6.8/10
1,051
10 user 5 critic

Night Mail (1936)

Shows the special train on which mail is sorted, dropped and collected on the run, and delivered in Scotland overnight.

Directors:

Harry Watt, Basil Wright

Writer:

W.H. Auden
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Cast

Credited cast:
Arthur Clark Arthur Clark ... Engineer
John Grierson ... Commentary
Stuart Legg Stuart Legg ... Commentary
Robert Rae Robert Rae ... Senior Driver - LMS Railway
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Storyline

Shows the special train on which mail is sorted, dropped and collected on the run, and delivered in Scotland overnight.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Short | Documentary

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Details

Country:

UK

Language:

English

Release Date:

13 January 1936 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Courrier de nuit See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Visatone Marconi)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The sound recordists equipment was unable to record a realistic sound of the mail train clattering over the joints in the track during the "two bridges and 45 beats" trackside mailbag collection sequence. Eventually they resorted to recording the sound of a model train being pushed back and forth over joints in a model railway track in time to the film of the man on the train counting the beats. See more »

Quotes

Commentary: [Reciting W.H. Auden poem] This is the Night Mail crossing the Border, Bringing the cheque and the postal order, Letters for the rich, letters for the poor, The shop at the corner, the girl next door. Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb: The gradient's against her, but she's on time...
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Connections

Featured in Grierson (1973) See more »

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User Reviews

This is the Night Mail Crossing the Border
30 January 2012 | by James HitchcockSee all my reviews

"Night Mail" is still a famous film 75 years after it was made in 1936. It is not, however, a feature film but a documentary, only 25 minutes long, about an everyday subject, the journey of the mail train from London to Scotland. It is perhaps the best-remembered of a series of films produced by the GPO Film Unit publicising the work of the British General Post Office.

Part of the reason for its fame is the collaboration between two giants of the English cultural scene, the poet W. H. Auden and his friend the composer Benjamin Britten. Auden's poem written for the film, the one starting "This is the Night Mail crossing the border, Bringing the cheque and the postal order" has been much anthologised; I was introduced to it at primary school, and some of its evocative lines, such as "But a jug in the bedroom gently shakes" and "Letters with faces scrawled in the margin" have remained with me ever since. In the film itself the poem is read out in the closing few minutes, beginning slowly but picking up speed in order to imitate the rhythm of the train's wheels, and then slowing down again as the train approaches its final destination in Aberdeen. It is accompanied by Britten's music which also evokes the sounds and rhythms of a moving train.

The film is, however, also notable for its purely visual qualities, with some striking black-and-white photography of the train and the landscapes, both rural and industrial, through which it passes. There are films where virtually every shot reminds us of a painting; here every shot reminds us of a documentary photograph, perhaps something from "National Geographic". The film also serves as a piece of social history, even if the obviously scripted dialogue between the men in the on-board sorting office owes more to upper-class preconceptions about how working-class Britons spoke than to reality. (These scenes were not shot on board the train itself but in a studio). We may today regard the steam locomotive as a quaint and cosy part of the nostalgia industry, and that system of nets used for loading and unloading mailbags while the train is in motion certainly has, to our eyes, a Heath-Robinson air about it. Nevertheless, in 1936 the Royal Mail had a well-deserved reputation for efficiency, and the film helps us to understand how it achieved this reputation with the aid of what would have been the state-of-the-art technology of the period.

I haven't awarded the film a score out of ten, as it seems pointless trying to compare it with the full-length dramas which I normally review. A recent viewing on the "Sky Arts" channel, however, has enabled me to appreciate a much talked-about film which for me had for a long time just been a memory from a school poetry lesson.


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