17 March 2005 | gerrythree
MGM Movie That Is Not As Good As It Could Have Been
I like the movie Moonfleet, but in watching Moonfleet, you are also watching the demise of a great studio, still trying to turn out quality pictures as the Hollywood studio system is collapsing and movie budgets are shrinking. Moonfleet is only 87 minutes long, there are no expensive exterior action scenes and dimly lit interior scenes are the norm. Even though shot in Cinemascope, Moonfleet is a budget movie using cheaper Eastmancolor, not Technicolor. Stewart Granger was still under contract, and the other starring roles are handled by European actors, who worked for less. MGM modified existing sets, cleaned off old costumes and started the camera rolling. For all of that, the picture is interesting as it deals with 18th century English smugglers and the story of young John Mohune.
MGM executives must have decided that even with Fritz Lang, Moonfleet was not going to be a hit, which could explain the truncated story line and the always gloomy (cheaply processed) photography. On the TCM broadcast I saw, Moonfleet was in widescreen and had closed captioning. Looking as good as it ever will until the movie has a full restoration, Moonfleet is just too slow paced, without real kinetic energy. The talent is there, but probably for reduced budget reasons, Moonfleet can't grab your attention and keep it for even 87 minutes.
Addendum: I just watched parts of Moonfleet again, from a download of a bittorrent file made from the French Time Warner DVD of this movie (An AOL Company was still part of the logo then, only two years ago). In a lot of ways, this movie is a reflection of the decline of Hollywood and the importance of movie studios in general. Director Fritz Lang worked for the UFA movie studios in the 20s making silents, made talkies in the 30s first in Europe then in Hollywood, and was running out the string in Hollywood when he made Moonfleet. At the end of the movie, when young Mohune leaves open the gate of Mohune manor, the gesture does not really change things.
The MGM logo included a gate in it, the entrance to a great movie studio. There is a silent 1926 documentary made by MGM showing the different departments in the dream factory, from warehouses full of period furniture to group shots of directors and cameramen and even a garage where wind machines and power trucks were kept. MGM was a giant movie company from the start when it combined Goldwyn's studio with Metro. Less than 30 years after that silent, the MGM studio was like the desolate Mohune family manor, its contract players and staff released, its Loew's theaters sold on the cheap, its Hollywood studio barely holding on as its New York board of directors decided to fire production head Dore Schary and cut movie production, placing the studio's survival on big pictures like Raintree County, Ben-Hur and How The West Was Won.
Moonfleet is still with us, but MGM is now completely gone, its name tagged onto a film releasing company but the last of its small studio staff given their walking papers about two years ago. The fatalistic atmosphere that permeates many scenes in Moonfleet may be Fritz Lang's doing, but it could just as well be that it was hard for MGM staffers to think about happy endings as their studio was going under. And MGM's decline mirrored what was happening in the rest of Hollywood.
Under the conditions then, it was an accomplishment for the studio to make Moonfleet, hiring the talent not on payroll, preparing the sound stages for production and shooting the movie using the cheap Eastmancolor film. But to me, the picture is too much of a downer, the photography too dim and the storyline incomplete. Moonfleet is worth watching, it has a great cast but the movie needed a bigger budget to pay for better production values and scenes showing what Stewart Granger's character did after leaving Mohune manor. By 1954, MGM wasn't going to gamble on spending a lot of money on Moonfleet.
20 Oct 2012: Just looked at the review ratings here. Someone in 2006, probably another reviewer, seems to have decided to hand out multiple negative ratings to almost all the earlier reviews. I couldn't care less about the number of "not helpful" marks I got. Still, why hand out more than one negative to the same review? Nobody really cares. Maybe the guy thought giving out negatives would get his or her review posted on the front page. If so, a pathetic commentary on one useless human being who visited the "Moonfleet" IMDb page.