Moonfleet (1955): Fritz Lang’s Gothic Drama, Starring Stewart Granger, George Sanders, Joan Greenwood

Fritz Lang directed Moonfleet, one of his last Hollywood movies and one of the few shot in CinemaScope.

The script was loosely inspired by the novel Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner, initially published in England in 1898 but in the U.S. as late as 1951.

A gothic melodrama set in England during the 18th century, the film is about John Mohune, a young orphan (Jon Whiteley), who is sent to the Dorset village of Moonfleet to stay with his mother’s former lover, Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger).

A morally ambiguous character, Fox is an elegant gentleman involved with smugglers.  On the run from the law, Mohune and Fox must decipher a coded message in their pursuit of a hidden diamond.

Producer John Houseman later recalled, “the novel was written back about 1890, was as successful as Treasure Island had been, and then was totally forgotten. J. Meade Falkner never wrote anything else. It was a grim story, a realistic adventure story about pirates and a little boy who accidentally got himself involved with them. There was no sex. But then we began to have fun with it, and embroider it.”

Lang thought the story called “for mood, for atmosphere,” as the smugglers work in the dark, on hazy days.  He planned “to light the principals just as you would in a play, dropping shadows on the sides of the stage to concentrate on the main action and the players involved in it.”

The movie was shot almost entirely on the MGM backlot; with a few locations on the California coast.

A critical and financial failure, Moonfleet earned $567,000 in the U.S. and $1,007,000 overseas, thus losing about $1.2 million.

Cast
Stewart Granger as Jeremy Fox
George Sanders as Lord James Ashwood
Joan Greenwood as Lady Clarista Ashwood
Viveca Lindfors as Mrs. Minton
Jon Whiteley as John Mohune
Liliane Montevecchi as Gypsy
Melville Cooper as Felix Ratsey
Sean McClory as Elzevir Block
Alan Napier as Parson Glennie
John Hoyt as Magistrate Maskew
Donna Corcoran as Grace
Jack Elam as Damen

 

Credits

Directed by Fritz Lang
Produced by John Houseman
Written by Jan Lustig and Margaret Fitts, based on 1898 novel, Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner
Music by Vicente Gómez, Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography: Robert H. Planck
Edited by Albert Akst
Distributed by MGM
Release date: June 24, 1955

Running time: 87 minutes
Budget: $1,955,000
Box office: $1,574,000