High Treason is a 1951 British Cold War spy thriller directed by Roy Boulting, and it’s a fairly competent one.
In some ways this one is structured more like a police procedural than an action spy thriller. The heroes operate more like policemen than James Bond-style spies.
A dockyard explosion destroys a British arms shipment. It’s the latest in a series of similar events. Commander Robert Brennan (Liam Redmond) of Special Branch is put in charge of the investigation, assisted by Superintendent Folland (André Morell) and Major Elliott (Anthony Bushell) of the Security Service (Britain’s counter-espionage agency more popularly known as MI5). There’s a very strong suspicion, amounting to a near certainty, that these acts of sabotage are organised by Soviet agents who have access to information from someone highly placed in the British bureaucracy.
While some of these spies are deluded rather than evil there’s no question that some are very evil indeed - they are very highly placed and they understand exactly what they’re doing.
Commander Brennan has a few leads but what he doesn’t know is that he’s engaged in a race against the clock.
The Soviet spies in this thriller come from all walks of life. Some are frustrated insignificant little people, others are wealthy and powerful. Some are working-class, some middle-class and some upper-class. Some are fanatics, some are misguided fools.
While there’s no doubt who the bad guys are, and the film doesn’t pull its punches in this area, it doesn’t really come across as propaganda - this is a movie about the dangers of people who believe in Causes with a capital C rather than any one cause.
Most of the movie is focused on Commander Brennan’s patient and methodical investigation. The emphasis is on routine police work rather than spy tradecraft. The action-packed finale, with an abundance of gunplay and a remarkably high body count, therefore comes as a bit of a surprise. Director Boulting handles this action set-piece quite effectively, as he does the film’s violent opening sequence. Presumably the idea was to emphasise that espionage is not a gentleman’s game but a bloody business in which real people get hurt.
Dublin Nightmare, The Big Chance and Deadly Nightshade. The transfers of all four films are exceptionally good. Don’t expect any extras but for the absurdly low price this set represents superb value for money.
High Treason is a well-crafted thriller with a nice mix of thrills and suspense. It would make a fine addition to the collection of any spy movie fan. Highly recommended.