(director/writer: Fritz Lang; screenwriters: Jan Lustig/Magaret Fitts/based on the novel by J. Meade Falkner; cinematographer: Robert Planck; editor: Albert Askt; music: Miklos Rozsa; cast: Stewart Granger (Jeremy Fox), Jon Whiteley (John Mohune), George Sanders (Lord Ashwood), Viveca Lindfors (Mrs. Ann Minton), Joan Greenwood (Lady Ashwood), Melville Cooper (Felix Ratsey), Jack Elam (Damen), Dan Seymour (Hull), Ian Wolfe (Tewkesbury), Alan Napier (Parson Glennie), Liliane Montevecchi (Gypsy), John Hoyt (Magistrate Maskew); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Houseman; MGM; 1955)
“The film is let down by a script that could never draw out its characters and make its predictable story build to anything more than what’s anticipated.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Fritz Lang directs this tedious, big-budget Cinemascope costumed swashbuckler set in Dorset (shot in in Oceanside and Culver City, California) in 1757. The film is let down by a script that could never draw out its characters and make its predictable story build to anything more than what’s anticipated. Too many characters are introduced and disappear without anything made of them. The adults are seen through a child’s innocent eyes, in this childhood adventure story that never caught on in America but was well received in France. It’s based on the 19th-century novel by J. Meade Falkner.

A young orphan boy named John Mohune (Jon Whiteley) comes to the English seacoast village of Moonfleet in Dorset in search of Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger), as his recently dead mother gave him a letter saying Jeremy Fox will be his friend and he can trust him to look after him. Upon his arrival in Moonfleet, the boy stumbles upon a thieves’ den led by a squirmy character called Ratsey (Melville Cooper), who searches him and finds his mother’s letter addressed to Jeremy. When Jeremy enters the inn, where the boy is held captive, to conduct business and horseplay with the rabble, it becomes apparent he’s the leader of the rabble and does not welcome the youngster’s intrusion. The boy’s unyielding loyalty and lost dog look fails to appeal to the embittered smuggler and unrepentant dandy, who upon introducing John in jest to his corrupt and drunken upper-class guests in his villa soiree decides to send him away for schooling after the lad heaves a glass of wine at Lord Ashwood (George Sanders) for insulting Jeremy. But the boy escapes from the coach and convinces Jeremy to keep him for awhile, as Jeremy says he will keep the lad until he stops amusing him. It turns out that John’s family lived in the manor where Jeremy now lives, and that Jeremy unsuccessfully went out with his mother when they were youngsters. But her parents didn’t approve of the boy from the wrong side of the tracks and set the dogs on him, scarring his back, when he came calling on their daughter. The family ran into bad times and moved, and John’s mother died destitute after her husband passed on.

Jeremy lives a decadent life and greedily seeks more wealth through his smuggling activities. One of his mistresses is a Gypsy (Montevecchi) who sexily dances on the table for his guests. Lord Ashwood wants to get in on Jeremy’s lucrative smuggling scheme and offers him his willing wife Lady Ashwood (Joan Greenwood) to bed down with to sweeten the deal for a partnership, as the rogue makes romantic talk with her but holds off on completing the venal deal. Also present in the villa is Jeremy’s lover, Mrs. Ann Minton (Viveca Lindfors), who left her husband to live with the untrustworthy but dashing Jeremy. He decides to send her away by boat with the boy, who discovered that he’s the leader of the smugglers by hiding in a vault near the cemetery when the village smugglers held a secret meeting. Rather than just leave, Ann rats him out to the magistrate (Hoyt). The magistrate sets a trap with his soldiers where the boat will pick up its two unwilling passengers, but Jeremy eludes them. The boy joins him rather than flee by boat, and also becomes wanted by the soldiers. Jeremy is interested in the treasure map the boy found, as it has in biblical code the location of the legendary diamond the boy’s pirate grandfather hid. After the two manage to get the diamond out of a well in an English army fort by great trickery, it becomes a question of how the rascal will treat the innocent child now that he has the valuable diamond in his possession. His dubious nature will be challenged to see if he does have a heart, as the child is so vulnerable and trusting.

Moonfleet looks stylish as it takes one through dark cemeteries, duels, escapes on horseback, and sights of smugglers hanging in the open fields. But it remains one of Lang’s lesser films, as there was not much excitement in the adventure story or much of a stir in the climax. Stewart Granger was MGM’s resident swashbuckler during the 1950s, and plays his pat role as well as can be expected.

Moonfleet (1955)