High Noon in London
Watching "Seven Days to Noon" now, 60 plus years after it was released and you have a movie which starts of a bit ropey but gets better and better as the tension mounts. It is also a movie that is very much of its time with its drama surrounding a stolen A-bomb and the message it is trying to get across about the use of these weapons. But then whilst the message may not be as current as it was the actual production is phenomenal and let's just say scenes which show not only London being evacuated but the abandoned streets are some of the best I have ever seen.
After becoming disillusioned working on the A-Bomb Professor Willingdon (Barry Jones - The 39 Steps) not only steals one of the bombs but sends a letter to the Prime Minister with demands over stopping the manufacture of the bombs or else he plans to set one off in London at noon of the following Sunday. With the Prime Minister bringing in the military and police the search for Willingdon commences with Scotland Yard enlisting the help of Willingdon's research assistant Stephen Lane (Hugh Cross) and his daughter Ann (Sheila Manahan).
I mentioned that "Seven Days to Noon" starts off a bit ropey and nothing highlights this more than the opening scene which sees a postman delivering mail to 10 Downing Street, wandering up as casual as anything with not a policeman in sight. The scene has a purpose because he is delivering the letter from Willingdon but it doesn't ring true which is often the case through out the move with things which just don't seem right. Later on in the movie when time is running out and the decision is made to evacuate the city the fact the Prime Minister tells the public everything in a radio address is another scene which feels false because of the Prime Ministers honesty. But having said that if you take into account when this was made the falseness probably wasn't so apparent.
Despite this ropey start "Seven Days to Noon" gets good and it gets good in a slow burner sort of way because as each day passes the tension increases. Now you get the tension of whether or not Willingdon is going to be caught and when we see big wanted billboards you have a very impressive visual back drop to many a scene. You also have the confliction of Willingdon himself and there is plenty of style to this as we see him staring over London at night, his face reflecting in the window. That I doubt sounds much but it is so powerful and the Boulting brothers have done a fabulous job of not only establishing Willingdon's maniacal state of mind but giving us a man on the run drama with us almost taking his side.
Now over the years I have watched many a movie which have featured an evacuated city but none do such a brilliant job as that in "Seven Days to Noon" and it all starts with the evacuation. The sheer scale of the scenes as we see people marshalled out of homes and on to transport is epic but not as epic as views of an empty London and not just from street level because skyline shots have an eerie quality to them as the bustling city is motionless in daytime. I don't know how the Boultings achieved this but the scenes of an abandoned London are unforgettable and these pave way for a brilliant tense ending as we get to the Sunday and the desperate search for Willingdon and the bomb.
Now whilst Barry Jones gives a first class performance as Professor Willingdon and the entire movie is full of well defined characters it is a rare movie which isn't about the characters. For me it is about the skill of directors John Boulting and Roy Boulting in building tension and capturing London being evacuated and then the abandoned streets. It is in the almost irrelevant moments such as a thief stealing when the city is empty which makes it feel so real and yet even when you have the big scenes such as the evacuation it is not over the top in the slightest even if it sneaks in some moments of light relief.
What this all boils down to is that there is a part of "Seven Days to Noon" which now doesn't work, it is that part to do with when it was set which now feels quite false. But then there is a huge part of it which works and the slow build up of tension combined with a terrific series of scenes surrounding the evacuation of London and the empty streets are some of the best I have ever seen.