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Ill Met By Moonlight
cast: Dirk Bogarde, Marius Goring, David Oxley, Cyril Cusack, and Michael Gough

Writers, producers and directors:
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

104 minutes (PG) 1956 widescreen ratio 16:9
Carlton DVD Region 2 retail [released 17 May]

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Enough of this world changing movie making, must have said Messrs Powell and Pressburger, let's take a holiday, and off they took their pale torsos to Crete. They made a little film while there, reflecting the amiable time spent, a story of Nazi occupation, horrors mentioned then buried under a welter of casual bemusement. Supposedly based on facts, principally the wartime diary of Captain W. Stanley-Moss, it doesn't wash, with its brew of chirpy locals, the incredibly few popgun easy deaths, playful action and, not so much fearless but, unconcerned, cartoon heroes, well, there isn't a jot of credulity to the story at all. If it draws on fact, then fact has been sorely letdown.
   David Oxley is terribly British, as good a description as any, in the role of Stanley-Moss arriving on Crete to lend assistance to a plan to abduct Major General Kriepe (Marius Goring), the Nazi rotter in charge of the island. The entire population appears positively charged to fearlessly defy the occupying forces providing a mood not unlike 'Allo 'Allo. The local resistance fighters, Force 133, fawn horribly at their leader on this mission, the legendary F (Philedem), another English 'straggler', real name Major Patrick Leigh Fermor, played by Dirk Bogarde. The plan is to, against the odds, capture the Major General and deliver him to Cairo, so embarrassing the Germans. Debagging him and painting his arse luminescent green could have been as equally effective. Kriepe complicates things by being holed up in the heavily guarded Villa Achanes and the team are operating on a budget, though there is still the aim of achieving "something spectacular, something we can do on the cheap." Rather than storm the villa, they await the Major General's Mercedes and take it through a series of checkpoints while one of the local Cretans sits on the German's face. Their escapades lead them across the island through valleys and over tough terrain, the sunny days ceding to a fog-hemmed night, then to the beach and the mission's successful end. Hey, this is 1956, mourning period over, and exempt of gravity, there's no need for a 'spoiler alert', it's a happy jolly ending, get comfortable for it. It certainly doesn't take war seriously. Immediately prior to the conclusion a file of German troops with a Greek boy at the fore are ambushed off-screen, with the apparent result of Greece 50 - Germany 0, and the boy returned unscathed. The story is a farce, made a game, if Captain W. Stanley-Moss is happy with the treatment of his wartime recollections, then the original recording must have been suspect too. Michael Winner probably had this film in mind for his Hannibal Brooks, a decade later, observing that if fact could be rendered so pantomime with results at the box-office then why shouldn't he engage in a ludicrous wartime journey also.
   That is not to deny that Ill Met By Moonlight (aka: Night Ambush) is not entertaining, because it is, and continues to build upon the fun quotient throughout. The landscape is wonderful and exquisitely caught in black and white by Christopher Challis BSC, though it hollers for colour in its scenic villages and rolling hills; odd that the team so fond of colour in prior faux realities, should avoid it in the splendour of natural locations. It is a pleasant cast, Cyril Cusack supporting as the unwashed Sandy, his tramp get-up and intolerable smell excusing him from frisking by the occupying forces, but still like the other Britons, preternaturally calm for an alien. Marius Goring is called upon to be amiably evil and comes paradoxically close to pulling it off. The music of Mikis Theodorakis is rousing, bouncing up the merriment another notch and livening up the jolly proceedings even further than is tasteful; no blame falling on Mikis, it's a great score.
   Carlton continue with the notion that they are providing a service by dishing out the film alone, that supplementary material is uncalled for or unnecessary. Some factual essay would have been welcome, perhaps a documentary on the true story, or notes from an established film historian at the very least. It is a harmless little picture in the big joint curriculum vitae of Powell and Pressburger and might just as easily be caught in television transmission. Anyone, however, with a particular liking for it can afford to cheaply and slimly file it away as a DVD on their shelf.

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