CIRCLE OF DANGER (director: Jacques Tourneur; screenwriter: from the novel White Heather by Philip MacDonald/Philip MacDonald; cinematographer: Oswald Morris; editor: Alan Orbiston; music: Robert Farnon; cast: Patricia Roc (Elspeth Graham),Marius Goring (Sholto Lewis), Dora Bryan (Bubbles Fitzgerald), Ray Milland (Clay Douglas), Hugh Sinclair (Hamish McArran), Naughton Wayne (Reggie Sinclair), Philip Dale (Jim Stoner), Colin Gordon (Col. Fairbairn),Edward Rigby(Idwal Llewellyn), Michael Brennan (Bert Oakshott), John Bailey (Pape Llewellyn), Marjorie Fielding (Margaret McArran), Reginald Beckwith(Oliver);Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joan Harrison; Eagle-Lion Classics; 1951-UK)
“suspenseful despite being slowly paced.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
If it resembles a Hitchcock film, this postwar military conspiracy thriller does so because the Master’s usual producer Joan Harrison also produced this twisty black and white film. It’s based on the novel White Heather by Philip MacDonald, who also adapted the screenplay. Director Jacques Tourneur (“I Walked With A Zombie”/”Cat People”/”Stars In My Crown”) keeps it suspenseful despite being slowly paced. The opening credits inform us it’s based on actual events, but the characters are fictionalized. It uses the London, Wales and Scottish locations for good effect, thanks to cinematographer Oswald Morris.
In Tampa, Florida, Clay Douglas (Ray Milland) sells his half share of the salvage business to go to England and investigate what he believes is a military cover-up of the death of his younger brother Hank in a late war raid in 1944. Though an American, his brother volunteered in 1940 to be a British commando, and was listed in the war report as the only soldier Killed in Action even though no Germans were reported attacking. By chance, Clay meets one of Hank’s fellow commandos and he mentions in the raid, that included 2 officers and 10 enlisted troops, that Hank was discovered shot in the head execution style. Clay feels responsible for his brother since he raised him when their parents’ died in a car accident, and is troubled he can’t get a straight answer from the British War Office.
Upon arriving in London, Clay learns his one source recently died and in the War Office he learns from Col. Fairbairn (Colin Gordon) that a commando in his brother’s platoon is a coal miner in Wales. But Clay is informed by the miner that he only knows that six members of the platoon are still alive and two are officers. After getting the name and address of Major Hamish McArran (Hugh Sinclair), Clay pays him a visit in the Scottish Highlands and learns the names of those others still alive but nothing else. Clay also meets the attractive single children’s writer and illustrator Elspeth Graham (Patricia Roc), who is a lodger in one of Hamish’s cabins, and falls in love even though wary that Hamish also is a suitor. When Hamish sends Clay back to London, he tracks down the other officer, the unfriendly gay ballet theater director Sholto Lewis (Marius Goring), and hooks up again in London with Elspeth. Their romance gets off on the wrong foot, as Clay keeps breaking dates as he tracks down the remaining men for information. Clay finally gets to the near truth when he has to buy information from a desperate car salesman named Reggie Sinclair (Naughton Wayne). After buying an expensive luxury car, Clay learns that the intelligence officer was the secret 13th man on the fatal mission and he couldn’t see the killer but heard him whistling the Scottish folk tune White Heather as he executed Hank.
Though routine, the highly skilled Tourneur does his best to keep it lively, watchable and enjoyable.
REVIEWED ON 4/12/2013 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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