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Subject: Chit Chat Film Club - week 11 - Seven Days To Noon rss

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SAKURA in KYOTO 2018 Back to Kansai
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Hello Chit Chat Film Club students, here is your Chit Chat Film Club Film Czar, ready to discuss this week's Chit Chat Film Club Film Of The Week - Seven Days To Noon.

Spoilers, spoilers, there can only be spoilers.

Seven Days to Noon was released in 1950 and seems amazingly far thinking*. The Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was only started in 1957, but here you have a nuclear scientist making a speech about the mis-use of nuclear research and appealing to his fellow scientists to search their consciences, just a few years after the bombs were dropped in Japan. Astonishing. And this near the end of a tight, simple, direct little thriller. And it's a Boulting Bros. picture too. Just astonishing.

John & Roy Boulting were brothers who wrote, produced and directed many excellent British films around the 1950s, including Brighton Rock (1947), Seven Days to Noon (1950), Private's Progress (1956) and I'm Allright Jack (1959). The last two established their fame as classic comedy makers, but they over-shadow the former which are both great films. Great in a small way. The Boulting Bros. worked on a tight budget, there's not much going on that's not directly on the screen, but they don't scrimp either.

Seven Days To Noon opens in a very calm, mannered way. You are given few clues as to what is actually happening, but you are given clues. It's a very tight piece of scripting, enough facts to keep the audience involved, attentive, but not letting too much out; enough character commentary to establish realistic conversation and behaviour, but all very calm and to the point. The detective is played by Andre Morell, a very good actor known in the UK best for playing Quatermass, and he plays the lead here in a very understated way.

When the plot is established, we switch to following the scientist Willingdon, as he makes his way around London, trying to find digs, dodging the search for him. The film becomes quite intimate here. We see the normal surroundings of the common people, the landlady with her cats, the pawnshop, the public house. The Professor encounters the real world, but is wrapped up in his own torment, possible madness, quoting scripture or prophecy. In contrast, we see the police work and the Cabinet meetings, again calm and direct, very serious. The whole film is serious, deadly serious. The actors play it straight and the gravity gives the whole picture a weight that carries you along.

Next is the amazing evacuation sequence. The deeply sonerous speech from the Prime Minister (obviously taking off Churchill) immediately runs into the mass evacuation and here the Boulting Bros. show off. There's certainly no shortage of stock footage, but the impression of a huge movement is presented with a lot of very tight shots, all achieved with limited props and few actual vehicles. We saw the signs being pasted on carraiges and trucks, and get snippets of conversation from the railwaymen and soldiers. Now we see those signs on buses and trains and the effect is powerful. Just a few posters, but it seems like the whole of London is on the move.

The speech itself is worth comment. Obviously, people had just finished the war against Germany and in 1950, Britain still presented itself as a super-power. Holding it's own nuclear arsenal was part of this, and I wonder if the audience of the day would have felt the kind of sympathy for the professor as we might today. Would they have seen him as a silly fool, threatening Britain's place in the world? The PM's speech, although respectfully worded, seems to make this view. The constant use of the timpani too is an echo of the BBC's call sign during the war, the V in morse would have been deeply significant to the contemporary audience.

And finally, the tense search in the now empty city. The countdown, and the final terrible end, with ever popular Sam Kidd dealing the last word on the matter.

To my view, this film is just excellent. There are a few sets featured up close (the landlady's house, the vicarage, Goldie's digs, the bunker), but so much of the film happens in the street or in anonymous, fleeting places (the barber's, the museuem, the cabinet office, the CID room). And so many many people pop up, say their few lines, and disappear. A veritable cast of thousands. The two women gossiping over the fence, the loudmouth in the pub (Load up 50 Bombers!), the actors, the neighbours, the soldiers, the police Sergeant (Do you want a medal?), the women radioing instructions, we are constantly presented with normal people delivering their lines and never seen again. There are a few very light gags, the End Is Nigh bloke, the Sergeant in the Snake House, but these are skilled touches to ease the audience along. Too much sourness does not make an entertaining evening, and the Boulting Bros. are entertainers.

The final hunt in the dark is superb too, the brilliant searchlight cutting through the dark, Willingdon's face pasted on every wall, and Willingdon himself, scrambling through the shadows, nearly bursting with fear.

The use of music is sparse in the film, used only for tension but very effectively. This aids the film's seriousness, but we not fooled into thinking this is a documentary. It's a drama, a thriller, better still, that new breed of film for the 50s, the Sci-Fi film.

The writers won the Academy Award for Best Story in 1952 (now Original Screenplay).

* Also, both Dr Strangelove and the Goldfinger film were not released until 1964, a full 14 years after Seven Days To Noon. Again, astonishingly far sighted.
 
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Geeky McGeekface
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Thanks, Jon. I'd never heard of this film until you mentioned it in your preview, but it certainly seems worth talking about.

Quote:
Seven Days to Noon was released in 1950 and seems amazingly far thinking.

No doubt, but I have to assume the subject was on a lot of people's minds. I think the anti-nuclear movement began the day after Hiroshima, with a lot of very alarmed and mostly vocal protesters. The Cold War only deepened this concern, but also made protesting against the weapons politically dangerous. So it wouldn't surprise me if Seven Days was one of the few movies to express an anti-nuke view, and even then, it sounds as if it's more of a plot device rather than any kind of polemic (at least, on the surface). However, I think a lot of film makers repressed their concerns (and that of the public) by using nukes as a boogieman in other areas--the glut of monster movies in the 50s in which the creature got that way due to atomic testing and so forth is one outstanding example of this.

Quote:
And so many many people pop up, say their few lines, and disappear.

This is interesting. Do you think it's an element seen in British movies more than American ones, Jon? I ask because I've seen this as well in a lot of Hitchcock's earlier films. I considered it a quirky and somewhat offputting aspect of Hitch's movies (yet another way of keeping the audience at arm's length and minimizing identification with the characters--then again, while I admire Hitchcock as a craftsman who filmed great scenes, when it came to making a complete movie, I think he was lacking). But maybe he was just following a common British trend (or possibly the Boulting Brothers were just aping Hitchcock).
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Larry Levy wrote:
Thanks, Jon. I'd never heard of this film until you mentioned it in your preview, but it certainly seems worth talking about.

Quote:
Seven Days to Noon was released in 1950 and seems amazingly far thinking.

No doubt, but I have to assume the subject was on a lot of people's minds. I think the anti-nuclear movement began the day after Hiroshima, with a lot of very alarmed and mostly vocal protesters. The Cold War only deepened this concern, but also made protesting against the weapons politically dangerous. So it wouldn't surprise me if Seven Days was one of the few movies to express an anti-nuke view, and even then, it sounds as if it's more of a plot device rather than any kind of polemic (at least, on the surface). However, I think a lot of film makers repressed their concerns (and that of the public) by using nukes as a boogieman in other areas--the glut of monster movies in the 50s in which the creature got that way due to atomic testing and so forth is one outstanding example of this.


It did occur to me, as I wrote, that atomic weapons were an aspect of the 50s monster glut, but I think that was more film producers jumping on public ignorance and suspicion. I cannot think of another example of a film in its day suggesting that nuclear weapons are morally wrong. I don't think it's necessarily a plot device, but the film presents the scientist as absent-minded, under a mental breakdown, suggesting at least he's misguided or insane. His hostage, Goldie, berates him and he tries to explain why he entered the research in the first place and how he's come to feel it was corrupted.

I think the film takes an independent view of disarmament itself, but to present the case for disarmament in the first place seems daring to me. Britain was still under some rationing from the war. There were still plenty of visible scars and people struggling with loss. To stand up at that point and voice those opinions is remarkable, and the fact that no other film dared for another decade is a strength of the production.

Quote:
Quote:
And so many many people pop up, say their few lines, and disappear.

This is interesting. Do you think it's an element seen in British movies more than American ones, Jon? I ask because I've seen this as well in a lot of Hitchcock's earlier films. I considered it a quirky and somewhat offputting aspect of Hitch's movies (yet another way of keeping the audience at arm's length and minimizing identification with the characters--then again, while I admire Hitchcock as a craftsman who filmed great scenes, when it came to making a complete movie, I think he was lacking). But maybe he was just following a common British trend (or possibly the Boulting Brothers were just aping Hitchcock).


I don't think the Boulting Bros. were aping Hitchcock, but they'd have come out the same studio traditions. However, film and TV production was always based around London, and central London (the West End) was the centre of theatrical productions (dramatic, musical, comedy (what the US calls vaudeville). So performers would have been able to work in cinema in the day and appear on stage at night. That is, when a UK production needed a bit part, a character actor was available from a large draft.

Whereas Hollywood is a long way from Broadway. Successful stage actors would head out West, or return East, but I suspect that it didn't suit Hollywood to support the same kind of wide draft. You see the same faces in Hollywood bit roles, where I think UK productions could pick any number of faces to fill a small role.

I don't think it's exactly a British trend though. I noticed it very strongly in this film, but I'll keep it in mind in future.
 
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