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Saturday, May 14, 2011

High Treason

Following the success of Seven Days to Noon Roy Boulting wrote and directed a sequel, of sorts. High Treason (HT) is another of London-in-danger. This time it s non-nuclear sabotage from within. Boulting reprised the role of Superintendent Folland (played by Andre Morell) from the first movie, but he was the only returning character. In HT, he plays second fiddle to Commander Brennan (Liam Redmond)

Quick Plot Synopsis
Prim Percy Ward leaves his office at military intelligence. At his apartment, he takes out carbons from secret arms shipment orders. He types out the contents and passes to Jimmy Ellis at a modern music concert. Later, while a ship is being loaded, crates of ammunition explode causing much damage and many deaths. Folland and Brennan are called in to investigate. Fragments of a timer tell them it was sabotage. Attention focuses on a foreman named Williams. He is followed and leads them to Jimmy Ellis, who acts very nervous when questioned. Williams becomes a liability to the shadowy organization. He is killed by a dark man with a vague foreign accent. Williams' landlady identifies the stranger as Michael Stringer, a foreigner deported years ago. Brennan questions Jimmy's brother and mother, ostensibly about the death of Williams. Brennan gets a lead on a modern music society Jimmy belongs to. A detective joins the society. At a recital, he sees Jimmy talking with Percy Ward. He follows Ward later, to find that he works at M1(a). Meanwhile, other detectives scope out Stringer's girlfriend, Anna Braun. They follow her and see her at a cafe with Ward. Braun works at a small private college. Agents posing as telephone repairmen find Stringer at the college. The administrator of the college is seen with an MP named Mansfield. Jimmy wants to lay low. Anna tells him the organization won't like that. Jimmy gets nervous, tells his mom and brother, then goes to seek help from his local politician, Mansfield. Walking home, Jimmy is kidnapped and thrown in a barred room in the college. Mansfield is part of the terrorist cell. He decodes a message. "Plan X23, May 7." The rest of the cell discuss the plan at the college. Blow up power stations in England to cripple ability to respond to events in Europe. Jimmy hears all this through the pipes. Everyone makes bombs, gathers guns, etc. Come the day, the gang ride a freight train to Battersea Power Station. Jimmy overpowers the one man left to guard him. He uses the cell's radio to telegraph a warning of the plan. Eventually alerted, the police and army converge on the power station. The gang had overpowered the few staff and were planting explosives. The police arrive. There is an extended shootout. The baddies are all killed and the bombs disarmed. All the while, Brennan chats up Mansfield, finally accusing him of being the cell leader. Jimmy's mother weeps about why it all had to happen. A radio announcer talks tough about not twisting the tail of the lion. The End.

Insidious Infiltrators
HT is the plain open tale of everyday, average citizens becoming "one of them." Here, THEM is a vague reference to some eastern European power. Science fiction will, quite a few times, take that theme -- becoming one of them -- and ramp it up. Invasion of the Body Snatchers ('56) is the most famous example, but there are many others. They gave voice to the background fear of "our" being lost -- not by an overt conquest, but stolen, one friend at a time.

Cold War Spotlight
Boulting uses several close-ups of newspapers to suggest international trouble brewing in eastern Europe. Instead of things going nuclear, the premise is that communist spies will recruit local citizens to effect their sabotage. HT is a spies-among--us anxiety tale.

Homegrown Terrorism -- HT is a companion story to Seven Days to Noon. Where 7DN dealt with a rogue loner with a portable nuke, HT raises the specter of dozens of local folk being turned by the Dark Side to do its bidding. In the modern world of Al Queda, et al, the machinations of a terrorist cell is still quite relevant for today's viewing.

Changed Man -- A recurring character type is the traitor-turned-martyr. At the beginning, he causes the trouble. Something changes partway through, and he dies trying to set things right. In HT, this is Jimmy. He joined the traitors gang, making the fuses for the bombs. Remorse over the deaths he caused trumps his shallow ideology. When the gang turn on him, he turns on them, radioing a warning of the plot. For this, he is killed. This traitor-martyr role will get used in sci-fi films, such as It Conquered the World ('56) where Tom arranges for "It" to come to earth, falling for the promise of peace. Tom then sacrifices his life to stop It. Or, Terror From the Year 5000 ('58), in which Victor finances a time travel experiment which brings death from the future. He dies stopping it. Or, The Mysterians ('59), in which Shiraishi naively helps the aliens until it's clear that they're hostile. He then sacrifices himself blowing up their base.

Dang Peaceniks -- A subtle hawkish message is woven through HT. The blue collar workers duped into helping the foreign power, are told pretty lies about a "world without wars" and promises of peace and tranquility. The printer (suspect) is printing peace rally posters. The contradiction that the group kill and destroy in pursuit of peace seems like Boulting's slap at anti-nuclear peace movements of his day.The final reference to the British Lion is his moral to the story. Only by standing strong and fighting, will Britain be kept free. Peaceniks are dupes of enemy powers.

Old Spies -- Anxiety over enemy spies was far from new when the Cold War dawned. WWII saw plenty of Nazi spy scares. In America, Japanese Americans were rounded up to live in camps for fear some of them might become Pod-people of the emperor. In World War One, there was a near hysterical worry over the Kaiser having spies and saboteurs sneaking about. The explosion at the arms depot at Black Tom in New York was immediately branded sabotage. In Britain, there was the curious nocturnal airships scare. (Scareships) Before all that, the British fretted over French spies working on a channel tunnel so the French army could invade, etc. etc. Angst over spies and saboteurs was (is) well ingrained. Sci-fi flims just swapped out the earthly enemy for ones from outer space and made changes of ideology more like zombie-hood. But, it was the same angst.

Bottom line? HT is less famous than its sibling, Seven Days to Noon, but very much a similar Cold War thriller. There is more action and pretty good pacing overall. The setting inside the massive Battersea Power Station is visually interesting too. For fans of sci-fi, it can be fun to see the format played out with earthly foreigners.

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