Monday, April 26, 2010

Nazi scientists plot revenge on England

Counterblast (aka "The Devil's Plot") (1948)
Starring: Mervyn Johns, Robert Beatty, and Nova Pilbeam
Director: Paul Stein
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A Nazi scientist (Johns) escapes from a British prison camp and murders and assumes the identity of a bacteriologist recently returned to Britain after decades abroad. In this guise, he continues developing deadly biological weapons as part of a plot to avenge Germany's defeat in WW2. Pressure on him grows, and risk of exposure becomes ever greater, as another scientist (Beatty) becomes suspicious, he is forced to take a well-meaning woman (Pilbeam) on as an assistant, and other Nazis start to press him to speed up his research. Will something give before a deadly plague is unleashed upon the English countryside?

"Counterblast" is a well-acted, well-written thriller. The complexity of the characters, particularly Johns' Nazi scientist, makes the film even more engaging and elevates beyond so many other similar films. Pilbeam, in one of her last roles before her retirement from screen acting, puts on an excellent show as always, as the young woman who travels half way around the world to take a position with the man she believes to be an old and good friend of her father's, only to find herself increasingly isolated and ever deeper involved in a deadly and monstrous research project. As in other roles she played, she projects a charming mix of vulnerability and independence. She is the perfect foil for the handsome, romantic Beatty... and it's easily believable that the young doctor would fall in love with her as quickly as he does.

"Counterblast" is a rarely seen post-WW2 drama, but I think it's worth tracking down, particularly if you are a fan of Nova Pilbeam (an actress whose work isn't given the recognition it deserves).

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