British Atomic Age Thriller Comes to Life on Blu-ray.
DIRECTED BY JOHN BOULTING AND ROY BOULTING/1950
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: NOVEMBER 5, 2019/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
Seething with Atomic Age tension right up to the end, London Films’ Seven Days to Noon demonstrates that even in the face of total annihilation, Brits maintain their trademark decorum.
Once it is made public that a pilfered weapon of mass destruction may well be used to level zone 1 and possibly beyond, the already-arranged evacuation of the entire populous plays out in a relatively civil and orderly fashion. Even as families are forced to leave pets behind and mothers become separated from their children, things move along as they must. This is, after all- as the movie reminds us- a city that got hopelessly blitzed not ten years prior. These people have seen their share of tragedy and earthshaking danger. At least with this pending doomsday, they have the benefit of knowing that it’s coming.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Per its otherwise incalculable title, Seven Days to Noon plays out over the course of one very threatening week. It seems one of the country’s leading atomic weapons scientists has had a kind of moral about-face in regard to the endgame use of his life’s work. He then literally sends a message to the British Prime Minister announcing that unless England will abandon and renounce all such super-weapons, he will detonate the one he’s stolen at noon in seven days’ time.
Most of the film, then, is the Scotland Yard manhunt for the missing scientist (Barry Jones, creepy and contained). Early in the week, it’s restricted to a handful of inspectors riding around in cars and questioning the man’s grown daughter and others who might be in the know. But, no. When that proves futile, escalation to the eventual mass evacuation (described previously) and subsequent military maneuvers take over the film. These moments, shot in the eerily abandoned streets of London, resonate in their palpable stillness amid the national iconography.
Directed by respected British filmmaking siblings John and Roy Boulting, Seven Days to Noon is also notable for its unconventional sense of narrative focus. Just as the Scotland Yard procedural is getting going, it abruptly switches gears to detailing what the pursued is up to; laying low, shaving his mustache, hanging around in war-torn churches, and eventually taking up with an oblivious eccentric woman (Olive Sloane) and her small lapdog. It’s a great credit to the film’s screenplay by Frank Harvey and Roy Boulting that the odd Jenga game of narrative this-then-this-then-this circulates existing tensions as well it does. And it does so quite well, indeed.
This recently released Blu-ray edition from Kino Lorber Studio Classics is devoid of extras (the solitary bonus feature, a stills gallery listed on the back cover, is an apparent no-show), though it’s got it where it counts most: the rigid black and white cinematography by Gilbert Taylor looks extraordinary. This is, MO doubt, the finest Seven Days to Noon has ever looked in its post-theatrical existence.
An assured potboiler of undeniable British stock, Seven Days to Noon may be lacking in stars, but burns brightly as an all-too-topical thriller of its place and time. Unfortunately, what makes it most potent remains a scary thing even today and an ocean away.