The readily-available vintage Warner Archive DVD of the 1955 action-adventure period-piece "Moonfleet" (1955) is a wonderful Band-aid for what ails most of us during our winter of extreme discontent. The bright and wide CinemaScope format greatly enhances this atmospheric piece set in the titular community on the moors of Dorsetshire.
Fritz Lang ("Metropolis") utilizes his off-beat style very well in this Dickens/Stevenson tale of orphaned boy John Mohune going to Moonfleet to start a beautiful friendship with Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger), who has a history with the mother of the boy. Although not explicitly stated in this '50s film, there is little doubt that the fox made his way into the hen house and that John is the product of that welcome incursion.
The opening scenes have John walking the moors in search of his new life; a fright for both him and the audience leads to his waking up in a tavern surrounded by a motley crew. The dashing upper-class Fox soon arrives on the scene and takes control.
We soon see that the road that is Hell on which to ride on is paved with good intentions as Fox has the lad shoved into a carriage and shipped back to civilization, The manner in which Fox describes the intended schooling of John is hilarious. Our excitable boy will have none of that and escapes.
The journey continues as John arrives at his ancestral house that Fox now owns. The debauchery that the once heir to the manor witnesses furthers his education. Suffice it to say, Fox is not pleased to see this minor inconvenience.
The Robert Louis Stevenson vibe is particularly strong as an eerie night-time wandering by John leads to his literally stumbling into the lair of a group of smugglers. Learning the extent to which this activity hits home is the first shock for our boy; finding himself without an immediate exit strategy is the next.
Additional harrowing events lead to a father-figure and son treasure hunt that they hope will go well. This involves bonding that extends beyond the divorced dad staple of a round of mini-golf. Nothing strengthens family ties more than fleeing from Redcoats.
Fox subsequently taking a powder is slightly surprising; his return is not, but does lead to another surprise. The two lessons are that a leopard cannot change his spots and that you sometimes must be cruel to be kind in the right measure.