The film is known as ROUGH SHOOT in the UK, and indeed, Col. Taine (McCrea) has a rough time of it when he tries to run a possible poacher off the shooting grounds of his rental property by firing some buckshot in the man's direction. The man keels over, dead as a doornail, and the horrified colonel thinks he's somehow killed him, not realizing that the man was actually shot by the mysterious villain Hiart (Marius Goring) with a long-range rifle.
The colonel decides to hide the body, which confuses Hiart and his confederates when they try to retrieve it later that night! In short order Taine finds himself working with Randall (Roland Culver), a "cloak and dagger" man from M15, and Randall's associate, Sandorski (Herbert Lom), as they attempt to unravel Hiart's nefarious dealings; atomic weaponry may be involved.
Taine's wife, Cecily (Evelyn Keyes), is quite confused by the mysterious comings and goings but when her husband confesses all to her, she doesn't hesitate to jump right into the action and help out.
The first half of the film is a bit slow-moving, with the good colonel spending an inordinate amount of time crawling around in the brush on his "shoot." It also seemed a bit of a stretch for a man of the colonel's responsibilities and intelligence to hide the body; certainly, he was fearful of being charged with manslaughter, but it just didn't seem a Joel McCrea like thing to do! Hiding the body is a plot device that exists to serve the needs of the story, but it may be the film's weak angle from the perspective of logic.
The appearance of Lom as the colorful Sandorski enlivens matters considerably; he provides the film with much of its energy. Lom is a lot of fun as a man whose behavior and choice of residence causes the audience to question his sanity or trusthworthiness; I'd enjoy rewatching the film having a better understanding of his character from the outset. Roland Culver is also good as the calm "M" type in charge of the operation.
The pace picks up in the second half of the movie, with a somewhat Hitchcockian climax at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum building to a truly shocking conclusion as the authorities move in on Hiart.
SHOOT FIRST has something of the feel of a couple other early '50s suspense films made in Britain, Robert Montgomery's EYE WITNESS (1950) and Ray Milland's CIRCLE OF DANGER (1951). The SHOOT FIRST screenplay, in fact, is by novelist-screenwriter Eric Ambler -- who later married Joan Harrison, the producer of both EYE WITNESS and CIRCLE OF DANGER. The villain of SHOOT FIRST, Marius Goring, costarred in CIRCLE OF DANGER.
The movie was directed by Robert Parrish (CRY DANGER) and runs 88 minutes. The supporting cast includes Megs Jenkins, Jack McNaughton, and Frank Lawton. Ambler's script was based on a novel by Geoffrey Household.
A couple minor things made me curious: Randall pronounces "privacy" in the American way, with a long "i"; and I was wondering about the "Exit" sign in the wax museum. One tends to see "Way Out" used in London, and I wondered if the use of "Exit" was accurate or an Americanism slipped into the set design.
SHOOT FIRST was shown on Turner Classic Movies earlier this year. It has not been released on DVD or VHS.