NOR THE MOON BY NIGHT was rather freely adapted from a novel by adventuresome South African writer Joy Packer, who drew her title from Psalm 121:6 in the Old Testament: “The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.” Sounds romantic, as is the old-fashioned story, filmed on location by director Ken Annakin in 1958. The script by Guy Elmes is woefully dated, over-ripe with too-sudden bursts of emotion and packed with so much incident in 92 minutes that it becomes comical. It’s still enjoyable to watch, thanks to the settings and attractive leads, but the backstory behind the trouble-plagued filming is more interesting than the silly on-screen dramatics. *
Nurse ‘Alice Lang’ (Belinda Lee) leaves England to join her pen-pal fiancée ‘Andrew Miller’ (Patrick McGoohan), a game warden in a South African wildlife reserve. They’ve never laid eyes on each other, and it takes a while for that to happen: on arrival she’s greeted not by Andrew but his brother ‘Rusty’ (Michael Craig), and faster than you say “Watch out for that cobra!” Alice and Rusty fall for each other. Andrew is detained by poachers, elephants, a lion attack, a snake, a car wreck and a brush fire. Meanwhile, local girl ‘Thea’ (Anna Gaylor) loves Andrew, but her dad ‘Anton Boryslawski’ (Eric Pohlmann) is the main poaching conduit. He has a lion for a watchcat. Native curses come into play, a porcupine shows up, tropical rain soaks blouses to accent passion, and Land Rovers get a workout.
The actors do what they can with the absurd rushed romance and dizzying crush of animal incidents. The advertising tag-lines laid it on with such morsels as “Africa Does Strange Things to a Woman…And to the Men Who Desire Her! and “Nor the sun by day nor the moon by night could blind them to the ecstasy of love!” The score from James Bernard has a pleasant main theme (though the title song is on the goofy side), but the main draw cards are the unspoiled settings and the wildlife. The shoot was accomplished in South Africa (then still part of the British Commonwealth) at the Valley Of A Thousand Hills in KwaZulu Natal, and at Kruger National Park, with some other material lensed up in Kenya.
Though bedeviled by production woes that led to cost overruns, it did earn its keep in Britain’s theaters, plus a tad more when it made it to the States the following year, retitled Elephant Gun.
* Almost everyone got sick, felled from insect bites, dysentery, blood poisoning, rheumatism, heat exhaustion. The guy handling the “tame” cheetahs was badly mauled by one of them. The staged bush fire got out of control. McGoohan crashed a car and got a concussion. For some reason, electricians sabotaged the work of the first cameraman, who was sacked in favor of Harry Waxman (Swiss Family Robinson, The Wicker Man). Belinda Lee left the shoot at one point to fly to Rome to be with her married lover, Prince Felipe Orsini (she’s also married at the time). The Pope condemns the relationship. First Orsini, then Lee each try to commit suicide. They recovered, and she went back to finish the movie, but Rank (the film company) was not amused: they let her go. Three years and 11 films later, Belinda Lee died in 1961 in a car crash: she was 25.