Fritz lang, USA, 1955, Théâtre du Temple


The film starts with a long, static shot, of a landscape at night, filmed in Cinemascope, over which an ornately written text tells us the time and place in which the story we are about to see is set. From the depth of the frame a shadowy presence emerges, John Mohune, the little boy who will be the central character of the story. John walks forwards out of the shadows, whistling as he goes. He discovers a wooden sign post which says “Moonfleet” - the location he’s about to encounter. He says the name out loud with his young, innocent yet determined voice. By naming the place consecutively through both written and spoken language at the beginning of the film Lang links the story of the place with its name and the tale about to unfold in this location. A film or a work of fiction referring to the principal location of the story in its title is a classic and recurring theme. The name often refers to the subject of a quest, somewhere to be reached, or a defined space in which a story will unfold. Similarly, starting a story with the arrival of a character in a location is a common motif, particularly in films which follow an archetypal structure, such as here in an adventure film. The same approach is often used in westerns, with the arrival of a sheriff into a town.

The sign bearing the word “Moonfleet” acts as a sort of symbolic toll or right of passage for the character, swiftly followed by the reveal of the scary statue, a sensation of danger, accented by the use of music, is created. Both of these objects warn of the danger to come. John, in fact, finds himself immediately sucked in by the place, disappearing in discrete hiding places hidden from the sight of its unsettling inhabitants. The film goes on to feature many such secret places, hidden galleries, cellars, caves and wells. Here, John is the intruder. This is not a space that you can enter into without being invited. We understand why John has come here at the end of the sequence. Before dying, as a last wish, his mother sent him on a quest to find Jeremy Fox. This quest, in ways a right of passage for the boy, will bring him into contact with this man from his mother’s past, who may be both a friend and protector for young John. John has to reconnect with something from his own story, and it’s clear right from the start of the tale that the place holds secrets about him that he has to discover for himself. Moonfleet, the place, becomes at once a metaphor for his secret origins, and provides the motor to get the story started.