REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

MARY STEWART – The Moon-Spinners. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1962. M. S. Mill Co. & Morrow, US, hardcover, 1963. Crest #R717, US, paperback; 1st printing, May 1964.

THE MOON-SPINNERS. Buena Vista (Walt Disney), 1964. Starring Hayley Mills, Eli Wallach, Joan Greenwood, Peter McEnery, Irene Pappas, Pola Negri, John LeMessurier, Andre Morell. Screenplay: Michael Dyne, based on the book by Mary Stewart. Directed by James Nielson.

   “Even in Crete nobody’s going to murder a visitor.”

   So speaks young Englishwoman Nicola Ferris as she chides the couple that has given her a ride to the remote seaside village of Agios Georgios, St. George, in the shadow of the White Mountains. Nicola works for the British embassy, and for her holidays she is meeting her older cousin Frances Scorby, a naturalist who has written several books on flowers and who hopes to study local wild flowers.

   Frances, who she calls Aunt Frances, raised her.

   It seems a perfect holiday, beautiful setting, fine food, the sea, and a family reunion for the orphan Nicola.

   The best laid plans and all that.

   This being Mary Stewart, the best of the writers of romantic suspense (and as good as any man in the adventure/suspense/adventure genre), you know things won’t be quite that simple, especially when Nicola runs into a strange man while exploring the island, a fugitive being hunted, and finds herself up to her neck in a mystery involving the attractive mysterious Englishman named Mark Langley hiding out on the mountain with a bullet wound and concerned for his younger brother Colin who has been missing since he was wounded.

   Then there is the attractive Tony Gamble who she meets at the hotel where he does the cooking, and the mysterious Stratos whose sister Sofia runs the inn and who only recently arrived from the West and despises the poverty and ignorance of his own people. And why does Sofia look so frightened of Gamble and her brother?

   And what is the mystery of the Bay of Dolphins where the fates, the ones who spin the silver moon from the title, spin a silver full moon so that you might one night see the lost treasure ship at the bottom of the bay? Because treasure is involved, if not the one the Moon-Spinners reveal.

   I strained across the moving whispering darkness. As before, it was full of sounds, far fuller than when, on the ridge, I stood insulated by the air from the subdued and roaring life of the sea.

   Stewart, like Daphne Du Maurier had a genuine talent for the romance of adventure and lonely places, the Stevensonian voice out of Buchan and Geoffrey Household that gives life to the landscape around her heroines.

   Soon enough Nicola finds Colin, held prisoner, and is drawn even deeper into the mystery that ends in a dangerous battle on Stratos caique.

   The Walt Disney film is shot on location, and while it does away with Colin and combines Mark Langely and Tony Gamble into a single character, stays fairly close to the book until midway through when it dissipates some of the suspense by adding some extraneous characters that seem to have wandered in from The 39 Steps, including Pola Negri as a mysterious woman on a yacht and John LeMessurier as a shady British consul with a wife who drinks and talks too much..

   Hayley Mills in an early grown up (sort of — Disney isn’t quite ready for her to be a Hitchcock blonde exactly) role is Nicola, traveling with her Aunt (Joan Greenwood) in Crete to record folk music (an excuse for some musical interludes) who arrives in Agios Georgios and discover the sinister zodiac obsessed Stratos (Eli Wallach) who wants no one at the hotel, especially the Englishman Mark Gamble (Peter McEnery) who is staying there.

   Some of the suspense is lost, and the ending is a bit too neat, but it is gorgeously shot, the music, including the title song “Moon-Spinners” is good, the actors are all far better than the material, and even with the changes something of the suspense and romantic mood is captured.

   Mills is good as the feisty Nicola, and not all that far from Stewart’s heroine if a bit younger, McEnery a decent leading man, and Wallach by turns sinister, threatening, ingratiating, and threatening.

   Irene Pappas hasn’t much to do but is gorgeous, Joan Greenwood gets to be Joan Greenwood, and Pola Negri — well, that part I can’t explain, but someone must of thought it was needed.

   As a Stewart fan, of course, I would much prefer they had filmed the book, and even with Mills in it, I can’t see what the need of all the business with Negri and LeMessurier was, saving someone involved had seen too many Hitchcock films.

   But how exactly anyone would quite capture the quality of Mary Stewart’s writing on film is hard to see.

   …when the big white bird flew up among the glossy leaves and the lemon flowers, and wheeled into the mountain, I followed it. What else is there to do, when such a thing happens on a brilliant April noonday at the foot of the white mountains of Crete; when the road is hot and dusty, but the gorge is green, and full of the sound of water, and the white wings, flying ahead flicker in and out of deep shadow, and the air is full of the scent of lemon blossoms?