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  • zebulonguy30 April 2007
    They Drive By Night is an amazing British classic. It has to be one of the most sombre British films of the thirties.It is also extremely interesting as as a timepiece

    The truck drivers and their local pit stops are all captured well in this slice of early British cinema. Shorty , played by Emlyn Williams in a superb performance is released from prison and sets off to see his girlfriend, he discovers her dead body in an amazingly powerful sequence. Terrified he will get the blame he goes on the run hitching a ride from a sympathetic truck driver.On the way he encounters an assortment of various characters , all diverse and entertaining. This film is wonderfully acted by all the cast. If you don't blink you will see William Hartnell who played TV's very first Dr. Who as a bus conductor.

    Much later as the tone of the film completely changes from gripping thriller to downright terror he meets Ernest Thesiger who in a remarkable performance completely dominates the last 25 minutes of the film as a very eccentric chap indeed.It is a tragedy that the director Arthur B. Woods died so young, he displayed a unique talent. If you can search this film out you will be highly rewarded with a film that you will never forget.
  • This is a somewhat "lost" film from England in the late thirties. It definitely does have Hitchcokian overtones as a young con just released from prison goes to visit a girl he knew, only to find her dead, and himself accused of the crime. The bulk of the film follows this young man as he tries to hide from the police by traveling North on a lorry(truck). From there he meets a female of his acquaintance, convinces her of his innocence, and they both embark on a quest to find the real killer. The film has a nice, tight directorial style that creates lots of suspenseful moments. The script is also pretty good. The biggest key to the film's success is the acting. Emlyn Williams does a good job in the lead, but acting honors easily go to Ernest Thesiger playing a highbrow, effeminate, erudite former teacher and student of psychology with a deadly secret. Thesiger's character acting is a joy to behold as he talks about the power of killing in one moment and then in another talks to pussycats in a baby voice. He is so wonderful with these kinds of quirky characterizations(a must-see in The Bride of Frankenstein). A good, old-fashioned suspense story.
  • "They Drive By Night" is difficult to find (as are many pre World War II British titles) but well worth the effort. What starts out as a standard crime drama takes a startling turn into horror in the final reel.

    Ernest Thesiger (best known as Dr.Pretorius in 1935's "Bride of Frankenstein") adds the most interesting element to the film and to share any more would ruin the fun.

    Emlyn Williams as ex-con Shorty Matthews carries the film. Pity this poor fellow...he has the worst luck in the world. Upon release from prison, his intention is to return to the arms of his girlfriend. Unfortunately, someone has murdered her that very day. Naturally, police think he is the killer.

    Shorty takes to the road, hitchhiking rides with truck drivers, hoping to stay free long enough for the police to find the real killer. One of the uncredited stars of this film has to be rain! The constant pouring rain accentuates Shorty's troubles as he tries to clear his name and (excuse the pun) adds buckets of atmosphere to the movie.

    Don't confuse the British "They Drive by Night" with the later US version starring Humphrey Bogart. The only thing they have in common is the presence of truck drivers.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The 1938 British noir suspenser 'They Drive by Night' is one of the best films I've ever seen. First, let's address that title: is this movie related to the same-named 1940 Humphrey Bogart movie? Yes, but very distantly. The 1938 'They Drive by Night' was produced by Warner Brothers' British unit, and offered for distribution Stateside. Jack L Warner declined to release this film in the States (he must have been insane!) ... but he was impressed by its title, and he ordered one of his American production units to make a film with that title. Of all the Hollywood studios, Warners were the most efficient at cannibalising their own material: the American 'They Drive by Night' is partially a warmed-over remake of the earlier Warners film 'Bordertown'. Both "Drive by Night"s depict the culture of long-distance lorry drivers ... but the British film captures that dark world much more believably.

    'They Drive by Night' (the British one) is occasionally compared to Hitchcock's 'Frenzy' (both films deal with a sex maniac who uses his necktie to strangle women, and both depict an innocent man caught in the middle), but 'They Drive by Night' more closely resembles the novel by Arthur La Bern on which 'Frenzy' was based. (Unlike Hitchcock's film, the source novel takes place shortly after World War Two.) Emlyn Williams gives a standout performance as Shorty, a petty criminal who has just been released from prison, and who goes straight away to look up an old girlfriend. When he gets to her walk-up bedsit, he discovers she's just been killed by a sex murderer ... and the circumstances of the murder make Shorty the logical suspect. In Hitchcockian fashion, he tries to stay one jump ahead of the police while seeking the real killer.

    SPOILER ALERT. The scene in which Shorty tries to waken his sleeping girlfriend ... only to discover that she's actually dead, and THEN to discover that she's been murdered ... is one of the most powerful sequences ever captured on film. As the horror of the situation sinks in, Shorty stands silently ... and far away, elsewhere in London, we hear a church clock chiming the hour. Pure brilliant, that is.

    That wizened old ham actor Ernest Thesiger gives one of his ripest performances in this film ... and it's giving nothing away to reveal that Thesiger plays the murderer. He makes his first appearance late in the film, but the first time we see him he's lovingly updating his scrapbook of newspaper cuttings concerning the Necktie Strangler. Later, confronted by some damp kittens, he fusses over them ridiculously. ('Oh, the little imps!') My only complaint against Thesiger's performance is that the character he plays in this film is so swishy and effeminate (just as Thesiger was, in real life), I couldn't believe that he had any sexual interest in women ... even as murder victims.

    'They Drive by Night' was directed by Arthur Woods, whose extremely promising career ended far too soon. (He was killed in action during the war.) I've no doubt that, if Woods had made films for only ten years more, he would be recognised as indisputably one of the very greatest film directors. I rate this fast-paced noir thriller 10 points out of 10 ... but it really ought to be rated an eleven!
  • As the Sydney nights draw in and winter approaches there are times I just want a good, solid movie to keep me entertained for 90 minutes. A story which ticks over, a touch of drama, actors who know their roles and the odd laugh is appreciated but not mandatory.

    There aren't many laughs in this movie but it ticks all the other boxes. Shorty is just out of prison and barely finishes his first cup of tea before he is up for murder. If he can remain at large maybe the real murderer will surface. Unfortunately his record marks him down as guilty until proved innocent. The only people who believe him are dancing girl Molly and the foppish Mr. Hoover who steals the last 20 minutes.

    You can glimpse into an older period where life was more simple, movies relied on plot over action and murderers hung from the gallows.

    Emlyn Williams as Shorty plays a good bad guy. The age of this movie makes him look as if he has been on the run for a few days. The limited use of Ernest Thesiger as Mr Hoover is well timed as the character would lose its impact if he was introduced earlier.

    Well worth a watch.
  • "They Drive By Night" (not to be confused with the Bogart) had a rare showing in a New York theater in 2009, as part of a series on British film noir. The only reason the theater screening matters is because of crowd reaction. And the reaction to this film, especially the final sequences, was absolutely joyous.

    The movie is at least 2/3rds over before one of the main characters appears, the former schoolmaster Walter Hoover, played by the unbelievably urbane, stick-figure-thin Ernest Thesiger. The camera starts on his hands, so you only see what he's doing-- pasting newspaper clippings about lurid murders into a scrapbook-- but when his face is finally revealed, the whole audience seemed to sit a bit straighter, and we stayed that way through the end, reacting with open delight to this character's every movement, his every phrase.

    I mean to take nothing away from the star of the film, Emlyn Williams (who wrote almost as many films as he starred in), but Ernest Thesiger was capable of turning a lousy movie into a watchable one, and a good movie into an unforgettable one. This is definitely the latter.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    They Drive By Night - 1938 UK

    Emyln Williams is a minor crook who is getting out of Prison after doing an 18 month bit. The warden gives him his, One Pound and 6 pay, and then Williams is shown the Prison gates. Outside, there is a large crowd. There is going to be a hanging in the Prison in just a few minutes. A man, Simon Lack, approaches Williams and asks if he knew the condemned. Williams shakes his head and asks Lack the same question. "He is my brother". Answers Lack. Just then the 9 0'clock bell starts to toll. The hanging is over.

    Williams now heads into London and back to his old stomping grounds. He stops at the café of a friend, Ronald Shiner. Williams asks if his girl, Alice, is still around. Shiner says, "yes, still at the same place". Shiner then ask Williams if he is going to stay clean or get mixed up with the same bunch? Williams just smiles and heads out.

    Williams buys a small bunch of flowers and heads for his girl Alice's flat. He sneaks in to surprise her. A surprise is in order, but it is Williams who gets the buzz. He finds the woman dead in her bed. Williams quickly wipes down any fingerprints he might have left, grabs the flowers and exits.

    He beats the feet down the stairs but has the bad luck to run into the landlady. One look at William's face is enough to tell her something is wrong. Williams flees the building and bolts down the street. The landlady has a quick look upstairs and starts screaming.

    Williams parks his rear in an all day cinema to hide and calm down. Should he go to the Police? He just got out of jail! They will never believe him he decides. He will wait here till dark. Then he will split town.

    Once it is dark, he exits the theatre and grabs a bus to the end of the line. He will then hike to a trucker's stop and hopefully catch a ride up north. He buys a paper which of course already has his name and description all over the front page.

    It is pouring rain when Williams hits the trucker stop. He asks around for a ride. Driver, Alan Jeayes, offers to take him up to Manchester if that will help. One of the other drivers Jack Vyvian, starts to look at the description in the paper, then at Williams. He comes over to Williams and Jeayes, Vyvian shows Jeayes the newspaper and points at Williams.

    And so starts this superb UK thriller. The film features plenty of twists and turns and some outstanding photography. Well worth watching if you can find it. (B/W)
  • Taut British noir. set mostly after dark and indoors, about an innocent man on the run for a crime he did not commit (Emlyn Williams), the girl who helps him (Anna Konstam with a blonde perm), not quite a tart but with a heart of gold, and a creepy serial killer (Ernest Thesiger).

    Interesting for its inversion of the usual values of 1930s British films, in which the lower classes tend to be either comic or villainous or both. Here the murderer has the accent, the education, the aesthetic taste and the comfortable house while virtually all the other characters share the camaraderie of the working class, which includes a disinclination to say too much to the police.

    A number of similarities with Hitchcock films of the period, in particular "Young And Innocent", which also has a falsely accused man and a girl who believes in him trying to find the real murderer in a transport café and a dance hall.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In some respects it resembles Hitchcock's "39 Steps." Recently released from prison, Emlyn Williams is mistakenly blamed for the murder of an old girl friend. Knowing he will be accused because of his record, he takes off from London to Manchester and back again. Along the way he meets diverse types of people, some suspicious, some affable. Half the pursuit takes place at night in an effectively conveyed torrent of wind and rain. Very atmospheric.

    Williams enlists the help of a dance hostess (what is a dance hostess?) whom he has known for years. Together they try to find out who the murderer might be. The young lady is Anna Konstam, a friend of the victim. They worked together at the Palais de Dance.

    It lacks the minor humorous touches that Hitchcock would have given it, the embedded short stories like the cheap farmer and his wife in "The 39 Steps." It's all suspenseful and grim.

    Enter the murderer, Ernest Thesiger, or, if you prefer, Doctor Septimus Praetorius from "The Bride of Frankenstein." Thesiger was quite a character. He was from an aristocratic family and mostly gay. There is a charcoal sketch of him as a young man by John Singer Sargent.

    He brings light to a dark movie. The guy looks like he's made of sticks and the shape of his skull is that of a football. He should leave his skeleton to the Royal Anthropological Society. Thesinger's performance can't accurately be called over the top. He reaches for the moon.

    An ex teacher of psychology, he insinuates his way effortlessly into the conundrum of the loving couple. His speech rings with eloquence. When he describes the reason for his involvement in the case, "Let us say it is because of my interest in the crepuscular recesses of the human mind." I love that phrase. I'm going to write it down and use it myself. What the hell, why not? Williams, the soi-disant ex-con and bum, speaks the ordinary middle-class dialect of southern England but with a fake underground touch to it. He said "ain't" and "who done it," but he says it in a way that doesn't suggest it comes naturally to him.

    It's an engaging flick, full of suspense and, after Thesinger's entrance, oddities. It's no masterpiece but it's an enjoyable diversion.
  • They Drive by Night is directed by Arthur Woods and collectively written by Paul Gangelin, Derek Twist and from his own novel; James Curtis. It stars Emlyn Williams, Ernest Thesiger and Anna Konstam. Music is by Bretton Byrd and cinematography by Basil Emmott.

    Just released from Pentonville Prison, Shorty Matthews (Williams) visits a lady friend and finds her murdered in her own bed. Pannicking and believing the police will have him marked for the crime, Shortie goes on the run in the hope that the real killer will be caught...

    It's still something of a lost British treasure is Arthur Woods' They Drive By Night, it's a film that has gained justifiable high regard by those who have managed to track it down for viewing. Essentially a innocent man on the run picture at its plot core, it's the surrounding meat on the bones that lift it to classic suspense noir status.

    The Thrill Of Evil.

    It's a picture of persistent rain that lashes the streets and highways, the wind an aural accomplice of some magnitude. A tale infused with grim snack bars, gambling dens, abandoned buildings or artisan abodes that are inhabited by either crafty cockney's, spivs, macho truckers or camp fetishist maniacs! And of course our protagonist is up against it from the off, wherever he turns he seems destined to be the victim of fate and circumstance.

    Sex In Relation To Society.

    As a portrait of pre Second World War British society it's gloomy and unrelentingly bleak, with Woods (sadly to die in the War) and Emmott achieving a stunning sense of time and place by way of dim lights and contrasts that ensures moody atmospherics go hand in hand with the machinations of the story. This can very much be seen as a forerunner (influence) to some of the great British noirs that followed a decade later.

    Studies In Murder.

    Some scenes get under the skin and stay there, while others surprisingly enchant the soul; such is their beauty. Lead cast performances are mightily strong, with Thesiger the star as he enters the tale late in the day and turns in a creepy show that startles in the way that calmness of evil is portrayed. While Thesiger's facial features are used to maximum potential by the astute director.

    Only real problem here is the musical score by Bretton Byrd. Too often the music is ill fittingly jolly, it immediately conjures up images (to those familiar with 1930s British comedy movies) of the films made by the great Will Hay. Sure enough on examination we find that Byrd did indeed provide the music for four Hay movies in the 30s, and it sadly shows in a film that doesn't deserve such jollification.

    Musical problem aside, this is a ripper of a movie, worthy of better exposure and definitely of major interest to anyone interested in the early steps of British film noir. 8.5/10
  • krishkmenon28 April 2011
    I saw this movie for the first time a few days ago and I was glued to my seat for the entire period by its pace and photography which though low-key is extremely moody and effective. The pace is electric but due to low budgeting as all British movies of the period dampens the viewing a little. What the film lacks in production value it makes up amply in its narrative

    Emlyn Williams captures all the emotions of a Wrong Man syndrome a la Hitchcock.

    The psychopathic Professor chills with his menacing looks. The only flaw is that the film starts with something to talk about the lorry drivers (which is incidentally the title) but strays away.

    Quite surely WB had this pictorial gem cleared from their lists to provide better promotional value to their film of the same name made in the US with George Raft.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    An interesting British entry to say the least dating from those dim dark days when William Hartnell was still 'Billy' but at least got a credit unlike Bernard Miles. Emlyn Williams is top-billed and co-star Anna Konstam appeared in only a handful of films including Waterloo Road before falling off the radar for some 30 years but the film is unbalanced in the last third by a tour de force from Ernest Thesiger in what is clearly a prototype Waldo Lydecker - there is even a facial resemblance especially in the mouth between Thesiger and Clifton Webb; both are aesthetes and both killers. This unbalance extends to the sets for whereas the three cafes that figure in the action are all utility Thesiger's apartment is well-appointed in the extreme. It's a fairly decent example of the innocent man caught at the scene of a crime, going on the run and taking up with a girl. Worth a look.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    My golly, what a fabulous movie - I always loved Emlyn Williams in whatever movie he made and even though he excelled as smarmy spivs I've never seen him in the same characterization twice. Here he is in a rare lovable larrikin role as "Shorty" Matthews, just released from prison but already fleeing for his life from a murder charge. His old girl friend Alice has been strangled and even though his whole demeanor cries out "I'm a good guy" none of his friends believe him (maybe they've seen too many of his movies)!! He plunges into the night world of long distance lorry driving, hoping to lose himself but a face from his past emerges with Molly, a dance hall friend of Alice's, who is trying to hitch hike back to London but is mistaken for a "lorry girl" - women who ride with the lorry drivers in exchange for favours!!

    There's some fabulous cinematography - when Shorty comes across her, she is fighting off a man in the middle of the road, lights blazing on their rain drenched silhouettes. Later on, Shorty evades capture and there is a labyrinth of cross cutting, jumps, darts, again against a rain soaked background. He eventually returns to London and with Molly's help find a boarded up abandoned house - but they have been followed!!

    Enter Ernest Thesiger - scene stealer extraordinare!! He plays Hoover and there's something very odd about him. He keeps a scrapbook about the dance hall murder which he hides behind his books on "Sex and Philosophy", not to mention his "Paris After Dark" magazines. He is a frequenter of dance halls and is pretty disgusted that "Shorty" has captured all the attention for the murder, he feels the murderer was far more intellectual and organized than just a petty criminal. Once Thesiger enters he is absolutely rivetting.

    Teddington Studios had an interesting history - built in the 1910s, only one film had been released before Warners bought it in 1931 to turn out quota quickies finishing with "The Dark Tower" in 1943.

    Very Recommended!!
  • mlink-36-98153 July 2018
    What i like about THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT is the authentic british dialogue.

    it wasnt rewritten to make it comprehensible to american audiences. thats its charm.
  • Nice crime thriller that almost seems like a lost Hitchcock film. Moody lighting contributes to the noirish atmoshpere. Ernest Thesiger turns in one of his creepiest performances.
  • This 1938 film was released in the US by Warner Brothers and I assume it was made by their British division originally (due to British laws, several of the big US studios had British divisions making films as well). Regardless, it has nothing much to do with the more famous 1940 film by Warner.

    The film finds Shorty Matthews (Emlyn Williams) getting out of prison at the same time an inmate is being executed. This is significant because Short is rather ambivalent towards the man's plight--and soon he'll be in a similar position. This occurs when Shorty goes to visit an old girlfriend and he finds her dead. Instead of handling it like a guy with a brain, he runs--and ends up making everyone think he's the killer. Instead of going to the police, this guy spends the rest of the movie avoiding the police dragnet and trying to figure out who is the real killer.

    The film has a few minor flaws. I guess I could accept that Shorty was stupid but perhaps not too unusual for avoiding the police. However, the ending, while really cool to watch, really didn't make a lot of sense. But, the film has a lot of tension and some nice performances. Overall, the good far outweighs the bad and the film is worth your time.