Noirvember 2018, Episode 5: Circle of Danger (1951)



Circle of Danger (1951)

Directed by Jacques Tourneur

Produced by Joan Harrison, David E. Rose, John R. Sloan

Screenplay by Philip MacDonald

*Based on the novel Circle of Danger or White Heather by Philip MacDonald

Cinematography by Oswald Morris, Gilbert Taylor

Coronado Productions Limited (UK)

Distributed by RKO (UK)

(1:26) New to me - Network DVD (UK)



Ray Milland plays Clay Davis, an American who takes his cut from a Tampa, Florida salvage operation, ignoring the possibility of future riches, and heads for England. Why? He’s looking for a man named Alec Smithers, whom he hopes can answer some questions about his brother Hank’s mysterious death. Hank volunteered to join a British commando unit during WWII and was the unit’s only casualty, despite the fact that the enemy was not attacking at the time of his death.




Clay carries a list of the two officers and ten enlisted troops who were with Hank at the time. Some - including Smithers - have since died, but as Clay locates the other men, they either have nothing to say or won’t give him a straight answer. Hank’s commanding officer Hamish McArran (Hugh Sinclair, above right) dodges or deflects most of Clay’s questions, but Clay thinks he might get through to Hamish through his girlfriend Elspeth (Patricia Roc, below left).



Clay is clearly out of his element in many ways, never quite knowing how to approach people, always getting his money denominations mixed up, and more, but he’s also a bit rude. Is that due to his being an American or because he’s frustrated running up against all these stone walls in trying to find the truth? Circle of Danger is a slow burn, but a compelling one. If Joan Harrison is one of your producers, you’re in good hands, but you’ve also got Jacques Tourneur directing and Oswald Morris with some nice noirish cinematography.



The film may move too slowly for some, but the last ten minutes are absolutely white-knuckle moments as Clay finally arrives at the truth about his brother, and perhaps himself. Although many consider it a minor work from Tourneur, Circle of Danger is well worth tracking down.


*Although many sources claim the film is based on a Philip MacDonald novel called either Circle of Danger or White Heather, I haven’t found any solid evidence for such claims.


Next time: Dennis O’Keefe doesn’t trust William Bendix. Would you?


Photos: DVD Beaver

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