80,000 SUSPECTS (1963)
Directed by Val Guest
A married couple going through a tough time are celebrating the upcoming new year when the husband, a doctor, is summoned to inspect a patient with a mysterious illness at the hospital. Diagnosing the patient as having smallpox, the whole hospital is put into lockdown through fear of spreading the disease. However, it’s too late as the smallpox virus spreads across the town of Bath. Dr Steven Monk must put his relationship troubles aside to save the town but as his past actions come back to haunt him, there could be more than just smallpox which threatens his marriage.
Black-and-white movie 80,000 SUSPECTS focuses on the beginning of an epidemic through the eyes of couple Dr. Steven (Richard Johnson) and nurse Julie Monks (Claire Bloom). The couple are quite a likable pair but it soon becomes apparent that Steven hasn’t been faithful in his marriage and the love of his job overshadows the love for his wife Julie who too is struggling to connect with her husband. Their planned holiday together goes down the drain when the breakout of smallpox is discovered and soon both Steven and Julie find themselves in the thick of it, with Steven inspecting the patients and Julie actively vaccinating the townspeople of Bath to prevent the spread of the deadly virus. With their focus on the problem of the town rather than that of their marriage, their personal lives come under strain and they realise they must do more to fight for their marriage as they must do the infectious disease.
Whilst the film is laced with worry and panic over the viral threat which looms over their heads, the film isn’t all doom and gloom. The beginning of the film is quite jovial with the dinner dance which sees the health service workers celebrating a hard year’s work ahead of the new year. A doctor’s spouse dances the night away by herself, happy in the comfort of alcohol, though her drunken giddiness, however amusing, has both a sweet and bitter edge. It seems for everyone that whilst things look rosy on the outside, the real grit on the inside is causing trouble and upset with the smallpox epidemic just one of the problems they must deal with. Nobody seems to appreciate what they have until the epidemic commences.
When the diagnosis of smallpox is made, panic ensues and you get a real sense of urgency from the characters as they attempt to prevent infections and deaths. Whilst smallpox has thankfully been eradicated since the 1980’s, the real threat of a contagious disease is still present in today’s world and though this movie isn’t frightening in a horror sense, the reality of the situation is still unnerving should it ever happen in our lifetime.
80,000 SUSPECTS is a very well made film and the drama between the couple amidst the smallpox epidemic accentuates how short life can be to hold grudges and that each day should be lived to the fullest. The stunning high definition Blu-Ray transfer from Network Distributing also does the film justice, presenting a story that is valid now as it was in the 60’s and has such a quality about it that it doesn’t feel like it’s aged too much at all. Doctors, or patients for that matter, might not be able to smoke in hospitals anymore but the reality of the scenario in the film is just as good if not better than those depicted in movies and television nowadays.
80,000 SUSPECTS is a wonderfully performed romantic drama that manages to suck you into its panic-striken world.