Archive T


The Tunnel (1935)

In 1950, governments unite to build a transatlantic tunnel, but as with any other major engineering project, there are tough times ahead.

In the early days of the Talkies there was a craze for multi-lingual production. Parallel films were made using the same script and sets, but different casts for the different language versions. The Tunnel is sometimes lumped in with those films, but it is actually a swift remake of the 1933 German/French Der Tunnel. 

Some sources say it shares a lot of footage with its predecessors, but even discounting the model work this is an expensive production. American stars such as Richard Dix and Helen Vinson were imported, and as a title says "Gaumont British Pictures Corpn. Ltd. were fortunate in securing the services of Mr George Arliss and Mr Walter Huston for the parts of Prime Minister of Great Britain and President of the United States".

When it's not doing the tunnelling stuff, the film concentrates on the disintegrating marriage of Chief Engineer Dix, and various stock broking deals. Neither of these plot strands are interesting, but the former does at least have a certain kitsch 30s awfulness about it. It's hard to keep a straight face though when wifey goes blind. Surely it's a judgement on her for going out to work without telling her husband!

Of course the real interest in the film is its vision of the future. The production design isn't terribly inspired. The Videophones work nicely, but the cars look rickety and transatlantic flight seems terribly hazardous. It's like an upmarket Flash Gordon.

Its politics are far from futuristic. Workers are portrayed as ungrateful rabble who disgracefully complain about their working conditions (by my estimate over a hundred have died before the major disaster strikes). Dix is the superman leader whose vision must be followed. Of course, he's also the idiot who designed the project so both ends of the tunnel meet in the middle of a volcano, but the script skirts around that issue.

The few good things in the film are weighed down by the script and performances. Mr Arliss and Mr Huston do nothing except declaim endless speeches to the Commons and Congress. The other actors make little impact, or are downright embarrassing (Vinson's blind act is particularly frightful). The film proudly takes its place in that long line of transatlantic turkeys featuring American leads who aren't box office, poor scripts and more ambition than sense.

Poster for The Tunnel

Script adapt.: Kurt Siodmak, L. DuGarde Peach, Clemence Dane (o.a. Bernhard Kellerman)

Director: Maurice Elvey

Players: Madge Evans, Jimmy Hanley, Leslie Banks, C. Aubrey Smith, Basil Sydney, Henry Oscar, Cyril Raymond, Hilda Trevelyan, Allan Jeayes, Helen Haye, Mervyn Johns

Turn of the Tide (1935)

In a Yorkshire fishing village, rival families feud but come together to meet the challenges of modern technology.

This low-budget production, which was scarcely shown in cinemas in its day or since, has a fair claim to be Britain's most influential film. It came third in the Venice Film Festival, but that's not why it's important. This is the film that brought J. Arthur Rank into the business.

This is a very impressive production, despite its low budget. Much of it was shot on location near Whitby, and very good it looks too. The downside of the location work is that it inevitably shows up the studio sets as hopelessly artificial, though under other circumstances they would be perfectly adequate.

The low budget means a no-star cast. Unlike many other low budget films of the period, however, the cast is well chosen and several would go on to have decent careers. The ensemble nature of the piece means that no one stands out - restraint is the key-word here - so it's unfair to single one player out for special praise. However, let's give a big hand to Geraldine Fitzgerald who looks wonderful despite (or maybe because of) wearing virtually no makeup, almost unheard of for a thirties actress.

The distributors, if they weren't put off by the lack of star names, might well have baulked at the low-wattage story. The families' loathing for each other is expressed by grudging "good morning"s when they meet in the street rather than volcanic passions; but then it is set in Yorkshire. Even the set-piece ship rescue, which in Hollywood would have been an excuse for mountainous oceans and a couple of tragic drownings, is more a matter of hanging on for the tide to gently lift the ship off a sand bar. 

Whether J. Arthur Rank would have become our greatest film mogul without this film is a matter for debate. Before this, he had already dabbled with religious films, but they were designed for exhibition in church halls. This is the one that should have brought a decent moral tale to the masses, but with distributors and exhibitors standing in the way it just didn't happen. Rank's solution: buy up the distributors and exhibitors. By the end of the decade he was the biggest player in the industry.

Looking at Turn of the Tide from this distance, we can see an early attempt at what would become known as neo-realism a decade later. It may not have set the world alight when it was first released, but it did make a significant contribution to the dominance of naturalism in British cinema. Even without the Rank connection this would be essential viewing for a cineaste.

Script adapt.: L. DuGarde Peach, J.O.C. Orton. (o.a. Leo Walmsley)

Director: Norman Walker

Players: John Garrick, Niall MacGinnis, J. Fisher White, Joan Maude, Sam Livesey, Wilfrid Lawson, Moore Marriott, Derek Blomfield, Hilda Davies

Turned Out Nice Again (1941)

George Formby works in an underwear factory, giving him a good excuse for a lot of cheeky fun and to sing songs which include "The Emperor of Lancashire" and "Auntie Maggie's Remedy".

Script adapt.: Austin Melford, John Dighton, Basil Dearden. (o.a. Hugh Mills)

Director: Marcel Varnel

Players: Peggy Bryan, Edward Chapman, Elliot Mason, MacKenzie Ward, O.B. Clarence, Ronald Ward, John Salew, Wilfrid Hyde White, Hay Petrie, Michael Rennie, Bill Shine

29 Acacia Avenue (1945)

Stagy tale of parents (Gordon Harker and Betty Balfour) who come home unexpectedly to catch their teenagers misbehaving. Not a great film, but nice to see former silent star Balfour one last time in her final role.

Script adapt.: Muriel and Sydney Box. (o.a. Mabel and Denis Constanduros)

Director: Henry Cass

Players: Carla Lehmann, Jimmy Hanley, Dinah Sheridan, Hubert Gregg, Jill Evans, Henry Kendall, Guy Middleton, Megs Jenkins, Noele Gordon, Aubrey Mallalieu

21 Days (1937)

Laurence Olivier kills his girlfriend's blackmailing husband. Can he escape justice?

Tedious drama that helped Korda on the road to bankruptcy and only notable for teaming Olivier with Vivien Leigh.

Script adapt.: Graham Greene, Basil Dean. (o.a. John Galsworthy)

Director: Basil Dean, Alexander Korda

Players: Lesley Banks, Francis L Sullivan, Hay Petrie, Esme Percy, Robert Newton, Victor Rietti, Morris Harvey, Meinhart Maur, David Horne, Wallace Lapino, Muriel George, John Warwick, William Dewhurst, Frederick Lloyd, Elliot Mason, Arthur Young, Fred Groves, Aubrey Mallalieu

Two Thousand Women (1944)

It's dark. Bomber planes are droning above. A figure moves through the forest. Dressed as a nun. She shines a torch onto a signpost and is seized by soldiers. In a French police station she is accused of being a spy. She claims to be an English novice called Rosemary who was looking for food for evacuated orphans but the French don't believe her. They're too busy listening to John Snagge on the radio reading the news, and waiting for the Germans to arrive. We believe her because she's played by Patricia Roc. She's thrown in prison. Time passes and the French are replaced by Germans. Now wearing an old army greatcoat she's placed into a military lorry.

"Hello". With this cheery greeting the film suddenly shifts gear. It comes from Freda (Phyllis Calvert, giving her most relaxed performance), and she and Bridie (Jean Kent, at her most feline) are on their way to an internment camp. They've already spent six months together in a prison cell and are sick of the sight of each other. Bridie was a "second-rate stripteaser in a third-rate music hall" while Freda was a "sob sister on a yellow rag". Rosemary doesn't mention she's a nun and the lorry soon stops to let on Miss Manningford and Miss Meredith (Flora Robson and Muriel Aked). They've been under house arrest and bid a tearful farewell to their French staff.

They arrive at the camp which turns out to be in the Grand Hotel of a spa town. There follows a glorious sequence in which the cream of British actresses are introduced to us one by one with wonderful precision. A communal bath is organised and the film settles down for what seems to be a cosy version of Tenko. Then some British airmen crash-land in the camp and the women have to hide them.

Shame about that, since the airmen are undercast (Alec Harvey, Jimmy Moore, Bob Arden). Maybe any actor with clout had more sense than to be in a film where the women were going to overshadow him.  

After some bother about where the men sleep, the film then turns into a comedy-thriller as they try to help the airmen to escape. There is a wonderfully Hitchcock-like sequence at a roll call when the airmen, disguised as women, hide at the back while a rumour of their whereabouts goes to the front of the hall straight towards a German agent.

The escape plot is irrelevant in this film. What matters are the women. They may be prisoners but they're not victims. Of course, there was a war on and since they were captured by the Germans they couldn't possibly show weakness, but they're a remarkably resilient bunch. Even the two women fighting over a tin can look like they're worth knowing.

The film flirts around the issue of lesbianism. When Phyllis Calvert first sees Teresa (Betty Jardine) the butch "head girl" figure she says "To think I used to have a crush on a girl like that at school". Later when she asks Jean Kent what the Canadian airman could possibly mean to her, Kent replies "What can you know what he means". Miss Manningford and Miss Meredith are certainly closer than the censors would want depicted. Flora Robson has a wonderful scene when she persuades a German officer to let her share a room with her companion. Muriel Aked, when told one of the airmen has to stay in her bed and she has to share with Flora Robson, for a split-second has a half-hidden look of absolute glee that alone is worth watching this film for.

The script is full of glorious moments and gives most of the actresses a chance to shine. Betty Jardine is worth noting. This was her last film and she died in childbirth the following year which, on the evidence of her performance here, was a great loss to British cinema. Also spot eight-year old Jeanette Scott. Rene Houston also gives a great performance as the rough, old showgirl who's seen it all. She gets to sing "Too many women and not enough love to go round" while dressed as a man.

When this film came out the critics were dismissive. "Trivial and silly" said The Listener. They were wrong. This film is one of the glories of British cinema. It doesn't try to be significant, it just tries to be entertaining and inspiring. It ends with the women singing a rousing chorus of "There'll always be an England" while the airmen make their escape and leaves the audience satisfied. It's a shame the critics were so po-faced - they missed a lot.

Script: Frank Launder

Director: Frank Launder 

PlayersAnne Crawford, Thora Hird, Dulcie Gray, Reginald Purdell, James McKechnie, Robert Arden, Carl Jaffe