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Nor The Moon By Night (1958)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Nor The Moon By Night (1958)
35mm, colour, 92 mins
DirectorKen Annakin
Production CompanyRank Film Productions
ProducerJohn Stafford
ScreenplayGuy Elmes
Original novelJoy Packer
PhotographyHarry Waxman

Cast: Belinda Lee (Alice Lang); Michael Craig (Rusty Miller); Patrick McGoohan (Andrew Miller); Anna Gaylor (Thea Boryslawski); Eric Pohlmann (Anton Boryslawski); Lionel Ngakane (Nimrod)

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Complications ensue for two game warden brothers in Africa when the girlfriend of one of them arrives from England.

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Based on a novel by Joy Packer, Nor the Moon by Night is an odd witchdoctor's brew of pulp drama, breakneck plotting and sensational photography. Initially serialised in a woman's magazine with a weekly circulation over three million, the story was easily optioned for production. It has a ludicrous plot with few artistic pretensions, but satisfied Rank's appetite for its cycle of 'outpost of empire' adventures - popular enterprises during a period when British emigration to Africa was a growing trend.

Actually shot in South Africa, the film preceded the country's withdrawal from the Commonwealth in 1961. The barely noticeable political element in the sub-plot offers a glimpse into the British view of the former Empire. The Africa in the film is still tamed, organised and influenced by responsible settlers, but is vulnerable to abuse by those with less honourable intentions - represented here by Anton Boryslawski, notably not British - who exploits African folklore for personal profit.

However, social commentary in the film is kept to a minimum. What Nor the Moon By Night chiefly offers is a tourist's eye view of the exotic - hence the squeezing of bush fire and attacks from elephants, snakes, lions, crocodiles and even porcupines into the 90-minute running time - an approach which director Ken Annakin had successfully employed on The Planter's Wife (1952). Although Annakin dismissed these sensationalist travelogues - insisting that such films were only made because the crew wanted to go to interesting places - he brings to the film a sensibility from his documentary past which gives it a visual beauty that exceeds its often laughable content. Beneath the plot twists lies an attention to detail that captures the danger of the animals, the drama of the landscape and the character of the people who live there.

In fact, the on-screen action was eclipsed by events behind the camera. Belinda Lee tried to commit suicide, Patrick McGoohan was concussed after crashing his car, and the production was constantly disrupted by the crew - on one day only Annakin and a snake were available for work. The biggest obstacle came from the electricians who supposedly ran the shoot, sabotaging the director of photography's rushes with incorrect light filters and forcing him to be replaced. Despite such troubles, the film made money at home, and even returned a significant profit when it was released in America as Elephant Gun.

Dylan Cave

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Video Clips
1. 'I know what's going on!' (3:08)
2. Elephant hunt (2:44)
3. Alice's flight (3:15)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Annakin, Ken (1914-2009)
Lee, Belinda (1935-1961)
McGoohan, Patrick (1928-2009)
Ngakane, Lionel (1928-2003)
Roome, Alfred (1908-1997)
Waxman, Harry (1912-1984)
British African Stories
The End of Empire