Saturday, 18 October 2014
Five years after its original release, this film was purchased for cinema distribution and re-titled The Devil's Plot as a sneaky way to conceal from audiences that it was a film that had already been sold (under the title at the top of the page) for TV broadcast. Not that this has anything much to do with the movie itself, but it's an interesting anecdote.
First things first: this film isn't exactly short on implausibility. In fact, I found it almost endearingly far-fetched at times. But within the confines of its unlikely premise and even less likely plot, it's well-acted and fairly engaging. Well, except for the moments when I was shouting abuse at the screen for a dreadful romance sub-plot. Apparently in 1948 the way to a woman's heart was to tell her to give up her plans for a career and focus on the only thing that would make her really happy: looking after a man. (I really wish it seemed like the two characters having this conversation were joking, but I saw no sign they were).
So yeah, I may have uttered some harsh words at the TV when that happened.
Anyway: shortly after the end of the Second World War, a group of German officers escape from a POW camp in the UK. Three are re-captured, but the fourth - a biochemist nick-named "The Beast of Ravensbruck" for his terrible experiments - eludes the authorities. He achieves this due to the aid of a frankly implausible circle of spies who are apparently still operative in the UK despite years of counter-intelligence work and the fact that the war is over.
His allies tell him that the price of a trip to South America is that he complete the biological weapon on which he was working when the war ended. This is a vaccine for the entirely fictitious "cardiac plague", which we're told is even more deadly than pneumonic plague. That's a weapon because they can use it to immunise the German people, then unleash the plague on the rest of the world.
Of course, he needs facilities to do this, so they have him murder a doctor who has recently returned to the UK from Australia, and impersonate the dead man at his new facility. This he does, with sufficient skill that he even fools a young woman who met the real doctor when she was a child. I guess the (largely bald) real doctor still had his hair back then.
But of course, not everyone is as convinced by his act as that young woman, and it may be only a question of time before he is discovered.
Trust me when I tell you that I haven't mentioned some of the goofiest plot points in my precis above. On the other hand, Mervyn Johns is very good in the main role. He's a monster, but he's just sympathetic enough that you keep rooting for him to rise above his own horrible nature.
Does he? Or do the authorities find him? I'm not going to say, but I'll give the film this: it has a splendidly apropos ending.