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Seven Days to Noon (1950)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Seven Days to Noon (1950)
35mm, black and white, 94 mins
Produced, Directed & Edited byRoy Boulting; John Boulting
Production CompanyLondon Films
ScreenplayFrank Harvey;
 Roy Boulting
Original storyPaul Dehn
 James Bernard
PhotographyGilbert Taylor
MusicJohn Addison

Cast: Barry Jones (Professor John Willingdon); Olive Sloane (Goldie Phillips); André Morell (Superintendent Folland); Sheila Manahan (Ann Willingdon); Hugh Cross (Stephen Lane); Joan Hickson (Mrs Peckett); Ronald Adam (Prime Minister Arthur Lytton)

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Consumed by guilt and shame, a nuclear scientist suffers a breakdown and threatens to destroy London with one of his own bombs.

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Producer-directors John and Roy Boulting consolidated their reputation with this gripping apocalyptic thriller, the relevance of which remains undiminished today. Shot in the summer of 1949 (just as the Soviet Union detonated its first nuclear bomb) and released in September 1950, Seven Days to Noon was praised in Time & Tide as "the most intelligent film so far to touch upon one of the problems confronting an atomic age," while Picturegoer drew attention to its other great achievement, that it "brings London to the screen more realistically than has ever been done before."

Utilising some 70 locations around the city, the film remains a vivid snapshot of postwar London and its populace, particularly in its astonishing scenes of mass evacuation. "This complete exodus of the world's largest city is being carried out coolly, resolutely and without panic," observes a US radio correspondent, referencing the kind of community spirit recently called upon in the Blitz. And the Boultings' scenes of a deserted city have an eerie potency faithfully reproduced in much later films like 28 Days Later (d. Danny Boyle, 2002).

Ingeniously simple yet thought-provoking in its contemplation of scientific responsibility, the story was the work of critic Paul Dehn and composer James Bernard, who shared an Oscar for it. The film is also distinguished by Gilbert Taylor's crystalline photography and expert performances from Olive Sloane, André Morell (whose Superintendent Folland was revived for Roy Boulting's 1951 solo film, High Treason) and, above all, Barry Jones as the anguished Professor Willingdon. Though the Boultings cover their backs by emphasising Willingdon's derangement, he is nevertheless given the film's most eloquent and moving speeches, as when he observes that "All over the world, people are moving like sleepwalkers towards annihilation."

Though set in the future - a Daily Express headline places the action in August 1952 - Seven Days to Noon, for all its overtones of Armageddon, is not a science fiction film. It did, however, exercise a profound influence over several SF-horror hybrids turned out by British filmmakers in the years to come. Its troop movements, church interiors, city-wide searches and noirish mood of suppressed hysteria would be echoed, for example, in both The Quatermass Xperiment (d. Val Guest, 1955) and Children of the Damned (d. Anton Leader, 1963). The former even incorporated the Boultings' military dragnet footage into its climactic search for a mutating astronaut. Coincidentally, it was also scored by James Bernard.

Jonathan Rigby

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Video Clips
1. 'This intolerable burden' (3:28)
2. Tuesday (2:43)
3. Friday (3:16)
4. 'Perhaps my fellow scientists will understand' (2:23)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Day the Earth Caught Fire, The (1961)
Village of the Damned (1960)
Threads (1984)
War Game, The (1966)
Addison, John (1920-1998)
Boulting, Roy (1913-2001)
Morell, André (1909-1978)
Taylor, Gilbert (1914-)