The film was made in separate silent and sound versions. While a mute negative of the sound version had been kept by the UK National Film Archive since 1981, it was thought that all sound elements were lost. However, a 35mm fine-grain nitrate print of the sound version was found in 2005 on Vashon Island, Washington, USA by the Alaska Moving Image Preservation Association and was preserved by the US Library of Congress. See more »
The year is 1950 and tension is growing between the empires of United Europe and the Atlantic States. A bloody border incident puts both sides on high alert. The Peace League, led by saintly Dr. Seymour, opposes what looks like an inevitable march to war. Seymour's daughter Evelyn supports her father but is in love with Michael Deane, commander of the Air Force for Europe. A group of terrorists with ties to munitions manufacturers wants a war and is playing both great powers off against each other. The terrorists sabotage the railway tunnel that runs beneath the English Channel and the Atlantic States are promptly blamed. The President of Europe orders immediate induction into the armed forces of all young men and women. When Deane tells Evelyn he intends to fight she calls him a moral coward and they break up.
The President calls his council together and finds they are evenly divided between war and peace. The President, a scowling Fascist, breaks the deadlock in favor of war and tells the council he will go on television at midnight to announce this to the world.
Worried about Dr. Seymour's influence, the terrorists bomb Peace League headquarters. Seymour survives and tells Evelyn to go the airfield and try to prevent the war planes from taking off. He tells her that he's going to appeal to the President directly. "I'm a man of peace but I go PREPARED!" he says rather ominously. Evelyn leads a demonstration at the airfield and has to confront Deane. Will Dr. Seymour be able to talk the President out of starting World War...ummm.. Two? And can true love surmount different political philosophies?
HIGH TREASON was conceived and filmed as a talkie but a silent version (the one reviewed here) was also made to accommodate those many theaters still not equipped for sound. BFI has both films but, ironically, the sound on the talkie has deteriorated so the film is now mute. As pacifist propaganda the film is unconvincing and has a resolution that-in addition to being very farfetched-would not likely be approved by Gandhi. While the play the movie is based on was no doubt sincere in its pacifism the movie seems to have less lofty goals. A debate between Deane and Dr. Seymour is inter-cut with Evelyn undressing, taking a shower, drying herself with a big blow dryer and getting dressed again. Later the camera ogles all the female draftees taking off their clothes and putting on uniforms.
And most of the sequences of blasts and bombings seem to end with shots of women victims lying about with their clothes in disarray. Still all this cheesecake does distract a bit from the stodgy direction which makes few adjustments to meeting the challenge of doing a sound film in a silent mode (Demonstrators keep breaking into the "Peace Song"; not too effective when there's no sound!) The only reason there's any interest at all in this curio is the science fiction/ futuristic elements but they're inconsistent, implemented on a obviously modest budget and usually very campy. We see one 1950's car (looks like a rocket ship on wheels) and people communicate by a television system instead of phone. In the unconvincing miniature work we see weird flying machines but in the close-ups all the airplanes are of World War I vintage. An Art Deco nightclub has no musicians but a big machine that simulates the music. The patrons do a very funny dance that involves staying absolutely still at one point and when things get slow the management sends out lady fencers to amuse the crowd. And in what may be a prediction of McDonald's hype the Peace League has a giant electronic scoreboard that totes up all the millions who are joining (Over 50 million not serving?).
Ladies' fashions are a real hoot with detachable sleeves for work and shower caps for evening wear. There are a few odd looking hand grenades but most of the artillery consists of old fashioned hand guns. Basil Gill and Benita Hume are adequate as the lovers (I suspect their performances might work better in the talkie). Humberston Wright is stiff enough be posing for a plaster statue while Basil Gill appears to be doing a bad Mussolini impression as the President. If you look quickly you can spot Raymond Massey-maybe gearing up for THINGS TO COME-as a peacenik and Rene Ray- thirties urchin and fifties sci fi writer-as a draftee who says "War is a terrible thing" when she sees the ugly uniform she was to wear.
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