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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. Written by
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A Fritz Lang folly, dull even if made to high technical standards...
A Fritz Lang oddity. If you are an admirer of this director's best movies (there are several knockouts), then you might want to plod through this one just to see his range. But it's basically aimed at young people with some adult threads, a variation on a Treasure Island or Kidnapped theme (Robert Louis Stevenson, that is), and it's fairly limited in its emotional range and in its plot.
It's not that it's poorly made. In fact, for an early leap into widescreen color it has a lot of very dark night shooting that works well, and basically does what it intends. The problem is that it doesn't seem to intend to engage an adult with much intensity, and I'd have to guess it also lacks the magic and adventure a child needs, too. There's almost a pirate version of Bronte going on here--the old family mystery, the conversations between outcast members of a storied family, and so on.
It doesn't help that the child star is stiff and unsympathetic at times, even when he gets in deep trouble. He's not so cute, or so lively, or so daring as a child star ought to be. (This reminds me of the lead in "Shane," who also deadens that film.) There are a couple of actors I usually appreciate a lot, like the great George Saunders who is fine here but rather by the book, and Viveca Lindfors who is the little known import who I often really like beyond her small reputation, and who here is also playing it straight. Too straight.
Suspense? Absent. Even mystery about the plot (the missing diamond) is a bit unmysterious. Why? Why all the restraint and routine playing out of fairly common conflicts?
All in all a strange entry in Lang's canon. If you have other options I'd skip this one. Or see a few minutes if you are curious and then be assured, it doesn't get much different, or better, as it goes. And start to ask what it is about the business of movie-making that leads directors with the intensity and originality of Fritz Lang into this kind of vehicle. Which, by the way, lost money on its substantial budget.
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