In a career that spanned more than 50 years as first a writer then director, Val Guest helmed 65 films, many of which have become accepted as quintessentially British. Although he started in comedy, Guest was never trapped in one single genre – his output included thrillers, musicals, science fiction and horror. Here, in 80,000 Suspects, he turns his talents to a medical thriller that combines a documentary-style analysis of public health with the romantic story of a man attempting to salvage a failing marriage.
In Bath, an epidemic of small pox has broken out. Steven Monks (Richard Johnson) is the doctor committed to finding the carriers of the plague, assisted by his wife and nurse Julie (Claire Bloom). However, while he and the authorities race to identify the citizens of Bath who are at risk from the disease, Monks is also trying to patch up his quickly deteriorating marriage. The problems have come from his affair with Ruth Preston (Yolanda Donlan, Val Guest’s wife), the hard-drinking and promiscuous wife of one of his colleagues. However, one of their biggest breaks occurs when the disease strikes closer to home than any of them had anticipated…
In addition to the principal actors, Guest’s use of of Bath in a wintry, modern-day setting also reinforced the idea of a small pox outbreak being something that could really happen in Britain. Variety said: “Richard Johnson provides a brooding sagacious study as the hero who is battling to both do his job and also retain the matrimonial interest of his understanding wife, played with sensitivity by an unusually warm Claire Bloom. Yolanda Donlan gives verve to the role of the promiscuous wife… she makes considerable impact.”
UK / 1963
Director: Val Guest
Writer: Val Guest from the novel by Elleston Trevor
Cast: Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Cyril Cusack, Michael Goodliffe, Yolanda Donlan, Mervyn Johns