Short Ends and Leader

Revenge and Its Price: 'Cloudburst'

The good old days can be murder.


Cloudburst

Director: Francis Searle
Cast: Robert Preston, Elizabeth Sellars
Distributor: MGM Limited Edition
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1951
USDVD release date: 2011-4-18

A modestly suspenseful, modestly budgeted English film, Cloudburst begins by introducing us to John Graham (Robert Preston), a Canadian working for the Foreign Office as a cryptographer. He met his wife Carol (Elizabeth Sellars) when they worked in the Resistance against Nazis. Carol survived torture, but now (the film is set in 1946) she looks forward to having a baby. After a leisurely opening, something terrible happens that sends Graham on a mission of personal revenge to locate two felons, a man and a woman. He uses two of his old Resistance cronies, now retired into safe civilian life. As soon as Graham crosses a line into being a vigilante capable of torture and murder, the film jump-cuts its focus to a Scotland Yard Inspector (Colin Tapley) on the case.

It's interesting to compare this plot to a recent South Korean film, I Saw the Devil, in which a special agent uses his professional training to track down a psychopath independently of the police and subject him to a vicious, violent vengeance. Both films weigh the psychological cost of revenge against the ambiguity of the audience's sympathies, and both films offer the vicarious thrill of revenge while warning against those thrills.

The driven, noirish protagonist of Cloudburst (based on a play by Leo Marks) touches on a different issue that was later explored by David Hare in Plenty. People whose youth was spent in the danger and excitement and intense romance of the Resistance, which occurs in the context of subverting an unjust system, may find it hard to adjust to a middle-class life of civilian conformity. In other words, they miss the adrenalin and the wild sense of freedom. This warping effect on one's character may be one step away from post-traumatic stress. This idea is expressed in a scene where one of Graham's old friends awkwardly asks if he can come along on whatever mission is afoot. He doesn't care what it is, but it makes his blood run again to be involved in something besides his life as a mechanic and husband.

This film, presented here in a somewhat worn print, is part of the new made-on-demand DVD-Rs from MGM Limited Editions.

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