Somewhere in the 18th century Great Britain, noble but penniless young boy John Mohune is sent by his dying mother to Moonfleet, to put himself under the protection of a certain Jeremy Fox. The boy discovers that Fox is both a former lover of his mother and the leader of a gang of buccaneers. A strange friendship grows as their adventures go on.
Stewart Granger ... Jeremy Fox
George Sanders ... Lord James Ashwood
Joan Greenwood ... Lady Clarista Ashwood
Viveca Lindfors ... Mrs. Minton
Jon Whiteley ... John Mohune
Liliane Montevecchi ... Gypsy (as Liliane Montevecchi of the Ballet de Paris)
Melville Cooper ... Felix Ratsey
Sean McClory ... Elzevir Block
Alan Napier ... Parson Glennie
John Hoyt ... Magistrate Maskew
Donna Corcoran ... Grace
Jack Elam ... Damen
Dan Seymour ... Hull
Ian Wolfe ... Tewkesbury
A movie which is highly praised by French critics.
The first thing to bear is mind is that it's based on Falkner's novel.It's not "Falkner's novel transferred to the screen".People who read the book might be disappointed.
Jeremy Fox was created from start to finish by the script writers.We can wonder why it roughly replaces Elzevir Block (who's featured in the movie but in a minor role).Part of the reason can be found,I think,in Lang's work.In the book ,Block was a very good man ,and Lang's characters had always been very ambiguous .Is Fox the boy's friend?I have my doubts .He always betrays him and when he finally sides with him,it is beyond death.The boy's waiting (final scene) is a metaphor for the fear of losing childhood's illusions.But Jeremy epitomizes an already lost fight.The novel's ending(which ends when the child is an adult ,cause it spreads its plot over ten years )paraphrases the proverb "ill gotten ill spent" .John the man has sailed the sea and like Ulysses has returned to live peacefully.
One can easily understand what was appealing in Falkner's "Moonfleet" for a director like Lang.The underground world,the characters who lead a double life,the secret places , any Lang fan already met them ("Metropolis" "M","secret beyond the door" "hangmen also die"...) and would later ("beyond a reasonable doubt","der tiger von Eschnapur" "das indische Grabmal").The atmosphere of the novel fitted him like a glove but the characters probably did not.However,Lord and Lady Ashwood characters (not featured in the novel too)get in the way:George Sanders delivers a funny line ("the boy would be my grandson" ) but their presence adds nothing to the plot.And Meade's characters (Ratsey,Maskew,Grace,Block) are too often sacrificed to the "new " ones.Okay they were a bit cardboard ,but they were colorful.
Unlike some other users,I think that the color is dazzling.There's something circular in the directing: Liliane Montevecchi's dance,,the creek,the sinister-looking smugglers' faces surrounding the boy,the well..I think that Lang's intention was to show his story through the boy's eyes.That's probably why the scenes dealing with the aristocrats do not work.
That was Lang's first attempt at an adventures movie.He would continue (IMHO,with better results) in the two German movies "der Tiger..." and "das Indische..." ,but even when he made apparently "entertaining" flicks,we could feel his inimitable touch.
It is a long time since I read J Meade Falkner's novel, but I remember enough of it to realise that this film bears little resemblance to it. Around the middle of the eighteenth century John Mohune, the young son of a once-wealthy but now ruined aristocratic family, is sent after the death of his parents to stay with Jeremy Fox, the squire of the Dorset village of Moonfleet. Before her marriage to a cousin, Fox was the lover of John's mother, but they were prevented from marrying by the opposition of her family, who thought he was neither wealthy nor well-born enough for her. As the fortunes of the Mohunes have declined, however, so those of Fox have risen, and he is now the wealthiest man in the village, living in their ancestral mansion.
Fox takes a liking to the boy, and a friendship grows up between them. Unknown to John, however, Fox is not the respectable country gentleman he appears. His main source of wealth is his involvement in the lucrative, but highly illegal, smuggling trade, and he has plans to go into partnership with Lord Ashwood, a local nobleman, in a venture which involves plundering foreign ships and which effectively falls little short of piracy. The debonair Fox is also something of a ladies man, with at least two mistresses, one of whom denounces him to the authorities when he tires of her. The main plot concerns Fox and John's search for a long-lost diamond which had once belonged to one of the Mohune family.
"Moonfleet" has similarities to "Treasure Island" although it is set in Britain rather than on a remote tropical island. The relationship between the likable rogue Fox (a name presumably chosen because of its connotations of cunning) and young John parallels that between Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins. The film has been aptly described as situated on the boundary between a traditional cape and sword adventure and a Gothic horror movie. The style of acting is more that of the swashbuckling adventure. Stewart Granger, taking over where Errol Flynn left off, made something of a speciality of dashing heroes in historical costume dramas ("Blanche Fury", "Saraband for Dead Lovers", "Scaramouche" and "Beau Brummell" are other examples) and he makes an attractive hero here. The other contribution that stands out is from George Sanders, always a good villain, as the corrupt aristocrat Ashwood.
Director Fritz Lang, however, brings a very Gothic look to the film. Moonfleet may be situated on one of the most scenic counties in England, but it is no picturesque village. The atmosphere is often a dark, gloomy one, with numerous shots of the shabby alehouse or the mist-shrouded churchyard. Fox may be a likable rogue, but the smugglers are for the most part dangerous ones who would have no compunction about murdering a child. (There is a fine duel between Fox and one of their number fought to decide whether John should live or die after he inadvertently overhears their plans). This is not a great film, but is nevertheless a well-made, watchable adventure.
I like the movie Moonfleet, but in watching Moonfleet, you are also watching the demise of a great studio, still trying to turn out quality pictures as the Hollywood studio system is collapsing and movie budgets are shrinking. Moonfleet is only 87 minutes long, there are no expensive exterior action scenes and dimly lit interior scenes are the norm. Even though shot in Cinemascope, Moonfleet is a budget movie using cheaper Eastmancolor, not Technicolor. Stewart Granger was still under contract, and the other starring roles are handled by European actors, who worked for less. MGM modified existing sets, cleaned off old costumes and started the camera rolling. For all of that, the picture is interesting as it deals with 18th century English smugglers and the story of young John Mohune.
MGM executives must have decided that even with Fritz Lang, Moonfleet was not going to be a hit, which could explain the truncated story line and the always gloomy (cheaply processed) photography. On the TCM broadcast I saw, Moonfleet was in widescreen and had closed captioning. Looking as good as it ever will until the movie has a full restoration, Moonfleet is just too slow paced, without real kinetic energy. The talent is there, but probably for reduced budget reasons, Moonfleet can't grab your attention and keep it for even 87 minutes.
Addendum: I just watched parts of Moonfleet again, from a download of a bittorrent file made from the French Time Warner DVD of this movie (An AOL Company was still part of the logo then, only two years ago). In a lot of ways, this movie is a reflection of the decline of Hollywood and the importance of movie studios in general. Director Fritz Lang worked for the UFA movie studios in the 20s making silents, made talkies in the 30s first in Europe then in Hollywood, and was running out the string in Hollywood when he made Moonfleet. At the end of the movie, when young Mohune leaves open the gate of Mohune manor, the gesture does not really change things.
The MGM logo included a gate in it, the entrance to a great movie studio. There is a silent 1926 documentary made by MGM showing the different departments in the dream factory, from warehouses full of period furniture to group shots of directors and cameramen and even a garage where wind machines and power trucks were kept. MGM was a giant movie company from the start when it combined Goldwyn's studio with Metro. Less than 30 years after that silent, the MGM studio was like the desolate Mohune family manor, its contract players and staff released, its Loew's theaters sold on the cheap, its Hollywood studio barely holding on as its New York board of directors decided to fire production head Dore Schary and cut movie production, placing the studio's survival on big pictures like Raintree County, Ben-Hur and How The West Was Won.
Moonfleet is still with us, but MGM is now completely gone, its name tagged onto a film releasing company but the last of its small studio staff given their walking papers about two years ago. The fatalistic atmosphere that permeates many scenes in Moonfleet may be Fritz Lang's doing, but it could just as well be that it was hard for MGM staffers to think about happy endings as their studio was going under. And MGM's decline mirrored what was happening in the rest of Hollywood.
Under the conditions then, it was an accomplishment for the studio to make Moonfleet, hiring the talent not on payroll, preparing the sound stages for production and shooting the movie using the cheap Eastmancolor film. But to me, the picture is too much of a downer, the photography too dim and the storyline incomplete. Moonfleet is worth watching, it has a great cast but the movie needed a bigger budget to pay for better production values and scenes showing what Stewart Granger's character did after leaving Mohune manor. By 1954, MGM wasn't going to gamble on spending a lot of money on Moonfleet.
# This was the final film for Skelton Knaggs. This film was released almost two months after his death.
# This film was simultaneously produced in two different versions. A CinemaScope version which has an aspect ratio of 2.55:1, and a spherical (non-CinemaScope) version intended to be matted during projection to a 1.75:1 aspect ratio.