Green For Danger, 1946. 10/10

Set in 1944, Green For Danger is a somewhat different British murder mystery, in that the crimes occur at a hospital, and so the criminal must be one of the staff. There’s quite a cast: the doctors Eden, Purdy, Barnes, and, the Director, White (Leo Genn, Henry Edwards, Trevor Howard, Ronald Adams); the ‘Sisters’ Bates, Carter, Esther, and Freddi (Judy Campbell, Wendy Thompson, Rosamund John, and Sally Gray), Nurse Woods (Megs Jenkins), as well as the two police investigators, Inspector Cockrill (Alastair Sim) and Detective Sergeant Hendricks (George Woodbridge). To began with, a wartime bomb victim, Joseph Higgins (Moore Marriot), dies in surgery, under a cloud of suspicion.

There’s quite a lot of gossipy melodrama amongst the staff. Rivalries, pulling rank, and a broken engagement, with some camaraderie and niceties mixed in. Strangely, a narrator intrudes from time to time, giving a sort of faux documentary feel. Also interesting is that Higgins, while he’s still conscious, is very apprehensive and disdainful of the doctor and his staff.

Immediately following Higgins’ death, there’s a lot of strategizing and hand-wringing. Eden aptly sums it up: “I’ve bumped off a patient, and insulted the superintendent.” The staff party goes on regardless. Barnes, apparently, came to the hospital in the wake of an earlier mysterious patient death. Oh, man, Bates turns the tables on the slimy, two-timing Barnes (he’s into Freddi as well) by publicly accusing him of murdering Higgins.

Freddi is tootling about the labyrinthine hospital at night, and viola! finds a corpse. It’s Bates. As a result, we get the Inspector the next morning (whom we see is a quaint bumbler, as well as our until-now invisible narrator). Then we get the mystery story device of the suspects gathering in a room for the police interviews: Barnes, Woods, Eden, Esther, and Freddi. “Are you implying that one of us did it?” pretty much is the suspects’ common query. The quick answer “Seems very likely, don’t you think?” Nice one, Inspector. Then Cockrill replays his view of the Bates murder (using that classy British pronunciation: ‘muhh-duhh’). His theory that Bates was killed because she’d found incriminating info on Higgins’ murderer makes sense.

Cockrill is very intrigued by the anesthesia machine–a likely cause of Higgin’s death. Obviously, there’s all sorts of ways that a patient can get zonked by the wrong mix of anesthesia. The Inspector figures he’s on top of things “I was idiotically pleased with myself at the time.” Then we see a bustling scene at the hospital, the staff completely ignoring him, which he describes as “everyone’s eyes were on me.”

Soon a lot of staff gossip about who was where when. Barnes and Esther are skulking about at night, but there’s Cockrill, alert enough to finish Barnes’ Shakespeare quote. Meanwhile, Nurse Woods upbraids Barnes for taking advantage of Freddi and his “practiced and rather hollow charm.” Barnes calls Hendricks about his suspicions towards Freddi. As Cockrill and Hendricks approach, there’s a commotion upstairs; something’s happened to Freddi. Is she dead? Cockrill sends Barnes to get White. Well, Freddi is just unconscious–from gas that was on in the room (there was plenty of fussy foreshadowing on this, involving Woods). So, that eliminates Freddi as a suspect–or, does it?

Now the finger points at Woods, who was known by Higgins. Apparently, Woods’s sister had died in 1940 under mysterious circumstances, information, which, oddly, Higgins was privy to. Meanwhile, Freddi must have an operation, she’s got a skull fracture. Cockrill’s cunning ploy is that the same surgical team should perform the operation on her as the fatal procedure used on Higgins. Sounds a bit dangerous, but if it almost works (that is, before Freddi dies from hacked-up surgery), it will be clear who the murderer is (?).

Barnes and Eden fight it out over…Freddi? Isn’t she dying, anyway? No! She’s chilling in bed upstairs. Cockrill’s plan is truly clever: the surgery will be faked somewhat because she’s actually not in any real danger. Only she and the cops know this. There’s fixing to be a fine denouement to this puzzle. So, here we go.

The anesthesia starts, but what’s in it? (Plus, c’mon, isn’t it just as dangerous as if she really were dying?) She’s dying, indeed. They switch to a different oxygen tank. There was carbon dioxide in the first tank (the ‘green’ of the title; green as the color of the fatal tank, which had nefariously been painted black–the correct color for the beneficial oxygen). So, then, Bates had been stabbed where her gown was torn around the tell-tale black paint. Or, something about that, anyway.

Now it looks bad for Freddi–or someone she knows. Suddenly, however, by hustling, Eden gets out in the corridor with Esther, and locks the others out. Then he approaches Esther with a hypo, the others looking on. They break out and Cockrill shakes Eden down, the hypo dropping. Aha! So, goes the explanation, Esther went after Higgins because he’d abandoned or given up for dead a bombing raid rescue of Esther’s mother. So revenge on Higgins, coverup stuff from then on.

That’s good enough for me, but that’s not really it. Eden appears to have killed her with the hypodermic needle; but it was filled with the antidote(!) to whatever she’d already injected herself with. Cockrill indeed bumbled by interfering; what he accomplished wasn’t preventing Eden from killing Esther, but from saving her.

An enormously fine ending to a genuinely good mystery. The comic stuff–revolving around Cockrill–is so deftly woven into the plot that it’s at once noticeable and non-intrusive. The “idiotically pleased with myself” quip is just superb. Meanwhile, Esther, in true-blue mystery fashion, is probably the least suspicious of all the staff. We definitely suspect Barnes, Eden, Woods, or even Freddi at various times–particularly the two guys.

Overall, there’s a lot to like here. There’s romance, gothic/noir atmosphere, very brisk pacing and intricate plotting, sympathetic/nutty characters, and a brilliant ending. Worth more than one look–at least to help untangle who’s up to what. Farmermouse couldn’t quite wrap his whiskers around all the ins-and-outs of this here mystery, so he gives Green For Danger ten tanks of laughing gas. 10/10.

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