Espionage – To The Very End

to the very end

The scene is a Paris cafe.  Paul (James Fox), Jacques (David Buck) and Nicole (Heather Fleming) are three young people who react with scorn and disfavour at the news that France now has atomic capability.  Their vocal disapproval catches the attention of two soldiers and, after a few choice insults are exchanged, a fight ensues.

The three friends manage to make their escape, aided by a young American called Bob (Michael Anderson Jr).  Bob quickly becomes friendly with them and they decide – spurred on by the intense Paul – to try and reason with France’s top nuclear scientist, Professor P.J. Moreau (Clifford Evans).  But Paul has a hidden agenda of his own ….

From the outset it’s plain that Paul is the driving force.  The others, especially the affable Bob, are simply caught in his orbit.  Bob reacts with unease when Paul abducts Moreau from his flat at gunpoint, although Nicole seems quite calm about it.  She tells Bob that whilst she didn’t know Paul had a gun, nothing he does surprises her.  Yet this may not be the strict truth as she later backtracks a little.

Moreau is taken to a deserted house where’s he forced to watch a film documenting the human suffering inflicated by the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.  This footage, albiet brief, lingers in the memory, although it doesn’t seem to have the desired effect on Moreau.  Possibly Paul was expecting the Professor to be repulsed, but he calmly tells them that “I spent two months in Hiroshima and believe me these pictures only give a second-hand idea of the effects of gamma radiation on the human body.” He begins to explain about the devastating effects of the blast, but is cut short by Paul, no doubt irritated that he’s no longer in control.

Moreau is summed up by Bob as having a mind like a steel trap.  The American sees no point in hanging onto him since his views (France must have the bomb, since others have it) appears to be inflexible.   But Paul, who was his star pupil, professes to know him better.  “He’s full of specious arguments and he doesn’t believe any of them.”

Whilst the British actors playing Chinese characters in The Dragon Slayer seemed to be careful to speak in their own normal tones, there’s no such rule in place in this episode as ripe French accents are the order of the day.  James Fox, under his real name William Fox, had been a child star in the early 1950’s, and his role here was a fairly early one in his adult career.  Paul is a simmering mass of resentment from the off and – as various revelations are made – he becomes more and more frayed around the edges.   It’s a fairly unsubtle turn, but Fox is still very watchable.

Perhaps wisely, Clifford Evans doesn’t attempt a French accent.  Probably best known for playing the wily Caswell Bligh in The Power Game, Evans is characteristically solid as Moreau (even if he’s a very Welsh sounding Frenchman!)

The, forgive the pun, power game between Paul and Moreau is at the centre of the story.  Paul blames Moreau for the fact that his father (also a scientist) died in disgrace, but Moreau is adamant that Paul’s father was a Nazi colloborator.  Paul reacts angrily to this and presses on with his plan to force Moreau to resign.

Essentially a five-hander, To The Very End is a claustrophobic tale.  There’s space for a debate on the rights and wrongs of atomic weapons, but the suspicion that Paul is simply out for revenge also means there’s a conventional crime-story feel.  It’s fair to say that it does lack a little suspense or tension – as the kidnappers (even Paul) seem misguided rather than fanatical and Moreau, puffing away contentedly on his cigarettes, doesn’t spend a great deal being treated as a prisoner.

But is there a twist in the tale? Their plans come to naught, so Paul decides to kill Moreau.  The final scene between Fox and Evans is played at an intense pitch (cross-cutting between close-ups of the two actors).   The resolution probably won’t come as a surprise, but it feels like the right decision. A fairly low-key entry then, but Fox and Evans do their best to raise the stakes.

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