Cavalier romantic thriller The Moonraker is essentially the Scarlet Pimpernel set across the Channel in 1651. George Baker plays the eponymous hero, beating off the Roundhead foe as he single-handedly saves the country’s aristocracy, ferrying them to safety in France. But when Charles II decides to take the trip, Cromwell’s cronies are waiting in the wings. Marius Goring and John Le Mesurier beef up the supporting cast, while stunning Sylvia Syms provides the romantic interest in a dashing, Technicolor yarn of love, courage and betrayal.
Having won the Civil War at the Battle of Worcester, Oliver Cromwell (played by wartless Le Mesurier) begins creating his Commonwealth, despatching the blue-bloods with devilish severity. But his hunt for renegade Royalists is hampered by a phantom menace known only as the Moonraker. The thorn in his side is, in fact, the seemingly unassuming Earl of Dawlish (George Baker), whose intrepid alter ego has successfully spirited away a number of toffs from under Cromwell’s nose.
Now it’s Charles Stuart’s turn to be smuggled out of the country. Travelling to the Windwhistle Inn on the south coast, Dawlish starts preparations for the King’s departure. There he meets Anne Wyndham (Sylvia Syms), the fiancée of top Roundhead Colonel Beaumont (Marius Goring), and they begin a forbidden romance. But his activities are discovered by Cromwell’s dastardly double agent, Edmund Tyler (Peter Arne), who blows the whistle on the Moonraker’s operation. While a boat waits to take the Prince to safety, Cromwell’s troops, lead by Beaumont, descend on the regal hideout. Finally, it seems, Moonraker’s legendary loyalty and swordsmanship are to be tested to the full.
Based on the play by former film censor Arthur Watkins, this is a great British swashbuckler, thrilling with Buchan-esque tension and intrigue. Director MacDonald learned his trade at the feet of Cecil B DeMille and, although this is almost intimate compared to DeMille’s epics, The Moonraker is blessed with an infectious swagger, especially in the sweeping action.
Baker, according to Variety , “rides and scraps his way through the script with virility, charm and unflagging energy,” while Syms, who would appear in Ice-Cold in Alex the following year, was at the height of her beauty, making her Puritan character seem anything but dour.
UK / ABPC / 82 minutes / 1958
Writers: Alistair Bell, Wilfred Eades, Robert Hall, based on a play by Arthur Watkin / Producer: Hamilton Inglis / Director : David MacDonald
Cast: George Baker, Sylvia Syms, Peter Arne, Marius Goring, Richard Leech, Clive Morton, Paul Whitsun-Jones, George Woodbridge, Iris Russell, Gary Raymond, John Le Mesurier, Patrick Troughton