80,000 SUSPECTS. J. Arthur Rank, UK, 1963. Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom, Yolande Dolan, Cyril Cussack, Michael Goodliffe, Mervyn Johns. Based on the novel The Pillars of Midnight by Elleston Trevor. Written and directed by Val Guest.

   A tense medical disaster movie with soap opera undertones, 80,000 Suspects, based on the novel The Pillars of Midnight by Elleston Trevor (Flight of the Phoenix, The Quiller Memorandum as Adam Hall …) takes place in the vacation spot of Bath in England starting on a bitter cold and snowy New Year’s Eve as Dr. Stephen Monks (Richard Johnson) and his wife Julia (Claire Bloom) are about to find their lives upended by lies, deceit, and an outbreak of a deadly disease.

   After a New Year’s party from Hell ends up with Ruth (Yolande Donlan), the drunken wife of Dr. Monks’ colleague Dr. Clifford Preston (Michael Goodliffe), confessing to Julia she had an affair with Stephen, he is called into the hospital on the eve of their European vacation to see a patient who proves to have smallpox.

   As the city tries to muster forces to prevent an outbreak and trace the path of the original victim, tensions rise with overtaxed forces, raw nerves, and guilty secrets all overshadowed by the specter of the disease.

   At times it is all a shade overdone, but in general. there are top notch performances all around from leads Johnson (who manages to be both heroic, flustered, guilty, and annoyed all at once) and Bloom (who pulls off hurt, betrayed, frightened, and obviously in love at the same time), but also Cyril Cussack as Father McGuire, a canny priest with an eye for sin, Goodliffe as the too good Dr. Preston who knows all too well what his wandering wife is and who she has wandered with, and Mervyn Johns as Buckridge, the overtaxed policeman in charge, contribute to a suspenseful adult film that holds the interest and builds quite a bit of understated suspense.

   Along the way, Monks will see his love for his wife tested and deal with lingering feelings for the woman he had an affair with, Julia will face death from the deadly disease and betrayal by the man she loves, and a twist will put the whole city at risk when it seems everything is finally under control. The soap opera is never allowed to crowd out the other elements, but instead used as counterpoint to the immensity of the problem at hand.

   It is common for viewers to complain about soap opera elements in this sort of film, but they are there to remind you that life goes on even in a crisis, and that the people responsible for handling such things are under pressures of their own at the same time.

   The Bath locations are well used, as is the winter landscape (apparently 1963 was one of the worst winters on record and it shows). The drama is understated and well handled by a solid cast of familiar British actors and actresses with more familiar faces than names.

   A few minor quibbles, smallpox vaccinations are given for life, boosters only given if you have gone years without them, and the disease is kept confined to Bath awfully easily, even though one key character travels to London with no one seeming to be concerned, but those are minor things.

   All in all, this is an attractive little film with a good cast and an intelligent script well written and directed by veteran Val Guest. It doesn’t hurt that it is based on a novel by Elleston Trevor (Trevor Dudley Smith), who was a fine suspense and adventure novelist as Trevor long before he created Quiller under his Adam Hall pseudonym.