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They Drive by Night (1938)

A convict, just out of prison, is implicated in a murder and goes on the run, hitching a ride with a truck driver.


Arthur B. Woods


James Curtis (novel), James Curtis (screenplay and dialogue) | 2 more credits »


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Cast overview:
Emlyn Williams ... Shorty Matthews
Anna Konstam Anna Konstam ... Molly O'Neill
Allan Jeayes Allan Jeayes ... Wally Mason
Ernest Thesiger ... Walter Hoover
Jennie Hartley Jennie Hartley ... Landlady
Ronald Shiner Ronald Shiner ... Charlie
Anthony Holles Anthony Holles ... Murray
William Hartnell ... Bus Conductor (as Billy Hartnell)
Kitty de Legh Kitty de Legh ... Mrs. Mason
Joe Cunningham Joe Cunningham ... Detective Pryor
Yolande Terrell Yolande Terrell ... Marge
Julie Barrie Julie Barrie ... Pauline


A convict, just out of prison, is implicated in a murder and goes on the run, hitching a ride with a truck driver.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Crime | Thriller


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Release Date:

12 June 1939 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Efter mörkrets inbrott See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Photophone)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

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User Reviews

The Nine O' Clock Walk!
10 August 2013 | by SpikeopathSee all my reviews

They Drive by Night is directed by Arthur Woods and collectively written by Paul Gangelin, Derek Twist and from his own novel; James Curtis. It stars Emlyn Williams, Ernest Thesiger and Anna Konstam. Music is by Bretton Byrd and cinematography by Basil Emmott.

Just released from Pentonville Prison, Shorty Matthews (Williams) visits a lady friend and finds her murdered in her own bed. Pannicking and believing the police will have him marked for the crime, Shortie goes on the run in the hope that the real killer will be caught...

It's still something of a lost British treasure is Arthur Woods' They Drive By Night, it's a film that has gained justifiable high regard by those who have managed to track it down for viewing. Essentially a innocent man on the run picture at its plot core, it's the surrounding meat on the bones that lift it to classic suspense noir status.

The Thrill Of Evil.

It's a picture of persistent rain that lashes the streets and highways, the wind an aural accomplice of some magnitude. A tale infused with grim snack bars, gambling dens, abandoned buildings or artisan abodes that are inhabited by either crafty cockney's, spivs, macho truckers or camp fetishist maniacs! And of course our protagonist is up against it from the off, wherever he turns he seems destined to be the victim of fate and circumstance.

Sex In Relation To Society.

As a portrait of pre Second World War British society it's gloomy and unrelentingly bleak, with Woods (sadly to die in the War) and Emmott achieving a stunning sense of time and place by way of dim lights and contrasts that ensures moody atmospherics go hand in hand with the machinations of the story. This can very much be seen as a forerunner (influence) to some of the great British noirs that followed a decade later.

Studies In Murder.

Some scenes get under the skin and stay there, while others surprisingly enchant the soul; such is their beauty. Lead cast performances are mightily strong, with Thesiger the star as he enters the tale late in the day and turns in a creepy show that startles in the way that calmness of evil is portrayed. While Thesiger's facial features are used to maximum potential by the astute director.

Only real problem here is the musical score by Bretton Byrd. Too often the music is ill fittingly jolly, it immediately conjures up images (to those familiar with 1930s British comedy movies) of the films made by the great Will Hay. Sure enough on examination we find that Byrd did indeed provide the music for four Hay movies in the 30s, and it sadly shows in a film that doesn't deserve such jollification.

Musical problem aside, this is a ripper of a movie, worthy of better exposure and definitely of major interest to anyone interested in the early steps of British film noir. 8.5/10

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