Suspect Review

Suspect - no relation to the underrated Peter Yates thriller from 1987 - is an odd mixture of political thriller and domestic melodrama. Shot in three weeks at British Lion studios, it's a very small-scale project for the Boultings who had just had immense success with I'm All Right Jack. Although it doesn't entirely work, the intensity of the drama is surprisingly effective and, fuelled by strong performances, it manages to hold its grip rather well.

At a top-secret government laboratory, Professor Sewell (Cushing) discovers a potentially world-changing plague cure but is forced to keep his findings to himself when the results are placed under the Official Secrets Act. Meanwhile, at the lab, Dr Marriott (Britton) and Dr Byrne (Maskell) begin a tentative relationship under the jealous eye of Byrne's one-time fiance, Andrews (Bannen) who has lost his arms after a friendly fire accident while in the army. Andrews' jealousy leads him to trap Marriott into a meeting with Brown (Pleasance), a mysterious representative of "The Organisation For International Scientific Exchange".

The political aspects of the film are the most interesting, especially in a lengthy scene where Cushing's scientist is lectured by a minister (Huntley) about keeping his research to himself in case the enemy gets hold of it - "It's a free country, anyone can disagree. But if you want to do anything...." The cold exposition of political pragmatism is riveting and beautifully written, as is the involvement of Thorley Walters as Mr Prince, a shadowy Mr Fixit for the government whose jovial manner hides a streak of pure ruthlessness. The sense of a secret world behind the one we see is potently evoked in a manner reminiscent of the early work of John Le Carre. It's a shame that the plot taking place within this environment is so plodding and obvious - and, more to the point, that the climax turns out to have such faith in the establishment, certainly far more than Le Carre has ever had.

The romantic triangle between Marriott, Byrne and Andrews is rather less engaging, not least because of the incredibly boring performances from Tony Britton and Virginia Maskell. However, it's not difficult to ignore the leads because the support is so strong. Ian Bannen makes Andrews a sympathetic and believable figure in his familiar 'wounded animal' mode and Peter Cushing is impeccably dignified as the frustrated scientist. In smaller roles, the great Raymond Huntley is on top form as the devious politician who has dragged himself up by his bootstraps - "As a kid, I had to educate meself..." - and Thorley Walters is his usual immaculate self. There are also nice cameo appearances from Donald Pleasance and Spike Milligan, the latter sporting an impenetrable Irish accent.

Suspect is a minor footnote in the career of the Boulting Brothers but it's an intelligent and entertaining thriller which raises some interesting questions about the power of the secet state. One wishes that the leads had been more interestingly cast - Britton and Maskell seem to belong in an Edgar Wallace quickie - but the strength of the supporting actors more than makes up for this. Kudos to Max Greene, incidentally, for his atmospheric black and white cinematography which keeps the film visually interesting - Greene's work on Night and the City is rightly treasured and this film has some of the same visual imagination.

The Disc

Optimum's transfer of Suspect is something of a mess. Firstly, it's in the wrong aspect ratio. The fullscreen image obviously cuts off the edges of the 1.66:1 frame, occasionally leading to characters losing half of their face. Secondly, the transfer is interlaced leading to the inevitable ghosting. Otherwise, the monochrome photography comes across as acceptably sharp and clear. The mono soundtrack sounds fine throughout with the sparse piano score sounding very pleasant.

There are no extras or subtitles on the disc.

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