Counterblast (1948)

Counterblast_(1948)‘I think I’d better make it quite clear that I’m not in the habit of pulling peoples’ legs, particularly the legs of my assistants. It’s apt to lead to misunderstandings.’

After the Second World War, a top Nazi scientist escapes from prison in Great Britain. On the run, he contacts the remains of Hitler’s underground spy network. Instead of arranging his escape to South America, they assign him to take the place of a top research bacteriologist at a secret British government laboratory.

Unusual, but dreary British post-war thriller that steps into Science Fiction territory via Herr Professor’s work in germ warfare. A no name cast go through the expected intrigues, romance and spy shenanigans while a clumsy musical soundtrack sledgehammers plot points home for those who may have intermittently dozed off.

Truth be told renegade Nazi brainbox Mervyn Johns is an incredibly rubbish secret agent. Rather than laying low and fitting in with his fellow scientists, his behaviour is stand-offish, dictatorial and sometimes just plain weird. He lets his fanaticism show through so often that It’s a miracle he isn’t rumbled in the first five minutes, but it’s only his elderly landlady that suspects that something is wrong. However, when he starts putting the moves on pretty lab assistant Nova Pilbeam (told you he was a rubbish spy!), hunky colleague Robert Beatty starts to ‘get the lug’ and investigate.


‘I think you love that microscope more than me.’

Although the setup initially shows some promise with Johns bouncing from one contact to another in the Nazi underground, by the time he arrives at the lab the film has settled into a dull succession of talky sequences. We’re only too aware of his identity, so the only suspense revolves around what he’s up to, and if he’s going to get caught. His activities mainly involve playing around with test tubes (he does cure the common cold!), but obviously he has a far more sinister agenda.

We’re fairly sure how things will eventually come out, of course, which results in absolutely zero tension. But what really sinks this enterprise is the hopelessly contrived and drippy romantic sub-plot. The love triangle is scarcely credible, and brings the story to a shuddering halt. Of course, the suspicion here is that it’s just there to pad the running time to its near 98 minutes (count ‘em!) and nothing occurs in the later stages of the film to dispel that notion.

Performances are professional, if uninspired, a description that could just as easily be applied to the entire project. The presence of stage actor Archie Duncan briefly brings a touch of life to the proceedings, but his skills were better utilised in the Ronald Howard ‘Sherlock Holmes’ TV series, where he featured regularly as Inspector Lestrade, and played other roles, including a woman! The film ends with Herr Professor on the run with a test tube of lethal plague, but director Paul M Stein can evoke little tension in the outcome when the build-up has been so underwhelming. The climax is unusual, but not very dramatic and the film slips away into the graveyard of forgotten quasi-Science Fiction with barely a whimper.

Distributor Herbert Bregstein changed the title of the film to ‘Devil’s Plot‘ when he sold it to American theatres in 1953. It wasn’t only a better title, it also helped to hide that the film had already been sold to television under its original name!

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