DANGEROUS MOONLIGHT (UK, 1941)
Minor but special film is little known outside Britain, though its music, The Warsaw Concerto, became an instant radio staple the world over and is still heard. While a lesser and derivative score, it made the fame of composer Richard Addinsell. He was obviously inspired by Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, which, in 1945, came into its own in another British film, David Lean's superb "Brief Encounter." Addinsell's composition is nicely worked into the film, along with the Polish national anthem, bits of Beethoven and Chopin.
The movie was a huge hit in beleaguered Britain and high in the affection of audiences. When it was made and released in 1941, England was being blitzed by the Luftwaffe, Nazi forces had spread from Norway to Crete, North Africa and Russia. America had not joined the fray yet. The film was produced by the British unit of RKO, which financed it.
The main story, told in flashback, deals with the period of the Nazi invasion of Poland (started September 1, 1939) through the Battle of Britain (July-September 1940). As Warsaw is about to fall, pianist Stefan Radetzky (Anton Walbrook), now with a Polish bomber squadron, is ordered to fly to Rumania. Interned, he escapes, comes to the USA to concertize for the Polish Relief Fund. He meets again and marries journalist Sally Gray, an American with whom he had a lightning romance in Warsaw. Radetzky gives concerts, then joins a fighter squadron of the RAF in England and fights in the Battle of Britain.
Made under difficult circumstances, the film is, of necessity, un-fancy, though its early use of actual combat footage is effectively presented. The very simplicity of the movie, the absence of Hollywoodian polish, slickness and rah rah patriotism, its reserve and immediacy, give it a touching, semi-documentary directness.
No doubt to boost morale and flesh out the story, there are a few improbabilities. In one of them, handsome Derrick De Marney plays a full-of-blarney Irish volunteer in Poland. One wonders how the short time of the Polish war (the blitzkrieg) allowed this.
"Dangerous Moonlight" was not shown in the USA until after the war. It was somewhat misleadingly rebaptized "Suicide Squadron," as the original title itself was also misleadingly sentimental. In the UK it is the best known work of its director, Hollywood-trained Irishman Brian Desmond Hurst.
The very interesting star is Vienna-born Adolf Wohlbruck (later Anton Walbrook) who did well in German and Austrian films and, after a stint in Hollywood, settled in England. Distinctive, aristocratic, quietly effective, he became a major figure in important movies, among them the two that followed "Dangerous Moonlight" : "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" and "The Red Shoes." In all he made a small number of films, but these, plus two Max Ophuls French pictures ("La Ronde" of 1950 and "Lola Montes" of 1955) place him high among performers.
The main writer of "Dangerous Moonlight" was 25-year old Shaun Terence Young, then in uniform. Later he became a director of action movies, including James Bond pictures. French cinematographer Georges Perinal was one of Britain's aces of the camera. Michael Rennie is listed near the bottom of the credits. The supporting cast also includes the delightful Cecil Parker who had one of the most distinctive voices in the history of cinema. (Edwin Jahiel)