Clay Douglas (Milland) has reason to believe that his brother, who volunteered to serve in the British Army, was killed by one of his fellow soldiers, rather than the Germans. He travels to England on a quest for the truth, but clues are hard to come by, with most of his brother's old unit killed in action. Only a few men remain who might be able to help Clay discover the truth, including Hamish McArran (Hugh Sinclair), Sholto Lewis (Marius Goring), and Reggie Sinclair (Naunton Wayne).
Along the way, Clay also manages to romance lovely Elspeth (Patricia Roc), the author of children's books.
I found the film's tone and style quite reminiscent of Robert Montgomery's very enjoyable EYE WITNESS (1950), another quiet little mystery filmed in England. Perhaps I should not have been surprised to discover that two of the producers of CIRCLE OF DANGER, David E. Rose and Joan Harrison, also produced EYE WITNESS, under the banner of Coronado Productions. Harrison was a longtime Hitchcock associate who also teamed with Montgomery on a few films.
Although for the most part the film is very British and low-key, the last ten minutes or so have moments of Hitchcockian brilliance involving a whistled tune and a confrontation on a windswept moor.
Having now seen Milland in both CIRCLE OF DANGER and Lang's MINISTRY OF FEAR (1944), I wish all the more that he had made films for Hitchcock in addition to playing the villain in DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954). Milland makes a great Hitchcock-style hero, sort of a cross between Joel McCrea or Jimmy Stewart's "everyman" and Cary Grant's debonair style.
Milland's courtship of Patricia Roc was charming. It's fun to watch him slyly put the moves on her and her flustered response. I'm a Roc fan, although I do have to mention that one of my few complaints about the film was the running issue of Clay being constantly late to meet Elspeth due to being distracted by his detective work. It seemed as though it was mostly being used to artificially prolong a happy conclusion to their romance.
The men Clay deals with are very diverse characters. Naunton Wayne, who was half of the team of Charters and Caldicott in Hitchcock's THE LADY VANISHES (1938) and Reed's NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940), plays a slimy used car salesman who conditions passing information to Clay on the sale of a car! Hugh Sinclair plays a stoic British "officer and gentleman" who also happens to be competing with Clay for the lovely Elspeth, and Marius Goring has the flashiest role of all, as a commando turned flamboyant ballet choreographer. His scenes liven up the film, and he helps provide a very interesting conclusion.
I do have one other quibble, that the opening scene showing how Milland obtains the money to fund his mission was unnecessary and even a bit confusing, as far as the fact it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. I think it should have been ditched in favor of a different opening more in keeping with the rest of the film.
Jacques Tourneur had previously directed Patricia Roc in the very good frontier film CANYON PASSAGE (1946), which also starred Dana Andrews and Susan Hayward. It appears as though CANYON PASSAGE may have been Roc's sole movie filmed in Hollywood. Roc films previously reviewed here include MILLIONS LIKE US (1943) and LOVE STORY (1944).
Jacques Tourneur worked in a variety of genres, including horror, film noir, Westerns, adventures, and homespun Americana. His films included CAT PEOPLE (1942), I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943), EXPERIMENT PERILOUS (1944), OUT OF THE PAST (1947), STARS IN MY CROWN (1950), and WICHITA (1955). No matter the genre, his work was always stylish and memorable, and CIRCLE OF DANGER proves no exception.
CIRCLE OF DANGER was based on the novel WHITE HEATHER by Philip MacDonald. It runs 86 minutes.
The original score was composed by Robert Farnon. A fun bit of movie trivia is that he was the uncle of Charmian Carr (THE SOUND OF MUSIC) and her sister Darleen (THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO).
This film is available on DVD from Sinister Cinema. It can also be rented from Amazon Instant Video.
April 2015 Update: I had the chance to see this film in a beautiful 35mm print at the Noir City Film Festival and liked it even more the second time around.