If Lt. Columbo had been Scottish, he would have born a strong resemblance to Inspector Cockrill, as wonderfully played by Alastair Sim in 1946′s Green for Danger. In the film role that helped make him a huge star, Sim perfectly essays the role of the dowdy looking, socially clumsy police detective who has a razor sharp mind and a relentless desire to snag his prey.
The setting is a wartime British hospital, where doctors and nurses treat the victims of the German doodlebugs that are wreaking havoc throughout the countryside. When an injured local postman mysteriously dies on the operating table, everyone looks like a plausible suspect. Which member of the surgical team did it? Is the killer Mr. Eden (Leo Genn), the lothario head surgeon? Sister Bates (Judy Campbell), the woman he most recently discarded? Or perhaps it’s Dr. Barnes (Trevor Howard), the doctor with a stain on his medical record?
Particularly if you have the Criterion Collection version, this film is not just entertaining but very easy on the eyes. Much of it was shot indoors, but Cinematographer Wilkie Cooper makes the most of the exterior scenes to give us eye-catching and haunted-looking backdrops that maximize the tension of the story (He had Oswald Morris and Thelma Connell on the team, whose fine later work I have highlighted here). With all the wind, trees and shadows, the mood created is reminiscent of horror films in which a small group of desperate people are locked inside a remote and spooky mansion where violent events unfold.
Despite being a murder mystery, the film has many funny moments (especially Sim’s wry dialogue and voiceovers). Sidney Gilliat had already shown his gift for comic thrillers by co-scripting Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. Here he also takes the director’s chair, from which he skillfully keeps the tone right as the story moves from hospital soap opera to murder investigation to amusingly Columbo-esque moments between Cockrill and the suspects. Gilliat gets solid performances from every member of his cast, who do a nice job humanizing characters that might otherwise lapse into stereotype. Gilliat’s script (co-written by Claude Guerney based on Christianna Brand’s novel) invokes a number of coincidences to make everyone look like a suspect and offers a somewhat rococo ultimate explanation for the crimes. But these are time-honoured and enjoyable elements of the locked room mystery genre, right down to the climactic re-staging of the crime by Inspector Cockrill.