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Think of `The Guns of Navarone', but with these differences:
(1) The band of adventurers genuinely like each other.
(2) Their mission is not to blow anything up. Rather, they plan to kidnap a German general and take him to Cairo. It's a publicity stunt. But it soon ceases to be a MERE publicity stunt: demonstrating German vulnerability may be as important as creating it.
(3) We get a good look at Crete - and NOT just because of spectacular scenic photography. We really feel at home on Cretan soil. Michael Powell, who had a talent for finding out-of-the-way composers (he also introduced Ralph Vaughan Williams and Brian Easdale to the cinema) has this time found Mikis Theodorakis, whose score is strongly flavoured but friendly to the ear.
With all this, `Ill Met by Moonlight' is an unusual venture by Powell and Pressburger, in that it isn't unusual: it's another World War II mission story, and there have been dozens. It IS more civilised than most. It tells its simple story neatly and cleanly; it's sweet, unpretentious, and disappointing only in that, since it was Powell and Pressburger's last official collaboration, it would have been nice to go out with a bigger bang.
The title is a line from `A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Its relevance is not obvious, at any rate not to me. Am I missing something?
With Crete resistance deftly trying to undermine the occupation of the
German army, a cunning plan is prepared that will undermine them by
pulling off a daring coup from right under their noses. With only a
handful of Cretan resistance fighters, Major Fermor and Captain Moss
attempt to kidnap the head of the German army on Crete Major Kreipe.
With considerable ease they pull off the kidnapping but they still need
to get off the island with their polite but dangerous quarry.
On one night last week I decided to sit down and watch two films that I had taped both by the legendary Powell and Pressburger (the other being The Canterbury Tale). I sat down to Ill with reasonable expectations as it was to have been their final film together and I had hoped that they would have gone out on a bang by giving the overworked (at the time) genre of war movies a real boost. Based on a real mission (from Captain Moss' memoirs) this film is a good example of the genre but, other than that, there isn't a great deal to recommend it for. The plot is interesting even if they have stripped away a great deal of detail from the story and replaced it with some humour and some stiff upper lips but it has nothing extraordinary about it that would make it stand out from the crowd. The film has a couple of laughs in it but mostly it is a rather serious film in a way this is not a bad thing as it avoids the usual flag waving quite well and focuses on being a solid story as opposed to a morale booster.
Other reviews have commented on the beauty of Crete's landscapes as filmed here but as far as I am aware the film was made in parts of mainland Europe but I take the point the film, mostly external shots, looks great throughout. Aside from the landscapes though there is nothing that really makes it stand out as a Powell & Pressburger film in fact perhaps the extraordinary thing about the film is how unextraordinary it was; if I hadn't known that it was from the Archers then I would never have guessed. The cast match their material with a fairly ordinary series of performances.
Bogarde seems very relaxed in the lead and he is enjoyable even if it would not even register on the radar of his best performances. Oxley is not as good as he has a straighter role to allow Bogarde to carry himself with more of a swagger without off-balancing the film; he is a bit flat at times but mostly he does well. Goring plays it very well and he is an enjoyable sportsman in contrast to the feeble Nazi's that the genre would throw up during the war. The Greek support cast are not as heroic as I think their real lives deserved but they are used well for comic effect.
Overall this is a solid entry into the genre that tells it straight with some humour and a good steady pace nothing special but it avoids the flag waving that the genre often falls into. However, when you are talking about a Powell and Pressburger film then, although I enjoyed it, one has to feel a bit of regret that such famous names ended their famous partnership with a film that is regularly called 'ordinary'.
Like 'Spleen', I first thought that we were seeing genuine Cretan
landscapes. But what puzzled me was not being able to recognise any of
even allowing for change - especially the coastline where Moss and his
landed. (In his book, he refers to a distinctive landscape) A little
- on this site- revealed that the film was made in France and Italy with
mention of Crete.
The title, 'Ill met by moonlight' surely refers to the 'meeting' of
and his abductors. The film couldn't really show the fact that Leigh
and Moss et al attempted the abduction on the four evenings that
the actual abduction. The earlier attempts were abandoned because Kreipe
came along whilst it was too early for moonlight! (one wonders why was it
necessary to change the title for the US market?)
I thoroughly enjoy the film, watch it every opportunity and each time
up something that I've missed previously.
However, I cannot help but wonder how much better it might have been if
writers had stuck more closely to the original script throughout. They
informed advisers available, Micky Akoumianakis was a true participant,
Houseman was in Crete as an British agent for a long part of the
Though thoroughly grounded in fact, the few 'elaborations' detract from
was surely a solid enough story to stand on its own.
Regardless of the differences, I continue to regard the film as one of my most favourites.
Yes , it does come from A Midsummer Night's Dream.
This is because when the operation occurred, the British operators went under the codenames of Oberon, Titania and Ariel for the radio traffic back to Cairo. See Xan Fielding's memoirs as well as Lawrence Durrell's recollections of Paddy Leigh Fermor in Bitter Lemons, his reminiscences of the British campaign against EOKA in Cyprus in the late 50s.
It's not that bad a movie as it absolutely avoids the mawkishness of a propaganda piece and has a semi-documentary feel to it. You must remember there was an entire SS division on the island against which the 5 Britons and about 800 partisans were ranged. It is not so much derring-do as in the vein of The Password is Courage, another excellent true - life drama of Bogarde's.
What may not be widely known to movie fans is that at least two, or
possibly three members of the cast of Ill Met by Moonlight, were former
serving British Army Intelligence Officers. Dirk Bogart served as a
British Intelligence Officer during WW2 on mainland Europe and in
particular in Germany. His job was to round up Nazi Concentration Camp
Guards. Bogart was at Belsen CC on day one of liberation. The movie,
although based upon a novel by the same name, is not a fiction, but
based upon actual events which took place in Crete involving SIS
(Secret Intelligence Service) Officers and Greek Army Officers and
local Cretan Royalists. The plan was to capture a German general and
smuggle him out to Cairo. This was in effect an SAS operation which was
highly successful. The movie came too close to reality for comfort and
I believe that UK SIS wanted to protect former members of the Cretan
Resistance as well as it's own serving officers who had taken part in
the operation. To this end, I think SIS saw to it that the movie was
dominated by one of their own, Dirk Bogart.
"Ill Met by Moonlight" is a different kind of film for The Archers, and
sadly, their last venture together.
It's a World War II film, based on real-life events in Crete, about the British army and members of the Crete resistance who kidnap a German officer (Marius Goring) in order to send him to Egypt.
The British are headed up by Dirk Bogarde.
It's a slow moving film, without a tremendous amount of suspense, but I have to say I enjoyed it. It's rich in humor and examples of camaraderie among the soldiers and resistance workers. The photography is excellent, though it's no Black Narcissus.
The problem with it is that it isn't up to the usual standards of Powell and Pressburger and not representative of them. I do love Dirk Bogarde, though, in everything.
This story, which i found a lot better than everyone else who has
posted, is neither the final film from The Archers, or what was left of
them, the two principals (see 'They're a Weird Mob' of 1966 and 'The
Boy Who Turned Yellow', 1972), nor their worst film, nor Pressburger's
alone, as some have claimed. I can't see how this film, which is
neither predictable nor unsuspenseful, can be graded lower than the
Graf Spree/River Plate disaster, which includes a big scene in it
wherein the main characters sit around a table and describe the end of
the German warship rather than show what they're describing because the
producers ran out of money! THAT is pretty ignominious, compared to
this minor little thriller that is, i just remembered, also NOT Dirk
Bogarde's worst film! He made a few clunkers in the '60s nowhere near
as interesting as this story of the people of Crete, under immense
duress due to the presence of the uninvited English army, which was
bombarded throughout the story by Germans who were also piling up large
numbers of collateral Cretan damage in the process. It's a wonder the
Cretans didn't throw the Brits out just to save their own necks. Now,
that is the situation underlying the several subplots we see played
out, an astonishing one most of the other reviewers seem not to have
A far more memorable war romance than most Powell-Pressburger aficianados apparently think it.
Filmed ten years AFTER the end of the second world war, Night Ambush (ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT to the rest of the world) is a story of British operatives in Crete, reporting home on the activities of the Germans. Their plan is to grab a German officer and take him away. The only name I recognized here is British actor Dirk Bogarde, who plays Major Patrick Fermor. In this story, David Oxley plays Captain I.W. Stanley Moss; Moss is also the original author of his own true account of this WWII story, according to Wikipedia. Part of the story is kind of a jolly old adventure, with dancing and singing, which was a little odd for spies keeping a low profile. Take note of the German officer who barges in at the dentist's office to inspect everyone's papers; Christopher Lee (would have been about 30) has played many roles, frequently the villain in Star Wars, Man with the Golden Gun, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and even Sherlock Holmes. Interesting career,he has worked with many of the greats. As others have mentioned, incredible outdoor photography, which seems to be the Italian Alps. Quite good quality sound and photography by the Rank Organisation, for the 1950s. Screenplay and direction by Powell and Pressburger, who had made 25 films together. Good way to spend 104 minutes (although IMDb shows "US version 93 mins", Turner Classics DID show the 104 min version ....there were a couple off- color remarks, but certainly not 10 minutes worth.) Doesn't seem to have won any awards, but interesting spy story from WW II.
This must be the worst film by Powell and Pressburger. Powell describes its failures so well (in his autobiography MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE, page 364) that one need not dwell on all the details. The biggest problem is the flip, arch, schoolboy attitude of the characters. Powell complains of Bogarde, and claims that his performance effected the others, but the script and direction can't escape blame. One of the strong moments in the much more interesting non-fiction book this is based on is when the author realizes that it's not just fun and games but all for real when the general's driver gets killed. This moment of realization is not in the film. The travel across the island with the general is much too long, and there is no evolution to the relationship between the general and his captors, which makes it very tedious. Goring is a weak-sister general; perhaps Powell's first choice of Curt Jurgens could have made a difference. But the greatest disappointment is the use of hackneyed dramatic structure, particularly in the final scenes. Whether Powell and Pressburger were good or bad, they were always original. But the sequence where the general tries to bribe the boy is so familiarly presented that every step of its structure is obvious from the start. Ditto the scene when the general leaves his hat, where we're given a clue in the dialogue that the British are on to this ruse. The scene is baldly inserted to give some sense of danger to the trek. Then there's the "I don't know Morse code, do you?" routine at the end, which is lazily resolved by Cusak coming up out of nowhere with no particular explanation. These, and other tired script devices are taken, unadorned, straight out of Saturday matinée westerns. I can forgive the lack of pacing, but not this. The photography is stunning, even though the "on-location" isn't Crete. And despite Powell's disparaging remarks about VistaVision, it really enhances the black and white.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Based on the 1950 book of the same name by W. Stanley Moss, this is
quite an entertaining war adventure film but it could have been a great
deal better. It tells the story of the kidnapping of General Heinrich
Kriepe, the commander of the German occupation force on Crete, by Moss,
his Special Operations Executive (SOE) colleague Major Patrick Leigh
Fermor and the Cretan resistance in April 1944. However, it approaches
the material with a light touch, incorporating quite a bit of humour
and often seeming like a "Boy's Own" adventure. I don't have any
problem with this approach but it is not executed as well as I would
have liked. The film was released under the rather more obvious title
"Night Ambush" in the United States.
The script by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is fairly good but there are a few structural problems. It was a mistake for the kidnapping to occur comparatively early in the film as the planning stages could have been much more interesting and it sometimes feels as if it has nowhere to go after that. The depiction of the kidnapping itself was apparently accurate but it was not depicted in a very exciting manner. After that, there is not much of a sense of suspense or tension as the two British officers and the Cretans evade the Nazi patrols comparatively easily. However, I did like the fact that there was a sense of mutual respect and admiration between the British and German forces, something which Powell and Pressburger explored in more depth in "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp". While the writing is not up to their usual high standard, the duo's direction is as deft as ever. The film looks beautiful and it makes great use of the beautiful scenery of the south of France. Unfortunately, this was the final film that they made together under their production company, the Archers, but they later collaborated on "They're a Weird Mob" in 1966 and "The Boy Who Turned Yellow" in 1972.
The film stars Dirk Bogarde in a characteristically excellent performance as Leigh Fermor, a colourful gentleman adventurer and scholar soldier of the old mould. Known as "Philedem" to the Greeks, he played a major role in helping to organise the Cretan resistance during the war. Bogarde brings all of the considerable charm and charisma at his disposal but Leigh Fermor was seemingly a larger than life figure and there are, at best, only a few hints of that in the script. Powell and Pressburger regular Marius Goring is very good as the honourable General Kriepe but I would have still preferred if their original choice Curd Jürgens had been cast instead. That said, Bogarde and Goring have good chemistry. Plus, their slight resemblance makes it easier to buy that Leigh Farmer could be mistaken for Kriepe in the dark than it would have been if the far larger Jürgens had been cast. David Oxley, probably best known for playing the small role of Sir Hugo Baskerville in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1959), is fairly dull and forgettable as Moss. In contrast to Bogarde, he is mostly charisma free. Cyril Cusack is great as Captain Sandy Rendel, who was not washed for six months and has the pungent smell to prove it. Wolfe Morris, Michael Gough and Laurence Payne are very good as Leigh Farmer and Moss' Cretan allies George, Manoli and Andoni Zoidakis respectively, even though Gough's Greek accent is practically non-existent. The film also features nice small appearances from former SOE operative Christopher Lee and Richard Marner (both of whom got to make use of their fluent German), George Pravda and an uncredited David McCallum in his film debut.
Overall, this is a fun film belonging to the "men on a mission" World War II subgenre but I would have liked it if the Archers had bowed out on a stronger film.
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