be amusing to mold the youngster in his own image.

Then, the even more slippery Lord James Ashwood (George Sanders) wants Fox to go into business with him, and Fox unwisely has a dalliance with Ashwood's wife (the wonderful Joan Greenwood, whose cooing voice and perfect enunciation was her trademark).

The lovely Viveca Lindfors co-stars, wearing a magnificent dress and with several thin fingers of hair swiped over her forehead in a most becoming way.

Meanwhile, there is a legend of Red Beard's diamond hidden somewhere in the town, and John discovers a clue to its whereabouts. But of course, everyone is trying to cheat everyone else, all except John who considers Fox his friend.

However much he complained about the wide frame, Lang seemed to know exactly what to do with it. Consider the sequence in which John discovers a hidden cave in the churchyard and must hide when smugglers come in; the high and low angles and use of barriers and shadows in this sequence is frighteningly effective.

Not to mention the truly terrifying "angel" statue in the churchyard that glares with what appear to be glowing eyes, and how many scenes take place in the forbidding darkness.

Even the characters, with their deceitful natures, are perfectly in line with Lang's worldview; few other directors could have visualized them so clearly. Indeed, upon a closer look, it's hard to believe Lang wasn't totally invested in this story.

Though it was difficult to see for years, there is a Warner Archive DVD that is presented in a widescreen format, and is highly recommended.

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