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Seven Days to Noon (1950)

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997

As relevant today as it was in the post-war period this tense thriller deals with the possibility of an atomic scientist walking off with a nuclear bomb. Prof. Willingdon (Barry Jones) is the chief researcher who disappears one day, from the Wallingford nuclear lab, and posts a polite letter to the Prime Minister. The contents of the letter are somewhat less pretty -- unless his demands are met he will explode a nuclear device at noon on the following Sunday, in the centre of London. Although Supt. Folland (André Morell), at Scotland Yard, initially feels that this is just another hoax a little bit of checking reveals the awful truth. A nuclear device is missing from the lab stores and Willingdon is nowhere to be found!

The motives of the Professor seem less than clear - he is an honest and dedicated scientist with a loving family - until the awful pressure and isolation of his position becomes clear. The strain has lead Willingdon to believe that his work is being used for an evil purpose, that will lead to Mankind's destruction. Hence his ultimatum: stop nuclear weapons production or else. Folland discovers that the Professor is already in the capital and puts an extensive search into operation, without telling the citizens and alarming them. Strangely enough the Prime Minister (Ronald Adam) doesn't even consider giving in to the demands despite the huge number of lives at risk, perhaps the correct decision but quite inhumane.

Meanwhile Willingdon wanders the streets of London, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he is a marked man and clearly unprepared for hiding from the police. He isn't insane but he is subtly unbalanced, an effect that we can see while the people he mixes with cannot. The Government forces intensify their search and unveil plans to evacuate the Capital; a huge operation but one which seems necessary. The tension continues to mount as the time left until the deadline decreases and Willingdon remarkably evades capture (due more to his luck than any particular skill). Soon the population are notified of the threat and posters of the scientist appear all over London, dispelling fears of war but leading to some panic. It looks as though this will go to the wire...

Seven Days to Noon is a classic character-driven film with an extremely realistic atmosphere. The motivation of Willingdon and the subtle ways in which his breakdown manifests itself are beautifully played - he is a man who knows exactly what he is doing but still feels driven towards that end. Performances of equal depth are abundant in this movie as each character behaves in exactly the way that you would expect, given their individual backgrounds. The power that one man can have over millions is seen in the daily newspapers, heard in the street-level rumours and felt by everyone; exquisite touches that add to the veracity of the story. Perhaps, when compared to modern thrillers, there is a certain lack of pace and tortuous twists to the plots but these are not drawbacks.

The resonance with the troubles of the present and the reactions of the politicians (which seem accurate) are truly frightening. Now we can see just how little power we really have over our own destiny.


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