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  Suspect Pass The Plague
Year: 1960
Director: John Boulting, Roy Boulting
Stars: Tony Britton, Virginia Maskell, Ian Bannen, Peter Cushing, Raymond Huntley, Thorley Walters, Donald Pleasence, Spike Milligan, Kenneth Griffith, Robert Bruce, Anthony Booth, Basil Dignam, Brian Oulton, Sam Kydd, John Payne, Margaret Lacey
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: At this British research laboratory, the scientists have been toiling for twenty years to produce a cure for the plague, but the latest boffins believe they may have reached the conclusion of their endeavours, tests revealing a success rate in the samples that is as close to one hundred percent as they have ever reached. They should be pleased with themselves, but one of their number, Dr Lucy Byrne (Virginia Maskell) is unhappy, though will not say why: she starts crashing about to vent her frustration, which may be to do with the lab boss, Professor Sewell (Peter Cushing), being rather dismissive of everyone's efforts. But actually, her frustrations run deeper than that, for she has trouble at home she has not admitted to anyone...

Although Suspect sounds like a thriller, and featured a finale where guns were drawn and life or death scuffles broke out, it was more of a drama, a melodrama even, than the espionage premise might have indicated. It was, as legend had it, made as a bet by one of the British cinema's big success stories, the Boulting Brothers, who had such hits as Private's Progress and I'm Alright, Jack under their belts, but wanted to prove they could make a small project, shot quickly and efficiently, and turn a profit doing so. At the time, on its release most grumbled that it was the sort of affair that audiences could have stayed home to watch on television, but over the years its excellent ensemble cast have proved an attraction for fans of vintage Britflicks.

As well as Maskell and Cushing, you had the opportunity to see Tony Britton as one of the scientists led astray, Ian Bannen as Lucy's boyfriend Alan Andrews, whose arms have been blown off in a friendly fire incident in the Korean War (!), Spike Milligan as a cod-Irish accented janitor for comic relief (not a tremendous amount, it had to be said), and even in the smaller roles were such familiar faces as Geoffrey Bayldon, Anthony Booth and Sam Kydd. You may hesitate to call it a film with a star in every role, but there were plenty of times you would be saying, hey, isn’t that...? Even Donald Pleasence appeared as a shady operator who wants to pass on details of the biological warfare potential of the lab's anti-plague findings, meeting with Britton, where else, but in a pub to discuss germ warfare over a pint or two.

But it was more twisted than that, in fact it was downright peculiar as Bannen has Lucy in an emotional headlock, insisting she stick around and look after him out of guilt and pity, so when she shows an interest in colleague Britton, the invalid establishes the foreign spies' interest in sabotaging their noble plans to spite her, and also as a way of getting back at the British Government who he resents. This was a curious character, someone you feel you should be sorry for but behaving so badly he undercuts your sympathy at every turn. Not helping is when Cushing announces the authorities will not be pursuing the plague cure because the process could lead to biological weaponry, which builds resentment in everyone else. But stealing the film was Thorley Walters as the spycatcher who is aware of the subterfuge going on, but has to wait until certain characters have damned themselves before acting - this was a minor masterclass in how to make a lot out of relatively little. Overall, though, an absorbing B movie featuring a bleak view of human nature verging on the sick.

[Network release this title on Blu-ray as part of The British Film, with a gallery and subtitles as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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