Not every great movie becomes a cultural touchstone. Some simply escape notice, some are obscured by time, and some are actively suppressed. In this column, Jared adopts a few orphaned films in need of a good viewing.
In the opening scene, we have the sort of narrator who falls just shy of saying “once upon a time.” He tells us about an old stone church in the middle of absolute nowhere, which maps refer to as the south of France. There, they keep a religious relic called the Green Gauntlet, or at least, they used to. It’s been missing for years, and when it suddenly returns, without any apparent explanation, there’s a fresh corpse in the attic, and the heavy brass church bells are ringing themselves. The local priest proclaims it a miracle, but miracles don’t usually leave a body.
Then the narrator says the sentence I hate to hear narrators say: “But the story doesn’t actually begin here…” I hate that line because yes that damn well is where you deliberately began your story. On the other side of that ellipsis is the statement “…the story actually begins someplace less immediately interesting. We just wanted an arresting opening.” Fortunately, in The Green Glove, that structural gimmick does pay off with a fun reversal of expectations when it’s revealed how the “miracle” was engineered. But I still hate that line. Pet peeve, I guess.
Where the story “actually” begins, is during WWII. An American paratrooper (Glenn Ford) drops in on some castle ruins in the south of France, which is as far away from Normandy as you can get without being in Spain. He encounters a single Nazi (George Macready). Instead of shooting on sight, they have a bizarre exchange wherein the Nazi complains that his ancestry and upbringing are so muddled by geopolitics that he’s not even really German, let alone an übermensch. He insists that he’s not worth the trouble, and he attempts to buy his safety by offering Ford a bejeweled green glove that he happened to find nevermind-where.
The director, Rudolph Maté, and the screenwriter, Charles Bennett, are both better known for their work on films such as The 39 Steps and The Man Who Knew Too Much. The Green Glove is similarly stuffed with delightful dime-novel twists and turns. When Ford returns to France after the war to claim his prize, he must outwit some kind of… art mafia… a deadly cabal of antiques dealers led by the very man who gave him the glove in the first place. He gets entangled with these miscreants, and the Paris police, and a willful tour guide, and any number of provincial counts and countesses. I mentioned the film feels almost like a fairytale at times, and it’s due to plot more than anything. Everything that happens to Ford, whether in his favor or against it, is always the least likely coincidence possible. At its core, I think, The Green Glove is a movie about impossible odds. Not overcoming them, really. More like learning to roll with them.
There’s also an impossible romance: fate keeps throwing that beautiful tour guide (Geraldine Brooks) at him until they stick together. He woos her almost instantaneously, and he woos her to the core, but their relationship dynamic twists as tightly as the plot. She stays with him throughout, but waffles between loving him and hating him, with no gradations in between. Ford originally intends to profiteer the glove, like a Han Solo, but she convinces him to return it to its museum, like an Indiana Jones. By making Brooks a crucial component of the main storyline, the film pulls off the rare feat of having a romantic subplot that actually matters.
Speaking of Indiana Jones (which was inspired by adventure thrillers just like this one), you know who Indy never had to deal with? The police. Unlike Harrison Ford, Glenn Ford can’t just run around murdering every foreigner who waves a sword at him. The cops are constantly breathing down his neck during his First and Only Crusade. It’s a refreshing and often hilarious note of realism in what would otherwise be pure fantasy.
You see, The Green Glove is completely aware of its status as genre fare, and isn’t afraid to flirt with satire. When Ford first brings Brooks back to his hotel room, the police are there waiting for him. The art mafia has framed him by leaving a corpse in his bed. Nonplussed, Ford tells the detectives, “Look. All right. I came here… I came here to kill a guy. I left his body in my bedroom for the maid to find. Go on, arrest me.” And when the police insist on putting him into protective custody, you can see that he’s mostly just upset that he was this close to getting laid.
Incidentally, Ford’s ultimate solution is to get the glove, the bad guys, and the police to arrive at the church at the same time, thereby framing the art mafia the same way they tried to frame him. The plan backfires because the villains have decided they’re totally over the gauntlet. It’s not worth the trouble anymore. They’ve moved on.
Imagine if Mola Ram had said, “You know what? Just forget it. You can keep the Sankara Stone. I’ve got, like, four of them already. While you’re here, would you like any slave children? I don’t really need all these slave children, either.”
Maybe that sums up what kind of movie this is.