New Year’s Eve will never be the same again after a smallpox epidemic erupts in the city of Bath, cutting a deadly swathe through its terrified inhabitants. Dr Steven Monk (Richard Johnson) is the first to diagnose the illness and finds himself pitched into the centre of the crisis, fighting to prevent the virus’s spread while harbouring a guilty secret primed to ruin his already strained marriage and then his wife Julie (Claire Bloom) falls victim to the disease and Monk embarks on a desperate mission to locate the last carrier of the virus, not knowing if Julie will live or die, not realising that the last carrier is somebody he knows very well.

80,000 Suspects was made in 1963, the same year that Richard Johnson and Claire Bloom also shared the big screen in a very different and far better known film called The Haunting. It is testament to their consummate and rather underrated acting abilities (especially in Johnson’s case) that The Haunting never comes to mind while watching 80,000 Suspects: Richard Johnson, who played The Haunting’s charming parapsychologist Dr Markway, is far less sympathetic in his role as Steven Monk, a doctor who long ago lost connection with his own emotions. With his chiselled jaw and icy composure it is easy to see why Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had championed him to play James Bond a year or so earlier, and with Spectre on the horizon it’s interesting to wonder what would have become of the Bond franchise had he accepted the role. Claire Bloom, on the other hand, plays a far softer character than Theodora, her The Haunting persona. She is, in many respects, the heart of 80,000 Suspects, even though the screenplay really doesn’t do her character any justice.

In fact, 80,000 Suspects’ screenplay – written by director Val Guest and based on Elleston Trevor’s 1957 novel The Pillars of Midnight – is really the film’s only problem. The script moves well and Monk’s fight-against-time to control the disease still holds a significant degree of tension even for a jaded modern audience used to seeing similar stories told in more recent bigger-budget movies like Outbreak (1995) and Contagion (2011), but there is also a barely disguised streak of misogyny and heavy-handed moralising in the screenplay that dates the film terribly – Bloom’s Julie Monk not only refuses to see her husband’s faults, she chooses to ignore his suspected infidelity with a close friend and even berates herself for what a boring stick-in-the-mud housewife she must be, and while we’re on the subject of Steven’s infidelity the close friend he slept with – Ruth Preston (Yolande Dolan, aka Mrs Val Guest) – is eventually revealed to be implicated in the spread of the virus, no doubt drawing an unspoken but very clumsy link between the smallpox epidemic and Ruth’s catalogue of extra-marital affairs, obviously suggesting that all immoral good-time girls get their comeuppance in the end. Or maybe I’m just over-thinking it.

Still, setting aside its dated 1960s attitudes, 80,000 Suspects remains an incredibly entertaining melodrama that deserves to be seen and it looks fabulous in Network’s new blu-ray release (also available on DVD). It’s a fine presentation and a worthy edition to Network’s ‘The British Film’ collection, and I for one am delighted to see this sadly neglected little gem of a movie finally dusted off and receiving the treatment it truly deserves.

Highly recommended.


Blu-Ray Review: 80,000 Suspects
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About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at