The Law of Contact

They Drive by Night (December, 1938)

Emlyn Williams in They Drive by Night

Released in December, 1938: A demented killer is strangling dance hall girls, and a hapless ex-con is accused and chased by the police.

Directed by Arthur B. Woods

The Actors: Emlyn Williams (Shorty Matthews), Ernest Thesiger (Walter Hoover), Anna Konstam (Molly O'Neill), Allan Jeayes (Wally Mason), Anthony Holles (Murray), Ronald Shiner (Charlie), Yolande Terrell (Marge), Julie Barrie (Pauline), Kitty de Legh (Mrs. Mason), William Hartnell (bus conductor), Iris Vandeleur (flower lady), Joe Cunningham (Detective Pryor), William John Davies (young boy), Edgar Driver (customer at Charlies), Jennie Hartley (unknown), Brenda Harvey (unknown), Mike Johnson (old convict being released), Vi Kaley (flower seller), George Merritt (Detective), Bernard Miles (Detective at billiard hall), Frederick Piper (bartender), Charles Rolfe (card player at billiards hall), Leonard Sharp (card player at billiards hall), George Street (second detective at billiards hall), Harry Terry (convict being released), Jack Vyvian (Jack McKenzie), Leslie Weston (Jack).


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All I want to know is, how do movie companies come up with the title for movies? Give me a break - They Drive By Night - doesn't that sound like a movie about working class truck drivers, and their adventures on the road? Nothing could be further from the plot of this intense thriller. Does it suggest a story about a demented killer? Does the name suggest that there will be dancing girls at the center of the story? Does it suggest that our killer will make the hairs on the back of our neck stand at attention when he is on the screen? I got none of this from the name of the movie, but it holds all of this and more. I dare say that this is one of the finest thrillers to ever come out of the wonderful isle of Britain - and it would have made suspense master Hitchcock jealous if he watched it and knew that he didn't make this film.

As our movie opens, small time London crook Shorty is getting out of jail. He goes back to his old neighborhood and stops at the old bar to quench his thirst and get back into the swing of things. His girlfriend is a dance hall girl - she dances with lonely strangers and collects a ticket for each dance, which she turns in at the end of the night and collects a commission. So after a drink and some chat at the bar, Shorty goes to visit his old girlfriend, and discovers her dead. Of course he is accused of her murder and goes on the run, stealing a truck and driver on the way. But soon they part, and Shorty is on a terrifying run barely one step ahead of the coppers. I really don't want to tell you much more about this plot, because I don't want to forewarn you of the chills that await you. I will tell you that I have watched a lot of movies, including most of Hitchcock's thrillers, but I have not had such real terror in my mind since I watched Hannibal Lecter on screen. Hold your white kernel popcorn close to you and keep the lights on bright, because you have no idea of what chills and thrills await you on this terrifying journey into 1938 London.