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What's On in London - February 1st, 1957
I picked up a copy of "What's On in London" dated February 1st, 1957. A weekly booklet with "News, Reviews and full details of all London's entertainment".
The front cover advertises Ill Met by Moonlight being premiered at the Odeon, Leicester Square (Rank's flagship cinema) that week.
Inside, in the Cinema section, there's just one short review about it:
I'd like to skirt a platitude by saying that any writer of fiction would have to think a long time before he'd come up with as unlikely a tale as that which forms the plot of Powell and Pressburger's latest opus Ill Met By Moonlight, at the Odeon, Leicester Square. Yet I understand that these events, based on the book of the same title by W. Stanley Moss, are in fact all true.
The time is towards the end of the war. Crete long ago had been occupied by the Germans but never actually completely subdued by them. To help along with the resistance organised in the hills we sent some cloak-and-dagger types from Cairo and the combination provided a nice thorn in the thick German skin over quite a long period.
One of the stunts which was dreamed up with the intention of discrediting the Nazi occupiers and boost the partisans' morale more than anything else, was a plot to kidnap a German general and whisk him off to Cairo. The objective: General Karl Kreipe *, C-in-C of the 22nd Panzer Grenadier Division and a big shot.
The plot is formulated, carried through (whew! what chances they took, and how near they were to discovery and death a dozen times!) and then the troubles and the errors start. Such a daring plan could hardly have been foolproof and a certain amount of dependence had to be placed on luck. But in the end ...
It is unfair to give all the plot away and I think I've already said enough for you to get a pretty good idea of the way things go without actually doing that.
The backgrounds are magnificent: one gets a good idea of the awe-inspiring mountains and winding valleys of the terrain. The cast is excellent, with Dirk Bogarde nicely restrained as Major Paddy Leigh Farmer [sic], the leader of the expedition; David Oxley as his aide; Lawrence Paine as a partisan; Wolfe Morris as another; Cyril Cusack as a cool British agent; Marius Goring as the German - and you'll notice there's not a feminine name among the lot, for true to life, romance doesn't ever enter into it. And often very much in evidence are a whole crowd of voluble, volatile and jolly Cretians [sic], every one of them looking like a brigand chief.
Ill Met By Moonlight is a well-made film, lovely to watch because of those backgrounds, and often very exciting. There is about it, too, something of a Robin Hood or even Vagabond King atmosphere, but I am told that that, also, is true of the book and the partisans did sing loudly, make merry and otherwise disport themselves almost under the Nazi noses.
One last point: not unexpectedly, at least as far as I was concerned, the German doesn't turn out to be half such a bad chap in the end. Defeated by a lot of "amateurs" he takes his medicine with a smile and even with a certain military admiration for his captors. He must have been a German and not a Nazi, of course!
F. Maurice Speed
* The General was never identified by his first name in the film. In the credits he is referred to as Maj. Gen. Kreipe. In real life he was Generalmajor Heinrich Kreipe. Calling him Karl seems to have been an invention of the Rank publicity department. Back
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