Monday, 15 June 2015

POSTMARK FOR DANGER aka PORTRAIT OF ALISON (1955)


For some, there’s the country in which they were born and then there’s the country in which they wish they’d been born.

British director, Guy Green's country of choice was the United States – to the extent that it was California and not England where he lived for forty years before his death in 2005. However, long before coming to the US, Green had made clear his affinity for American actors and the more vigorous Hollywood film style, with many of his movies and television credits being heady romances and fast-paced dramas.

Green began his film career as a cameraman, then director of cinematography. He was very good at it and worked on such classic British titles as The Way Ahead (1944), The Way to the Stars (1945), Oliver Twist (1948) and The Passionate Friends (1949). He received an Academy Award for his filming of David Lean’s Great Expectations (1946).

Green's first UK production as director was River Beat (1954), a modest but involving crime thriller with American actress Phyllis Kirk embroiled in the investigation of a smuggling racket. This was followed by several more noirish feartures, starring US-born or naturalized American actors, including: Tears for Simon (1956), Postmark for Danger (1956), Triple Deception (1958), The Snorkel (1959), S.O.S. Pacific (1960), The Angry Silence (1961), and The Mark (1962), which won Stuart Whitman an Academy Award nomination. 



While still in England, Green took on American productions for MGM including Light in the Piazza (1962) and Diamond Head (1965) and then moved to the US to direct what would be his greatest triumph as a director, the interracial love-story, A Patch of Blue (1967) which garnered a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Shelley Winters and four other nominations.   

However, of most interest to celebrants of film noir would be Green’s Postmark for Danger (aka Portrait of Alison, its British release title). Based on a novel by Francis Durbridge, creator of the Paul Temple series, Postmark is a Hitchcockian tale featuring double crosses, a mistake in identity, and a beautiful woman in trouble who’s rescued by a reluctant hero. And, yes, it has a McGuffin.  

Portrait artist Tim Forrester (Robert Beatty) learns from his brother Dave (William Sylvester), a charter pilot that their younger brother Lewis has died in car accident in Italy along with an American actress, Alison Ford (Terry Moore). However both the Italian police and Scotland Yard believe that Lewis, an investigative journalist, was murdered as a result of story he was doing about an international diamond smuggling operation.  

The police are interested in a postcard that Lewis may have sent to Tim which might contain clues to the mystery. However they also become interested in Tim when his favorite model (Josephine Griffin) turns up dead in his apartment but also in his claim that Alison is alive and that she suspects her father to be part of the smuggling ring (Tim earlier had been sought out by Alison’s father who had commissioned a painting of her. It was to be done working from a photo and the dress she’d worn in the picture, a dress now found on the dead model).


With distant echoes of Laura, Postmark for Danger unfurls in a tantalizing mist of eerie and unlikely coincidences, then settles in as a tidy police procedural with some of the grit and fortitude of American noir. This is partly attributable to the film’s mostly American cast (Beatty is Canadian but close enough) but also to Ken Hughes’ tight script, Green’s high impact direction and the emphatic lensing of cinematographer Wilkie Cooper. Postmark for Danger in invested with the luminous look and dramatics of better film noirs and free of the cautious restraint that tends to hobble many British B noirs. And forgive me but it's also a good thing to see fist fights that are staged and not choreographed.

Postmark for Danger remained one of Guy Green’s best films as a director. After his moment in the California sun with A Patch of Blue, Green went on the squander an international reputation with a making of John Fowles’ The Magus, one of the most vilified films of all time. Green never recovered, going on to make mostly more ill-considered productions such as Jacqueline Susann’s Once is Not Enough and he ended up directing made-for-television movies. However, in 2004 Green was awarded the Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth for his lifetime contributions and services to cinema. He died the following year.


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