Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Seven Days to Noon (1950)
Barry Jones
More than 30 years ago I bought a book about the fifty greatest ever British films. Among those selected was Seven Days to Noon, and that I have finally seen it I realise it fully deserves its reputation. It amazing that it has taken so long for me to see it, although in the days when home video was too pricey for most of us (and video shops only sold horror, porn, martial arts and cheap action films) and I wasn't at home in the afternoon to watch re-runs of classics, it's no real surprise it evaded my viewing. It was worth the wait.

It's the story of a British nuclear scientist, Professor Willingdon ...

... who has a crisis of conscience and goes on the run with a stolen nuclear weapon. He then threatens to detonate the weapon in London, giving the government seven days to renounce nuclear weapons or see the capital destroyed.

Professor Willingdon (Barry Jones) contemplates extinction

The film follows the police as Superintendent Folland of Special Branch (Andre Morell) ...
Andre Morell
... teams up with Professor Willingdon's daughter Ann (Sheila Manahan) and his assistant Stephen Lane (Hugh Cross) in an attempt to track him down.

Sheila Manahan

Hugh Cross

The tension remains high throughout as the rumours fly as to why there is so much civil defence activity in the city. Eventually the government is forced to evacuate London and call in the army for a house-to-house search of the entire capital.

What makes the film so good is it's lack of stars. The decision not to cast big stars in lead roles gives the film an almost documentary feel. Indeed, it's no surprise that the film makers credited the people of London for their role in making the film so impressive:

The scenes of London as it is evacuated are a triumph: convoys of cars, trains and buses travelling through city streets and country lanes; endless streams of cyclists with rucksacks and camping gear heading into the countryside; patient queues of evacuees waiting at railway stations. And once they have gone, another star shines: the city itself. The scenes of empty streets, occupied only by abandoned pets, gives London a whole new image, making Seven Days to Noon one of the greatest ever London films.

And the introduction of martial law, leading to the inevitable death of looters, has a genuine power:

Indeed, the fatalism of many of the minor characters, as they grow to accept the inevitability of war, seems to reflect the realities of a generation which had grown used to death and destruction and for whom the trauma of disruption and evacuation - with the likelihood of seeing their homes destroyed - was nothing new.

It's also worth noting the appearance of two genuine radio announcers (Frederick Allen of the BBC and Merrill Mueller of NBC), playing themselves, which helps to reinforce the almost documentary feel of the film ...
Frederick Allen

Merrill Mueller
... although it's also interesting to note the visual difference between the rather formal Englishman and the casual American.

Along with it's lack of big stars, the makers took the decision not to cast a glamorous female lead. The choice of Sheila Manahan (later to be the wife of actor, Fulton Mackay) as Professor Willingdon's daughter was brave. In an era when glamour girls were everywhere, Manahan was plain, dowdy and perfectly suited to the subject matter.
Sheila Manahan

With it's lack of female glamour, the audience instead gets two of those great staples of mid-20th century cinema: the widowed, cat loving, boarding house landlady ...

Joan Hickson
... and the fading actress, still struggling to come to terms with the fact she is no longer the young starlet:

Olive Sloane

So who else appears:

Bruce Seton (centre)

Geoffrey Keen

Ronald Adam as the Prime Minister

Russell Waters

Sam Kydd (left)

Wyndham Goldie

Victor Maddern

Marie Ney

The obligatory Spiv offering hotel rooms to evacuees

... and a 21 year old Joss Ackland in only his second (and uncredited) film role.

Amidst the tension I spotted what I assume to be a sneaky joke thrown in by the film makers:

Professor Willingdon stands outside a theatre beside a poster that reads: In the Nude - Fun For All the Family

Barry Jones

Not most people's idea of family fun in 1950, I'm sure!

So if you want to see what is almost certainly one of the greatest ever British films, don't do what I did and wait for thirty years, just buy a copy. It's available as part of the Boulting Brothers collection. You won't regret it.

This wonderful German poster is currently available from film poster dealer Greg Edwards:

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