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Green For Danger (1946)
Warning: The full synopsis contains "spoilers" which describe key plot points. If you don't want to know the plot and outcome of this film then please don't read any further.

Death of a Postman

The film begins with hands at a typewriter and Inspector Cockrill dictating his resignation letter. The letter then becomes a voice-over from Alastair which acts as a summary of the events preceding his resignation.

Trevor Howard Sally Gray Lobby Card

It is 17th August 1944 and a postman, Joseph Higgins, is injured following a V-1 flying bomb ("doodlebug") attack. As the doodlebug explodes we hear a female parody of Lord Haw Haw (a Lady Haw Haw, if you will) on the radio ("As the desperate Churchill lies frantically to save his face, London and the Home Counties are reeling under the incessant fire of our terrible V-1. This is Germany calling.") - an incident which is of no little importance to the subsequent unraveling of the plot. Higgins is taken to the local hospital, a superbly atmospheric Elizabethan manor requisitioned and converted to a civilian emergency hospital.

Whilst being wheeled to the operating theatre Higgins sets up a number of tensions by berating Dr. Barnes for giving the anesthetic and then becoming extremely upset on hearing the voice of Nurse Woods. While being operated on Higgins mysteriously dies, with no apparent cause. With all of the primary cast members gathered around the operating table for what should have been a straightforward minor operation, Alastair's voice intones "By August 22nd two of these people would be dead and one of them a murderer ". In an informal inquest following the operation, it is revealed that the anesthetist, Dr Barnes, was involved in a similar case four years previously (involving an anonymous letter) and so Dr White, the rather pompous hospital administrator, asks him to remove himself from operations until an investigation has been completed. The suspicions mount.

Nuts In May

Green For Danger Poster

Barnes, incensed at the attempt to make him a neatly trussed up scapegoat, refuses to make the gesture of voluntary suspension and storms out to join the hospital staff party. The focal point of the party is the Paul Jones dance "Nuts in May" (two concentric circles, the inner ring being the female and the outer ring being the male dancers; the two rings dance in opposite directions until the music stops and opposite partners dance with each other). This dance is a superb metaphor for the twist and turns of the lovers relationships and the intricacies of the plot.

At the party, Barnes talks with Sister Bates, who has drunk too much and is angry but still in love with the surgeon, Mr Eden, over the end of their affair. She tells Barnes that Eden now seems to have his sights set on Nurse Linley, Barnes' fianc�e, and that Barnes is "in his way". The dance mischievously throws together Mr Eden and Sister Bates and with further hints and allegations she declares to him that she "knows" something about him. Bates interrupts the dance and hysterically announces to all those present that the postman was in fact murdered and that she can prove it. She leaves the party and goes to the operating theatres to retrieve the evidence. There is some splendid photography as the various characters traverse the hospital grounds at night (as if in a Shakespearian comedy) before Sister Bates meets her end in a chiaroscuro operating theatre at the hands of a shadowed murderer dressed in surgical gown and mask. On discovering the body it is also noticed that a bottle of pills has been taken from the poison cupboard.

An Inspector Calls

Inspector Cockrill interrogates witness

Finally, thirty five minutes into the film, Inspector Cockrill arrives. There are some classic Sim maneuvers as the urbane policeman is disconcerted by another doodlebug as he whirls and trips over various obstacles whilst trying to seek shelter from the imminent explosion. The Inspector immediately limits the suspects to those who operated on the postman and who were at the party: Mr Eden, Dr Barnes, and three nurses, Frederica Linley, Esther Sanson and Nurse Woods. The Inspector calls them all together and tries to provoke all the suspects into making some damaging admissions. Mr Eden lies to the Inspector about his whereabouts immediately after the dance. Nurse Linley is also discovered in a lie regarding why she wanted the key to the theatre. The Inspector also learns that Nurse Sanson is still recovering from the death of her mother, who was left for dead when their house was bombed; eventually she was found still alive in the rubble, but was so weakened that she only managed to hold on for a few days longer.

Inspector Cockrill and Dr Barnes then revisit the theatre and Barnes recounts the events of the operation. the inspector is idiotically pleased with himself but is unaware that the clue to the whole series of events is sitting right under his nose.

My Presence Lay Over the Hospital Like a Pall
Inspector Cockrill interrogates witness

Inspector Cockrill admits to enjoying the effect his presence is having on members of the hospital staff as he continues his investigations. There is a delightful scene where Mr Eden woos Nurse Linley by quoting a line from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice: "In such a night as this when the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees, and they did make no noise, in such a night Troilus methinks mounted the Troyan walls and sigh'd his soul towards the Grecian tents where Cressid lay that night." He is on the point of succeeding when he is undercut by the Inspector who is spying on them in the bushes: "In such a night did young Lorenzo swear he lov'd her well, stealing her soul with many vows of faith, and ne'er a true one." An ironic comment on Mr Eden's actions. The Inspector then bids them goodnight and as he is walking away he pulls aside a bush to say goodnight to Dr. Barnes.

This is quickly followed by another priceless scene in which the Inspector smugly turns to the last page of a cheap mystery novel - "Who Killed Simon Lemaire" by Simon Mumford - in order to find that he has incorrectly guessed the identity of the murderer; Alastair's face drops as he comments "I must be getting old".

The Sleeping Beauty

Later Barnes summons the Inspector to his office. Just as the Inspector arrives, they hear a cry for help from the nurse's lodgings. They find that the gas has been left on while Nurse Linley was sleeping; she almost suffocates and is then knocked unconscious while Nurse Sanson tries to help her down the stairs. The Inspector is pleased that the number of suspects is now reduced to four whom he now gathers together. Cockrill now announces that he knows why Higgins had been startled at Nurse Woods' voice; he has discovered that the postman had been listening to a broadcast of anti-British propaganda from Hamburg just before being injured and that it is Nurse Woods' twin sister who has been making those broadcasts.


Green for Jealousy and Danger
Inspector Cockrill interrogates witness

The Inspector now sets a trap for the murderer. He tells the suspects that Nurse Linley, who has in fact completely recovered, has suffered a cranial fracture in her fall and needs urgent surgery. During this interrogation, Barnes and Eden finally have the punch up over Nurse Linley that has been threatened for so long now. The inspector arranges for all the suspects to operate on Nurse Linley and so re-creates the scene of the first murder. When Nurse Linley seems to be on the point of suffering the same mysterious death as the postman, the Inspector realises that a cylinder of carbon dioxide gas, normally painted green, has been repainted black to resemble an oxygen cylinder. He stops the operation and accuses Nurse Sanson of the crime.

Nurse Sanson flees the scene and Mr Eden follows and tries to inject her with a syringe, momentarily making us believe that he was the killer all along. The Inspector stops him, but too late discovers that Nurse Sanson had swallowed the missing pills and that Eden was only trying to administer the antidote. It is indeed Nurse Sanson who is the murderer. The postman had been part of the team of rescue workers who, in her eyes, had left her mother to die. She had then killed Bates, who had found one of the surgical gowns stained with the incriminating black paint and attempted to kill Nurse Linley who was on the point of realising the same thing.

Nurse Sanson dies and Cockrill leaves, offering his resignation to his superiors. This is really the fault of the wonderfully smug Mr.Eden delightfully played by Leo Genn who instead of sharing his suspicions is almost wilfully remiss in trying to resolve the incident himself. Inspector Cockrill concludes with his resignation letter:

"And in view of my failure. Correction ...."comparative failure".... I feel that I have no alternative, sir, but to offer you my resignation, in the confident hope that you will not accept it. Full stop".

There is much art and artifice in this film but without the capital "A" (of which Alastair would have approved, I'm sure).


Inspector Cockrill: Yes, Scotland Yard I'm afraid (chuckles); isn't it sickening.

Dr White: I do hope everything can be arranged discretely.
Inspector Cockrill: Umm, shouldn't think so for a moment.
Dr White: Why not? Press? Do they have to be seen?

Inspector Cockrill: Can't keep 'em out.
Dr. White: Oh, dear.
Inspector Cockrill: I don't mind; they always give me a good write-up.

Dr Barnes: I gave nitrous oxide at first, to get him under.
Inspector Cockrill: Oh yes, stuff the dentist gives you, hmmm - commonly known as "laughing gas".
Dr Barnes: Used to be - actually the impurities cause the laughs.
Inspector Cockrill: Oh, just the same as in our music halls.

Inspector Cockrill: The next morning my presence lay over the hospital like a pall. As I approached voices were hushed and all eyes turned on me . . . . I found it all tremendously enjoyable.

Inspector Cockrill: The suspects are now reduced to four. One, two, three, four. Fewer suspects, less work for me. My ideal is a 40-hour week.

Green For Danger poster

The subtle paradox of the film's title appears to have been lost by the American film promoters. Hover mouse over image to see why.