Hawkins (Alistair Sim) is what you might call a professional assassin, bumping off the so-called great and the good for financial gain, but only really performing his hired crimes against those he truly disagrees with. Currently his assignment is the British politician Sir Gregory Upshott (Raymond Huntley), and he believes his latest scheme is foolproof, all he needs to do is arrange for an explosion in the close vicinity of the Member of Parliament and he can collect his fee, plus the world is shot of one more pompous bureaucrat. To do this he has been seducing Upshott's secretary Marigold (Avril Angers), and pretending he wants to marry her, when all he wants is information...
The Green Man was one of the lucrative run of Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat's productions for the big screen, though they produced for the stage as well, and this little item had been a play originally. Some compare this duo to Ealing, coming somewhere between (or contemporary to) that studio and The Boulting Brothers in terms of the evolution of British film comedy, but they could just have easily been the jumping off point for the Carry On series in their style and sense of humour, which included pricking pomposity in an anti-establishment fashion laced with a saucy flavour of gags that appealed to the public increasingly unimpressed with authority figures now the Second World War was over.
Their ace card was Alistair Sim, who helped them out numerous times, most famously in their pair of school-set comedies The Happiest Days of Your Life and of course, The Belles of St. Trinian's where the actor appeared in drag as a most unlikely woman (but that was part of the joke). The idea was that Sim should direct The Green Man, but for various reasons Robert Day was chosen to take the credit, though rumours behind the scenes indicated Basil Dearden, Launder and Gilliat themselves and Sim as well had a hand in guiding the project the way they wanted, or rather, the way Sim wanted as they had to keep him sweet lest he take his unique talents elsewhere, abandoning them.
Sim was one of Britain's biggest stars, usually as comedy but as An Inspector Calls and even Scrooge showed, he could turn his approach to drama as well with the same levels of achievement, essentially a character actor but a big enough draw to guarantee the films he appeared in would be a success. You can amply see why here: what could have been a simple, throwaway farce with a black comedy tendency was improved hugely by Sim's grim features and the way he used them like a world class classical music conductor, rendering the daft plot into something akin to a thriller of the sort that the producers had cut their teeth on with the likes of Alfred Hitchcock earlier in their career. Sim makes this matter, so we are invested in both the villain's endeavours to kill and the heroes trying to stop him.
Yes, every villain needs a hero to throw a spanner in the works of their scheming, and here Hawkins had two trying to foil him, George Cole and Jill Adams. Cole played a vacuum cleaner salesman improbably named after poet William Blake (?!) and Adams was Hawkins' new next door neighbour, moving in on the day poor Marigold winds up dead in the grand piano (though not really - the film isn't that coldhearted). A story of two acts rather than three, the first half established Hawkins plans, and the second saw them go awry thanks to the do-gooders, adding in more characters turns from the likes of Terry-Thomas (as an absolute bounder, natch) and Arthur Brough as the flustered landlord of the titular seaside hotel where Upshott is taking a break with his latest would-be conquest (Eileen Moore), who doesn't want to be there. With some crackling dialogue of the sort you sadly don't get anymore, and some lovely bits of business with Sim and a trio of middle-aged lady musicians, The Green Man may not get lifted to the pantheon of the accepted classics, but its fans know great quality when they see it. Music by Cedric Thorpe Davie.
[StudioCanal release this on Blu-ray with two excellent new featurettes, Stephen Fry's appreciation of Sim and Matthew Sweet's account of the film's production. Also, a vintage doc on Sim and a photo gallery.]