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  Circle of Danger Round Britain QuizBuy this film here.
Year: 1951
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Stars: Ray Milland, Patricia Roc, Marius Goring, Hugh Sinclair, Naunton Wayne, Edward Rigby, Marjorie Fielding, John Bailey, Colin Gordon, Dora Bryan, Reginald Beckwith, David Hutcheson, Michael Brennan, Peter Butterworth
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Clay Douglas (Ray Milland) is a salvage expert who has just struck a rich supply of tungsten at the bottom of the sea off the coast of Florida, but to his partner's surprise he doesn't plan on hanging around to take advantage now he's found it, and requests him to buy him out for a reasonable sum. When asked, Douglas remains cagey about his motives, but will say he is heading off to the United Kingdom on an errand, and that's about all. So it is a few days later, suitably flush with a small fortune, that he goes through customs and seeks out some old acquaintances - but not his own, he wishes to track down men who were in his late brother's old regiment in Europe during World War II. He's still not giving away too much, but this much is clear: he believes his brother's death was not thanks to a Nazi bullet.

The influence of the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, loomed large over the thrillers of the twentieth century, and indeed still does to this day as one director is affected by another who happens to be under his spell, and so forth, but one contemporary of his was the French-born Jacques Tourneur, who could have been as big as he was in the same field, or at least as well-respected artistically and at the box office as Fritz Lang, yet when he made a few professional choices regarded as the behaviour of a B-movie maker who was squandering what promise he had, he was reduced to the lower budget features once again. Nevertheless, Tourneur enjoys a cult following, mostly thanks to his way with an atmospheric horror movie.

Circle of Danger was one of the films he helmed when Hollywood was not as amenable to offering him the projects he would have preferred, and therefore he travelled abroad. Night of the Demon would be his masterpiece in that respect, a true classic of British fright flicks, but this earlier work pairing two British stars who had tried their luck in Hollywood was a neglected gem. Those leading actors were Ray Milland, who genuinely had become a top-billed movie star for his work in America (and had acted for Fritz Lang in the London-set Ministry of Fear, which may have been an influence on this as well), and Patricia Roc, a huge star in her native land for many years, though her try at international celebrity was rather stalled when she went to the States.

Still, domestically the Welsh-born Milland and Londoner Roc were enough of a draw to make this well worth a look for their fans, and if the latter is somewhat forgotten except by the diehard buffs these days, you can well see her luminous qualities here as she lit up the screen as Douglas's love interest Elspeth Graham, who he meets on a trip to Scotland, still tracking his brother's killer. Oswald Morris was the cinematographer, working with Gilbert Taylor, two legends in their profession and patently relishing the opportunity to capture some stunning landscapes, both picturesque during the first half and eerily oppressive for the dramatic climax, sterling work all. That said, this wasn't laidback exactly, but it took a long time for the suspense to kick in, relying instead on the whodunnit nature of writer Philip MacDonald's plot to keep the movie simmering away.

Even so, you hesitated to use the word quirky, for that was overstating the matter, but Circle of Danger was eccentric in places in the best way possible, lending a particular texture to what could have been a dutiful plod through the basic detective story motions. From the trio of Scottish schoolchildren offering a tone deaf rendition of The Twa Corbies to the potential romance between Douglas and Elspeth sabotaged by her hay fever-induced sneezing fit, not to mention background interest such as the members of the public at the market desperate to get on camera as they stare cheerily into the lens, this offered an unexpectedly rich experience, and that was without mentioning the rest of the cast. Fair enough, the Welsh accents were some of the worst on record (couldn't Milland have set them right?), but once we were over that you had the delights of a sinister yet camp Marius Goring (the best kind of Marius Goring), Naunton Wayne as a genial scoundrel, and Dora Bryan as a blowsy nightclub singer. Finds like this made watching the oldies worthwhile. Music by Robert Farnon.

[Network have released this in a fine-looking DVD, with a trailer and gallery as extras. Tourneur fans will decree it a must.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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