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"They Drive By Night" (not to be confused with the Bogart) had a rare showing in a New York theater in 2009, as part of a series on British film noir. The only reason the theater screening matters is because of crowd reaction. And the reaction to this film, especially the final sequences, was absolutely joyous.
The movie is at least 2/3rds over before one of the main characters appears, the former schoolmaster Walter Hoover, played by the unbelievably urbane, stick-figure-thin Ernest Thesiger. The camera starts on his hands, so you only see what he's doing-- pasting newspaper clippings about lurid murders into a scrapbook-- but when his face is finally revealed, the whole audience seemed to sit a bit straighter, and we stayed that way through the end, reacting with open delight to this character's every movement, his every phrase.
I mean to take nothing away from the star of the film, Emlyn Williams (who wrote almost as many films as he starred in), but Ernest Thesiger was capable of turning a lousy movie into a watchable one, and a good movie into an unforgettable one. This is definitely the latter.
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