One of the first directorial efforts of Sidney Hayers, a former editor for the Rank Organisation (A Night To Remember), The White Trap is a very well-crafted film which combines thrills and genuine emotional involvement in equal measure. Cheaply made by Independent Artists and running just under an hour, the screenplay (by Peter Barnes, playwright of Peter O'Toole's The Ruling Class) delivers well-drawn characters and credible situations.
Unusually for a typical second feature, the film begins with a pre-title sequence. The peace of a country lake is disturbed as a man swims across, hauls himself on to the bank, and begins running through the woods. His path is blocked by uniformed men with dogs. Another path leads to more men and dogs. The man continues to run even though his pursuers are closing in and escape is obviously impossible. The credits run as he is captured and led away.
When the film opens we learn the man is Paul Langley (Lee Patterson), imprisoned for smuggling. Langley not only maintains he is innocent, he has a wife who is due to give birth. He has made three escape attempts in as many months in an effort to be with her. Despite this he is respected by the prison governor as a war hero who escaped from German prison camps. Because of this, and Joan Langley's (Felicity Young) pregnancy he allows the couple to meet. Joan is terrified because her own mother died in childbirth, and Paul feels helpless, stuck behind bars for a crime he didn't commit. At the end of the meeting Joan collapses and is taken to hospital.
This doubles Paul's determination to escape, which he does as he is being transferred to another prison. Making his way to his own flat, he changes out of his prison uniform and calls an old army pal (Harold Siddons) to help him out. Meanwhile Inspector Walters (Michael Goodliffe) and Sergeant Morrison (Conrad Phillips) are assigned to Langley's recapture. A wise old hand with a knowledge of human nature, Walters is sure Langley will make his way to the hospital – the 'white trap' - at all costs to be with his wife.
We see more of Paul's resourcefulness as he gets past the police at the hospital disguised in bandages as an accident case. His wife's condition is worsening and she has to be taken for an operation to deliver the baby. Now inside the hospital Paul has to locate his wife and avoid police patrolling the corridors. He succeeds in gaining the sympathy of a nurse, Ann Fisher (Yvette Wyatt) who, as the police finally track him down, leads him to his wife's room. She has given birth to a boy, but the couple have only a minute to be together when Joan dies in Paul's arms.
Paul is now simply determined to get out of the hospital, then the country with the help of his army pal, but this is impossible. A very violent fight breaks out as he struggles with the police before being overwhelmed. Ann can only watch as he is led away in handcuffs, and his army pal leaves the hospital unobtrusively but obviously feeling great emotion. Walters, who expected great satisfaction from capturing Langley admits instead to just feeling 'lousy'.
The downbeat ending gives some indication of why The White Trap is a step above usual B-move fodder. The convict escaping to prove his innocence is a stock figure, but Langley's determination to escape also has a personal motive which gives his character more depth and engages our sympathy. We admire his resourcefulness and cunning in planning and executing his escapes, and the way he attracts respect and loyalty from others.
On the police side we have a humane and compassionate Inspector combined with a more ruthless Sergeant who lacks insight and understanding. He does not, for instance, understand why Langley comes to the hospital to be near his wife: “Why didn't he just leave her and get away? I would have done.” “Yes, you would,” snaps Walters. In a few minutes of screen time we learn about their different approaches to policing and their resulting antagonism for each other.
Finally there are the unanswered questions the viewer can only mull over at the end of the film. Will Langley succeed in proving his innocence? What does the future hold for his baby son? Reunion with his father, or a series of foster homes and adoption, never knowing his real origins?
Sidney Hayers' direction is crisp and unfussy but has several touches which show a sure grasp of what makes for suspense – the close-up of the indicator panel showing the slow progress of a lift coming to take Paul to his wife as the police close in is a good example. By this point we are desperately willing him to succeed and give us a happy ending.
Another point worth noting is the very evocative music score by Franz Reizenstein, conducted by Muir Mathieson. Reizenstein had been a pupil of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (Scott of the Antarctic) and the quality of his score and orchestration also set The White Trap apart as a better than average second feature.
This is one of the treasures which make trawling through hours of routine hack work worthwhile.