Summer of Forgotten Horror – Week 8: They Drive by Night (1938)
Cast: Emlyn Matthews as Shorty Matthews (The Man Who Knew Too Much)
Anna Konstam as Molly O’Neill
Ernest Thesiger as Walter Hoover
Allan Jeayes as Wally Mason
Based on the novel by James Curtis
Screenplay by James Curtis, Paul Gangelin (The Mad Ghoul) & Derek N. Twist
Directed by Arthur B. Woods (Haunted Honeymoon)
Plot: Shorty Matthews has just been released from jail as another convict is being executed. He is a typical wise guy with no plans to go straight. Upon visiting a former girlfriend, he finds that she has been strangled and, fearing he will go back to jail, he decides to run. The police are soon on his trail as he encounters truck driver Wally and young Molly, a woman who could help him leave his life of crime behind. But who is Mr. Walter Hoover and what role does he play in this murder mystery?
Personal Thoughts: Two years before Humphrey Bogart made the much more popular film-noir with George Raft, Warner Brothers and First National Productions made this joint effort which in itself has some film noir elements. Taking place almost entirely at night, They Drive by Night is actually a very well-done film that, admittedly, was rather paint-by-numbers until the arrival of Ernest Thesiger. When he finally makes his appearance toward the final third of the film, he seems to be playing a very proper gentleman until you see that he has a fascination with murder. The evil and quirky side he displayed in other films such as Bride of Frankenstein and The Old Dark House quickly comes into full view as Walter Hoover is not who he appears to be. At a point the film seemed to be floundering, he quickly brings it back and makes for some chilling scenes. Make your way through the first part of the film and you won’t regret staying for the end.
- Director Arthur B. Woods made 26 films and only four more after this. He was recognized as one of the youngest and most promising British film directors prior to World War II and was the only director to serve in the war. He was a pilot and volunteered to serve in the Royal Air Force. Tragically, he was killed in combat in 1944 at the age of 39.
- A young William Hartnell, the world’s first Doctor from Doctor Who, makes a brief appearance as a bus driver. He’s billed as Billy Hartnell and with a heavy accent, he’s virtually unrecognizable.
- This was Anna Konstam’s first starring role of an eventual nine film career.
- Never released commercially, this is another rare film you’ll have to search for. However, it is well worth adding to your collection. Luckily, you can also watch it on YouTube.