May 31, 2008



Big-budget British sci-fi from 1935!

Also known as Transatlantic Tunnel, this 70 year-old movie predicted there'd be a tunnel under the English Channel by 1940, followed by another under the Atlantic Ocean!

While huge feats of engineering could one day be possible, the question is why bother? Only a British film would flatter itself that a tunnel between Britain and America is a good idea, let alone a way to bring World peace! There are scenes of both the British Prime Minister (George Arliss) and the US President (Walter Huston) selling it as a good idea, instead of anyone actually explaining what the point is. If anything, a tunnel link between USA and continental Europe would surely be a better idea.

This was based on a German novel, but the script was written by Kurt Siodmak, who also wrote the original story of The Wolfman (1941), which is currently being remade with Benicio Del Toro for 2009.

There weren't many serious sci-fi films made in the UK before the 1950's. Things to Come (1936) was the most famous, but was more of a hypothetical history lesson, than a drama.

The Tunnel is far more engaging and packed with melodrama. Above ground it's centred on a four-sided love triangle, underground there's a battle against the odds - trying to keep up the progress of the drilling, despite the financiers wheeler-dealing the project.

Like any engineering work on this scale, there's likely to be a loss of lives - but at least the designer and manager of the project (Richard Dix) gets his hands dirty, and when the going gets rough, he doesn't talk to the workers through a layer of middle-management. But will his marriage survive?

The acting may be stilted, even for the time, but the story is unpredictable and occasionally touching. I also enjoyed the 1930's vision of the future, especially the spectacular and colossal radium drill. The subway cars in the tunnel look retro cool too.

The cars and planes (a vertical takeoff bi-plane!) are not-so-futuristic looking. The 'new' inventions include the 'enunciator' (a loudspeaker), and the 'televisor' - a telephone with a video screen.

A 1970s article in T
he Sunday Times Magazine about 
sci-fi movies declared the film lost!

The large scale miniature work makes the drill look very convincing, though there's an extensive use of back-projection to try and integrate it with the actors. The impressively huge sets use hanging miniatures and matte paintings to look even larger. Some sources reckon that the special effects shots are from the 1933 French and German versions of the same story.

Fans of classic horror may recognise the star Richard Dix, as the stalwart chief engineer. He later starred in the classic Val Lewton RKO thriller The Ghost Ship (1943). His co-star is Leslie Banks, who played the sadistic Count Zaroff in The Most Dangerous Game (1932). Though the one-sided camera coverage, constantly avoiding the scarred side of his face, is very obvious. Here he plays a more jovial best-friend character, attempting to escape typecasting as two-faced villains. He later starred in the excellent adaption of Went the Day Well? (1942).

The Tunnel
was last available on VHS in the USA (see artwork at top), but isn't currently on DVD anywhere. It should run at just over 90 minutes.

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