Sunday, September 17, 2023



ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT is a 1957 film based on an actual incident during the German occupation of the island of Crete in World War II. It was the last film written, produced, and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger for their production company The Archers. 

The movie details the activities of two British officers in the SOE, Patrick Leigh Fermor (Dirk Bogarde) and Bill Moss (David Oxley). Fermor is known as "Philedem" among the Greek resistance fighters he assists on the island of Crete. Fermor comes up with a bold idea to kidnap German General Kreipe (Marius Goring), get him off the island, and transport him to the British base in Cairo. Fermor and Moss manage to capture the General with help from various locals, but they still have to transport him through difficult terrain to the coast, while evading thousands of German soldiers searching for them. 

Being that this is a Powell-Pressburger movie, one shouldn't expect ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT to be a typical WWII adventure--and it isn't. Dirk Bogarde and David Oxley are not hard-bitten tough guys--they're both understated and droll. At times the duo seem more like a couple of mischievous fellows pulling off a prank than two agents attempting a wartime mission. One even wonders if the mission is that important in the first place--Fermor states that it will cause embarrassment for the Germans throughout Greece, but will it actually affect anything to do with the occupation itself? 

As usual with Powell and Pressburger, there's plenty of quirky story and editing choices. One main plot element is the difference between the colorful natives and the very British Fermor and Moss. There is a notable attempt to inject some local atmosphere into the tale, particularly with Mikis Theodorakis' music score. The brutality of the German occupation of the Greek islands is hinted at, but not really touched upon in a major way. 

The main German character in the film, General Kreipe, is also portrayed unexpectedly. He's not a ranting & raving Nazi buffoon--Marius Goring plays him as an intelligent, well-mannered man who quietly tries to take advantage of his situation. General Kreipe and his British captors even wind up having a mutual respect for each other at the end of the film. 

Among the supporting members of the cast are Christopher Lee in a small role as a German officer (Lee gets killed off right after he shows up), and Michael Gough, who is almost unrecognizable as a Greek resistance fighter. David McCallum makes his film debut here (I didn't spot him), and it needs to be mentioned that David Oxley was the evil Hugo Baskerville in Hammer Films' version of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. 

While watching ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT for the first time last night, I was convinced the outdoor scenes had been filmed in either Crete or Greece. They weren't--the location shooting was in France and Italy. The hills and mountains that were used are visually spectacular, even in black & white. (Another WWII film made by Powell and Pressburger a few years earlier, THE BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE, was in color, and more epic in scope.) 

Apparently neither Michael Powell or Emeric Pressburger were happy with how ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT turned out. The duo had disagreements with the Rank Organization (which financed the film) and each other. I liked the movie, but it must be said that it's not a hard-hitting action-packed story. There's a fair amount of suspense in whether the British officers can get away with their German prize, but the tone of the film is almost whimsical at times. 

One other thing that needs to be touched upon--the movie was titled NIGHT AMBUSH in America. I can understand the title change, since ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT (which is a line from Shakespeare) sounds more fitting for a romantic melodrama. But why pick such a generic title like NIGHT AMBUSH?? 

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