Film of the Month

Suspense (1930)

A troop of British soldiers in World War One, arrive at a dug-out to relieve their comrades. The dug-out is clean, dry and easily defensible. So why are their comrades so anxious to leave? 

Cinema has never been shy about adapting existing material for the screen but when talkies arrived the temptation to take a play and just plonk it in front of the cameras was hard to resist. Mostly this proved to be a mistake and this gave early talkies a reputation for being static and, well, talky. Sometimes, however, they picked the right material, gave it to the right people, and produced great films. Suspense was one of those films.

The premise is fairly simple: the soldiers are stuck where they are until they are relieved and there's nothing to do but bicker good-naturedly among themselves. However, they soon notice a scraping noise and realise that a group of Germans are undermining them and, when the noise stops, the Germans will fill their tunnel with explosives and blow them to Kingdom Come. And so the tensions between them ratchet up and having the filming largely confined to the one set becomes an advantage as the claustrophobia grips the cast and audience.

Most of the people involved in the production had served in the war and there's an authenticity to the film that carries it over the melodramatic parts. This is a film in which working-class characters are more than just comic relief in other people's stories. They have a depth to them which would be rare to find in British cinema until the 1960s. They get to laugh and moan and sing mucky songs and treat the war as more of an inconvenience than a grand adventure. They're not up for heroics or duty - they just want to get through the war and get home.

When the play was originally produced, it was overshadowed by the much more successful (and much more middle class) Journey's End. The film did better but it has now faded into history.

Script adapt.: Walter Summers. (o.a. Patrick MacGill)

Director: Walter Summers

Players: Cyril McLaglen, Mickey Brantford, Jack Raine, Fred Groves, D Hay Petrie, Syd Crossley, Percy Parsons, Hamilton Keane