Thursday, March 03, 2011


In post-war London, a scientist working on atomic weaponry vanishes one day with an experimental bomb and sends a message to the Prime Minister saying that he will set the bomb off at "the seat of government" at noon next Sunday unless England abandons its atomic program. Scotland Yard begins a secret city-wide search for the professor with the help of his daughter. It isn't until a half-hour into the film that we see the professor (Barry Jones), a plain-looking, mild-mannered fellow, praying in a bombed-out church. When wanted posters go up with his face on them, he shaves off his mustache and takes a room in a boarding house until the landlady, suspecting he might be a killer on the loose, goes to the police. An aging actress (Olive Sloane) who has fallen on hard times takes him in, thinking he's just a lonely eccentric. As the days pass, the city begins making plans for a mass evacuation (which eventually goes off unrealistically smoothly, aside from a few people who want to take their pets on the buses and one loony "end-of-days" sign-carrier who won’t part with his signs). On Saturday night, with the middle of the city nearly empty, Jones holds Sloane hostage and waits in hiding for Sunday noon, when he heads back to the damaged church to finish what he started.

This low-key film is shot largely in a documentary style, though the nighttime scenes, especially early in the search, have a film noir look about them. Jones, also generally low-key, is excellent and always believable as a man who has gone mad because he cannot deal with the potential horrors of his work. He doesn't rant and rave, and the movie doesn't delve deeply into character so he never has to explain how he came to his decision--though we see he is clearly obsessed with Bible verses about Babylon and Milton's line, "Dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon." We see most of the search unfold through the sober eyes of a Scotland Yard man (Andre Morell) and Jones' research assistant (Hugh Cross), though somewhat surprisingly, there is a fair amount of light comic relief from several supporting characters, and though I don't want to spoil the suspense for anyone, the very last shot of the film will elicit a chuckle. A little-known but solid entry in the "fears of the atomic age" genre. [TCM]

No comments: