Bruce Pritchard (Malcolm McDowell) was a healthy young man in his mid-twenties before fate intervened. He enjoyed his football, and played in a local amateur team, and he liked the ladies, making sure his girlfriend of the moment was there to watch his matches, but he was rather aggressive which masked his insecurity thanks to a lack of direction in life. He lived with his parents and older brother Harold (Geoffrey Whitehead) in their flat, but now came a turning point as Harold was about to move out after he got married one Sunday. Bruce was asked to deliver the best man’s speech, and as there was no love lost between him and the bride he made a decent job of insulting half the guests, but as the evening wore on he was not to know these were his last hours of walking…
The Raging Moon was a once-famous book by an actual paraplegic, Peter Marshall, who after being paralysed by polio at the age of eighteen was stuck in a special home, as many in his condition were for decades, left to be forgotten about by society at large and when he did get to meet people he found himself patronised as if there was something wrong with his mind rather than his body. He had a talent for writing and turned it to improving the view of the disabled in the popular culture, and penned three books on the subject, of which this was one; they were all successful and raised the awareness of the issues he faced every day: you imagine if he managed to change the reactions of any one of the “Does he take sugar?” brigade he would have been satisfied.
Tragically, Marshall was not in the best of health by the time director Bryan Forbes adapted this for the big screen, and passed away mere months after its release, but you would like to think he would have been pleased with the results and in particular the work of McDowell in his surrogate Marshall role. The star was enjoying a purple patch in his career when he was sent the script and immediately knew he wanted to do it, but having appeared in hits like If…. and A Clockwork Orange, in comparison The Raging Moon with its obscure title (taken from Dylan Thomas) and apparently unpromising subject matter was only a modest success at the box office. This was a shame, because though there were undoubtedly depressing aspects to the story, unavoidably, McDowell’s spirit lifted it.
There remained the downbeat ending to get to grips with, but in the production’s hands Bruce is no victim, and was still the same person he was before no matter what had happened to his body, except now he was a lot more sullen since he really had something valid to complain about. His earlier scenes at the home he is admitted to showed him to be unwilling to engage with his fellow wheelchair users, as if he was above them somehow, not really one of their number, yet it took a relationship with the only other woman there around his age to wake him up to the possibilities that had not been shut down by his condition such as a writing career. She was Jill Matthews, and played by Forbes’ wife Nanette Newman, which seeing as how he was keen to cast her (and their children) in every project he made after their marriage, rankled with many observers.
It was not helping that Forbes was at the time head of E.M.I. and an unpopular man there in his attempts to modernise the company at the heart of the British film industry, no matter than some of his productions were very high quality – The Railway Children is rightly seen as a classic to this day. But if Newman was given opportunities she wouldn’t otherwise have enjoyed by her husband, and would likely be remembered for her washing up liquid adverts if he hadn’t assisted her, it was true her rather prim demeanour made a sweet contrast to McDowell’s abrasiveness, especially when we understand the beneficial effect they are having on each other. Forbes directed with sensitivity but not sentimentality, as you had the impression McDowell would have clashed with him if he had tried to make it schmaltzier which it certainly wasn’t, and that harder edge offered a sheen of integrity that contained both humour and self-awareness. Maybe the actual conclusion went too far in rejecting the fluffier, romantic elements always looming in the background, yet The Raging Moon survived as a film of some worth. Music by Stanley Myers.
[Studio Canal's Blu-ray looks and sounds very fine, and has interviews with McDowell (his anecdote about Bernard Lee is worth the price of admission alone) and Newman, plus the trailer.]