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Ill Met By Moonlight (1957)

Courtesy of Carlton International

Main image of Ill Met By Moonlight (1957)
35mm Vistavision, 104 minutes, black & white
Produced WrittenMichael Powell
and Directed byEmeric Pressburger
Production CompanyRank Organisation Film Productions
 British And Dominions Film Corporation
From a book byW. Stanley Moss
CinematographyChristopher Challis

Cast: Dirk Bogarde (Major Patrick Leigh Fermo/'Phil); Marius Goring (Major General Karl Kreipe); David Oxley (Captain W. Stanley Moss); Demetri Andreas (Niko); Cyril Cusack (Sandy)

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British agents in WWII Crete hatch a daring and ambitious plan to capture the Commander of the island's occupying German forces.

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In 1950, Emeric Pressburger read an extract from 'Ill Met By Moonlight', Stanley Moss's account of his adventures on occupied Crete during the Second World War, and immediately optioned its film rights. Michael Powell set off on a location scouting expedition to Crete, but it was another six years before Ill Met By Moonlight finally went into production. After leaving the Rank Organisation in 1949, Powell and Pressburger had briefly returned to producer Alexander Korda to make films such as The Small Back Room (1949) and Gone to Earth (1950). They then encountered a period of difficulty in securing financing for the projects they wanted to make, and by the mid-1950s were willing to contemplate a return, albeit a short-term one, to John Davis and the Rank Organisation. The Battle of The River Plate (1956), was a commercial success and chosen for the Royal Command Performance of that year (an honour that had been bestowed upon A Matter of Life and Death back in 1946). Davis then offered the Archers a seven-picture contract, but wary of committing themselves, they signed for just one picture - Ill Met By Moonlight.

By 1956, the political situation in Crete had made location shooting unviable and Ill Met was instead filmed in the hills behind Powell's family hotel in the south of France. However, the poetic use of landscape that characterises earlier Archers' films such as A Canterbury Tale (1944) and "I Know Where I'm Going!" (1945) is evident in the atmospheric shots of the mountainous countryside, beautifully photographed in black and white by Christopher Challis, while Mikos Thodorakis's rousing score conveys something of the richness of Greek culture, the patriotism and bravery of its people and the rugged beauty of the Cretan landscape.

Michael Powell took mischievous delight in tormenting Davis with requests for actors such as Orson Welles and James Mason to play lead roles, but Dirk Bogarde, one of Rank's contracted stars, was eventually chosen to play Patrick Leigh-Fermor. His portrayal is flamboyant, charming and charismatic, although Powell later grumbled, "I wanted a flamboyant young murderer, lover, bandit... and instead I got a picture-postcard hero in fancy dress". Archers' regulars Marius Goring and Cyril Cusack, as the malignant General and the unwashed Captain, turn in strong performances that rather obscure David Oxley's adequate but anaemic portrayal of author Stanley Moss.

Nathalie Morris

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Video Clips
1. Visit to the dentist (4:18)
2. What's that smell? (1:39)
3. Betrayal? (2:41)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Bogarde, Dirk (1921-1999)
Challis, Christopher (1919-)
Cusack, Cyril (1910-1993)
Goring, Marius (1912-1998)
Powell, Michael (1905-1990)
Pressburger, Emeric (1902-1988)
Late Powell and Pressburger
Powell and Landscape