“Moonfleet is a nest for smugglers.”
Moonfleet was actually a novel that I had to read in Grade ten English class. At the time I had little interest in this Treasure Island style tale. I would have much preferred to finish my assignments on the novel by getting my hands on the Fritz Lang film version starring Stewart Granger. Not so easy back in the days before TCM and when the VHS market was emerging. Film titles were slowly being released by their rights holders but many like this fifties title were not exactly in high demand.
Our tale begins in 1757 when a young Jon Whiteley is orphaned and sent to find Granger with a letter of introduction. Granger is to be his new Master. Taken by surprise this doesn’t sit well with Stewart as the boy might get in the way of his smuggling operation. Granger fronts for a gang of cutthroats. He’s a well to do man of the village who parties with the likes of George Sanders and takes women as they come. This includes Viveca Lindfors and even Sander’s wife Joan Greenwood.
It isn’t long before Granger’s young charge gets in the way by discovering the gang of scurvy and the fact that Granger is their leader. Mixed in with these thieves is character favorite Jack Elam. It’s during these scenes of discovery that Lang successfully gives the film an eerie quality through the eyes of a young boy exploring an ancient graveyard filled with decaying crypts and rather scary statues. Tales of a Red Beard ghost and a lost diamond treasure add to the film’s period flavor.
With the gang wanting the boy silenced for good and constable John Hoyt trying to figure out how Granger is involved in the smuggling our leading man has his hands full. There’s plenty of excitement and swordplay as Stewart and the boy try to find the location of the missing diamond and stay one step ahead of both the police and the smugglers that want their justice from being betrayed by Granger for the sake of the boy.
This is Granger in his prime years as a matinee idol. He’s given plenty to do here with both sword and romance. Granger fit so well into the costume epics of the day when stars like Errol Flynn were a fading commodity in tinsel town. Women seemed to naturally swoon at his touch and kiss.
As for Fritz Lang, his best years were behind him and this was one of his final films in America before going overseas to direct a few features and even appear as himself in Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt.
While George Sanders can play a wonderful snob he doesn’t have too much to do this time out but does have a great line when describing the young boy in Granger’s care, “Vicious little chap. Spilled a glass of wine over me.”
So while Lang directed this novel by J. Meade Falkner it was produced by John Houseman who at this time was known for producing but would of course move into acting in his senior years with much success.
Along with well known character actors Jack Elam and John Hoyt we also have Alan Napier as the local minister. Napier was another “face” who would eventually find fame as Alfred the butler on the Adam West Batman series of the sixties.
While I don’t recall how I fared on my English assignment I do know that this is a fun film worth seeking out for fans of both Fritz Lang and leading man Stewart Granger.