Some of the most beautiful sound stages posing as exteriors can be found in Fritz Lang's 1955 film Moonfleet
. A swashbuckler with a great cast to go with its visual style and exciting story, its only real flaw is that it centres on a child actor who delivers a very weak performance. Still, he's not as annoying as Bobby Driscoll.
There are a lot of reasons one might think of the famous adaptation of Treasure Island
made five years earlier--both are told mostly from the point of view of a little boy trying to figure out who to trust among a bunch of roguish characters, even as he's drawn to one sinister but charismatic father figure. Moonfleet
is adapted from a Victorian novel that was itself likely influenced by the book Treasure Island
But instead of pirates, the film deals with smugglers in mid-18th century Dorset. Little John Mohune (Jon Whiteley) has unexpectedly come to stay with his mother's former lover, Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger). Jeremy is doing well for himself living in a crumbling manor house and living a life of nightly debauchery so he doesn't want some kid around cramping his style. John walks in when a gypsy woman (Liliane Montevecchi) is giving an impressively mad, wonderful table dance for Jeremy's drunken guests.
Among these guests is George Sanders as Lord Ashwood in a somewhat disappointingly small role. Lady Ashwood (Joan Greenwood) has much more valuable screen time later as she vigorously attempts to seduce Jeremy.
This film is under an hour and a half and mostly focuses on John and his hunt for his ancestor's treasure but somehow Jeremy manages to have three memorable lovers in that brief runtime--living with him his Mrs. Minton (Viveca Lindfors).
The fantastic sets are reminiscent of the opening scenes of Treasure Island
but Fritz Lang brings a great deal of his own legendary visual instincts to the table. Moonfleet
has one of the greatest graveyard sets I've ever seen.
And Lang has a keen sense of how to direct action--the first shot of a peculiar stone angel is as likely to startle the viewer as it does John. And it's not even moving.
The greatest action sequence in the film, though, involves a duel between Jeremy and one of his men in an tavern. The gentleman Jeremy tosses his opponent a rapier but the man throws it away in favour of a massive halberd from the fireplace which he immediately begins swinging around.
If not for the little kid, this movie would be a thorough pleasure. The treasure hunt scenes have a wonderful Indiana Jones feel to them and the dialogue is often delightful.