Optimum Releasing, who have a strange knack of finding and reissuing the least complete copy of any film you could wish to see (they’ve returned to circulation the version of Bunuel’s EXTERMINATING ANGEL with the deleted repetition!), have outdone themselves with John & Roy Boulting’s SEVEN DAYS TO NOON, which they’ve put out in a completely ahistorical 16:9 ratio, artfully shaving off the top and bottom of each of Gilbert Taylor’s beautiful shots (it seems quite possible this movie got Taylor the job shooting STRANGELOVE). Nevertheless, the film survives with its considerable qualities more or less intact (which is not to say the parties responsible should not be slow-boiled in uranium: they should).
The plot of this one deals with a government scientist cracking under the strain and absconding with a miniature nuclear bomb in a briefcase (no nuclear weapons of this size existed at the time, but the public wasn’t allowed to know that, or much else). He threatens to detonate the contraption in central London if the prime minister doesn’t announce immediate atomic disarmament. Of course, such a story can be read every which way — as a warning of the dangers of terrorism, the dangers of nuclear power, the dangers of uncontrolled peaceniks. One shot, framing the frazzled prof through dinosaur bones at the British museum, suggests the Boulting sympathies may not entirely be with the well-meaning loon. I think this film, one of the first to concoct a fanciful narrative around the Bomb, has widely and for a long time been read as an anti-nuclear parable, and I suspect that’s wrong — I see no evidence within its text to justify such a view. Indeed, the prof’s religious insipration might actually count against him in a Boulting movie, bearing in mind their later pungent satire on British Christianity, HEAVENS ABOVE!
Viewing the film as more of a right-wing than a left-wing yarn doesn’t make me dismiss it out of hand — although I dismiss its politics. It’s hard to imagine how the Boultings could believe the British characters they evoked in I’M ALRIGHT JACK should be trusted with thermonuclear weapons.
But among this film’s numerous virtues are a rapid pace that never feels hurried, and low-key performances (touched with occasional humour) from a cast not as peppered with familiar faces as usual. Barry Jones is melancholy and sympthetic as the scientist, which adds to the feeling of complexity and compassion. Hammer stalwart André Morell is nicely understated as the detective in charge of the case. And the film’s climax, in an evacuated London, is genuinely epic: all those deserted streets (and by the way, 28 DAYS LATER? Dreadful film), and the empty train station with its cages full of abandoned pets…
The difference between me and the Boultings? I would have wallpapered my home in discarded “This is the man we want” posters. Whereas the only bit of his work Roy Boulting took home was Hayley Mills.