They Drive by Night (1938 film)

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They Drive by Night
"They Drive by Night" (1938 film).jpg
British lobby card
Directed by Arthur B. Woods
Produced by Jerome Jackson
Written by Paul Gangelin
Derek Twist
Screenplay by James Curtis
Based on novel by James Curtis
Starring Emlyn Williams
Ernest Thesiger
Music by Bretton Byrd
Cinematography Basil Emmott
Edited by Leslie Norman
Warner Bros.-First National Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros. (UK)
Release date
December 1938
Running time
84 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

They Drive by Night is a 1938 British black-and-white, crime thriller, directed by Arthur B. Woods starring Emlyn Williams as 'Shorty', an ex-con, Ernest Thesiger as Hoover, an ex-schoolteacher, and Ronald Shiner as Charlie, the café proprietor.[1] It was produced by Warner Bros. - First National Productions. The film is based on the novel of the same name by James Curtis. The picture is sometimes confused with the 1940 American film, They Drive by Night, based on the novel The Long Haul by A. I. Bezzerides and featuring George Raft and Humphrey Bogart.


"Shorty" Matthews (Emlyn Williams) having recently been released from prison visits his girlfriend in London only to discover her murdered. Fearing he will be wrongly accused of being the culprit he disappears amongst the long-distance lorry driving community. Meanwhile, the real killer, unassuming ex-schoolteacher Walter Hoover (Ernest Thesiger), continues to prey on London women. As Shorty had feared he has become the main suspect. He returns to London with old flame Molly to prove his innocence.



James Curtis adapted his own novel, They Drive by Night to provide the screenplay for the film. The female victims of the book were prostitutes and to prevent censorship this aspect was watered down. Additionally, the book featured scenes of police brutality that were excised altogether. [2] The film was made by Warner Brothers at the recently purchased Teddington Studios as a quota film under the "Cinematograph Films Act 1927".[3]

William Hartnell has a small role as the Bus Conductor and is credited as "Billy Hartnell". He would later go on to be the first Doctor Who in 1963.[4]

Release and reception[edit]

On release in the UK it was well received critically with author Graham Greene being a notable fan. Of the film he cited how close it came to French cinema with its realism and lack of romanticism. [5] While it gained a certificate to be released in the US the studio cited an inability to get a negative out of the UK. As such it did not receive a US theatrical release. [6]

It is often confused with the American film noir starring George Raft and Ida Lupino, director Raoul Walsh's They Drive by Night, based on the novel The Long Haul by A. I. Bezzerides. Since both were Warner Brothers films it is possible the identical titles contributed to the British version's obscurity. [7]

Leslie Halliwell's 1977 edition of The Filmgoer's Companion cites the picture as the director Arthur B. Woods' most notable film and also a film of note for Ernest Thesiger.[8]

The film is currently unavailable on DVD. However, the novel was reissued by London Books with an introduction by Jonathan Meades in 2008. [9]


External links[edit]