Thorold Dickinson (director)
Network on Air (studio)
15 February 2021 (released)
15 February 2021
Tensions run high in this Colonial drama of honor and betrayal set between the wars starring Lionel Atwill, James Mason and Lucie Mannheim in the leads. The 1937 film is an adaptation of Lewis Robinson’s novel ‘The General Goes Too Far’ and is ultimately something of a whodunit.
The action first takes place in Ireland during the early 1920's and fifteen years later in West Africa. But first back to Ireland where Major General John Sangye (Lionel Atwill), an officer decorated for bravery, shoots a fellow officer and allows the Irish rebels to take the blame… The murdered man, Major Challoner (Phillip Strange), had obtained a letter from his wife addressed to Sangye in which she admits that 'their' daughter is in fact his child. Major Challoner had got wind of Sangye's earlier relations with her and feared he might do something rash. This business was before Challoner was actually married to her so Sangye isn't exactly a cad and Challoner had also told her that Sangye had been killed. Despite Sangye’s attempts to explain this, Challoner was having none of it and pulled a gun, prompting Sangye to shoot at close range in self-defense.
During the ensuing investigation Major Carson (Leslie Perrins) notices that the bullet wound of the victim has powder residue around it and thus concludes that the man was shot at close range - it could not have been an Irish bullet. He then finds the incriminating letter addressed to Sangye but low and behold it is in Challoner's pocket. It doesn't take him long to put two and two together. Carson then removes the bullet which has been fired from a very rare pistol and notices that Sangye is the only officer who has such a pistol…
The story continues fifteen years later and both Carson and Sangye (now grey at the temples) have been posted to West Africa. As it so happens, Diana Cloam (Lucie Mannheim) – the wife of wealthy and highly successful entrepreneur Martin Cloam (Hungarian actor Steven Geray) - finds herself on the same ship as Major Carson. Later on, Carson becomes over friendly with Sangye's daughter Belinda (Kathleen Gibson), now a grown-up and beautiful young woman who later enjoys a budding romance with young officer Captain Heverell (James Mason). To add to the confusion, Sangye is bringing Belinda up as his stepdaughter but she still thinks Challoner was her real father. Sangye warns Carson off and after a 15 -year lull the latter is finally able to use an appropriate little bit of blackmail. Sangye asks to talk to him in his quarters that night. When a gunshot is heard Sangye is apparently the first on the scene. However it is not he who is put on trial for the murder but Captain Heverell though surely things are not that simple…for one, Carson is related to Heverell who stands to benefit from his death… So we have all the right ingredients here.
This is rather slow in places though the film is not without wit and there are some clever touches (watch Philip Hoare's introduction first). Croydon-born Atwill had made it pretty big in the USA and must have seen something here to return home - it couldn't have been a mega pay out. Top German actress Lucie Mannheim sports some pretty awful outfits and apart from being married to another ‘slimy foreigner’ businessman she embarks on numerous affairs including the blackmailing swine Carson. She's also pretty friendly with Heverell and Sangye to boot.
This was director Thorold Dickinson's first film (perhaps he is best known for the 1940 psychological thriller 'Gaslight' and the 1949 fantasy horror 'Queen of Spades'), with the distinguished Otto Heller as the cinematographer. The High Command did not receive glowing reviews at the time of it's release but we have to bear in mind that the English film industry was in it's teething days; there were no mega film studios in the UK then and – technically speaking - the country was miles behind the Hollywood Goliath. The revered novelist and sometime film critic Graham Greene however spoke up in its defense. We must also take into consideration its meager budget (£20 grand).
THE HIGH COMMAND is presented as a HD re-master and available as Blu-ray and DVD.