Nor The Moon By Night DVD

Wednesday, 05 August 2015 23:00 Written by 

Nor the Moon by Night - out now on DVD“Nor the Moon by Night” is a three-handed tale, where two of the three stars will be well-known to Cult TV appreciators. However, it is the female lead of the trio who is an enigma, to die young and now almost forgotten, tragedy striking at a time when her acting career could have been going either way. Patrick McGoohan, creative force and star of The Prisoner plays Chief Warden Andrew Miller of a game reserve, with his less-constrained brother Rusty acting as Deputy Warden, given form by Michael Craig – Captain John Anderson of Triangle fame, who would eventually decamp to Australia and play Dr William Sharp in 262 episodes of GP from 1989 to 1995.

Known as “Elephant Gun” or “Rencontre au Kenya” in some territories, the starlet playing alongside our male duo is Belinda Lee. Her character, Alice Lang, stuck in England looking after her bedridden mother, has pen-friended Andrew for four years, and yearns to join him in Africa. Andrew treats the romance as more of a business transaction, marriage being something he is expected to do. When Alice’s mother dies overnight, it seems she is finally free to begin love’s great adventure, only for it to be almost immediately derailed. Duty means Andrew has to see to some elephants which are keen on escaping his reserve. And so, Rusty is sent to deputise, meeting Alice from her train at the local Duikers Drift station.

Rusty is something of a cad, taunting Alice for coming to Africa for such a longshot chance of romantic bliss. He causes epic confusion within the lady when he tries his luck and is not completely rebuffed. Meanwhile, Andrew, having sorted out the elephant problem, seeks to rendezvous with Alice, but is met with adversity at every turn. A snake drops into his Land Rover, causing him to turn it over, and then after he borrows a horse he is attacked by a pack of lions. Following his rescue, Alice uses her skills from England to nurse him back to health. Now torn between affection and duty, she must decide which path, and which man, to follow.

For Andrew, however, love may be closer to home than he ever expected. Anton Boryslawski (Eric Pohlmann) is dealing with Chief Big Elephant (Alfred Kumalo) over supplies of Biltong, a dried meat delicacy, much to the disapproval of Mrs Boryslawski (Pamela Stirling). A little more vocal in her disapproval is 17 year-old Thea Boryslawski (Anna Gaylor), who Andrew has known for year, and much to her displeasure keeps calling her by her nickname, ‘Pigtails’, despite the presence of pet lioness Sheba.

Amos the warden is almost murdered, local superstitions suggesting the attack was by a mythical creature called a Tokoloshe, and Alice steps in with her first aid skills to save him. And then, there’s rogue elephant Jamela, an outcast, to also worry about.

Meanwhile, Alice’s half-sister Harriet Carver (Joan Brickhill) is creating mischief back in England, all of which might well scupper her African dream long-term. All in all, this is a very active hour and a half of screen time!

From the novel by Joy Packer, the film is directed by Ken Annakin, who would later be nominated for an Oscar for “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines” (1965), for its 1958 release date “Nor the Moon by Night” is a remarkably well-paced and dramatic movie. Filmed at the Kruger National Park in South Africa, the cinematography from Harry Waxman makes excellent use of its colour and landscapes. Harry was to win the Best Cinematography Award from the British Society of Cinematographers for “Sapphire” in 1959, and lensed the likes of “Swiss Family Robinson” (1960), “The Day the Earth Caught Fire” (1961), “She” (1965), and “The Wicker Man” (1973).

The theme is sung by Guyanan jazz singer and percussionist Frank Holder, words by Jack Fishman, with conductor and arranger Ron Goodwin on the track. The score has John Hollingsworth as Musical Director with the composer being James Bernard.

In terms of the back story for actress Belinda Lee, who played Alice, she was discovered by director Val Guest while performing at the Nottingham Playhouse. Moulded as a starlet, her first film was a cameo in “The Runaway Bus” with Frankie Howerd in 1953. She had a bigger role in “The Belles of St Trinian’s” in 1954, and also was directed by guest in “Family Affair” the same year.

That year, too, Guest introduced her to one of Rank's still photographers, Cornel Lucas, who she soon married. Lucas promoted her as a glamour model, shooting thousands of images with her. Guest helped her obtain a movie contract with Rank, one of the first films coming from this being with Norman Wisdom, “Man of the Moment” in 1955.

Belinda was frustrated by the constant casting of her as a flirty peroxide blonde. Seen as a rival to Diana Dors, she played opposite Benny Hill in “Who Done It?” (1956) and provided similar support to Donald Sinden in “Eyewitness” (1956 – which also featured Michael Craig), John Gregson in “Miracle in Soho” (1957) and Louis Jourdan in “Dangerous Exile” (1957). She also featured with David McCallum in “The Secret Place” (1957).

Soon estranged from Lucas, Belinda went to Italy for the potential of avoiding typecasting, but there she found just more intense temptress roles. She also fell for Prince Filippo Orsini, whose position with the Vatican led to a major scandal. This particular turbulent romance and a fading relationship with the Rank Studio led to “Nor the Moon by Night” being her last picture for them. The story goes that she went off to Rome for several days in January 1958 during the shooting of the film, which didn’t endear her to the production. During this time, a run-in with Orsini’s wife led to an unsuccessful suicide attempt via sleeping pills. Despite Orsini himself slashing his wrists but also being saved following that incident, Belinda returned to South Africa to conclude filming.

It all ended much too soon for Belinda at the tender age of 25 years, in March 1961. She decided to join her current love, Italian playboy and film producer Gualtiero Jacopetti, on a trip to Las Vegas. Their driver lost control and the car flipped over. Belinda was thrown clear, but died of a fractured skull and broken neck minutes later.

Patrick McGoohan, of course, went on to being Danger Man and The Prisoner, before being cast mainly as villains in film roles.

Michael Craig eventually returned to England from Australia, and featured in a couple of episodes of Doctors in 2009 and 2011.

All in all, if you appreciate the likes of Daktari and “Born Free”, then this is a film you will love.

Special features on this DVD release are:

  • Alternative titles – the film now being called “The Valley of 1,000 Hills”
  • Image gallery – featuring various international film posters, lobby cards, the cover of the sheet music for the theme, and various promotional stills.

Part of ‘The British Film’ collection, “Nor the Moon by Night” (‘12’) is presented in a brand-new transfer from the original film elements, in its as-exhibited original theatrical aspect ratio, and is out now from Network Distributing. It has a running time of 89 minutes approx, and a RRP of £9.99, or pick it up for less at www.culttvstore.com

 

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