"What would you say if I told you I was convinced of Matthew’s innocence?"
"Shorty" Matthews (Emlyn Williams) is a small time crook who just got out of prison having done 18 months. He goes to visit his old girlfriend Alice. When he gets there he finds she has been murdered. Of course he runs. But not before he runs smack into the landlady. Fearing he will be accused of the murder he hides in a movie theater all day. When he comes out he finds that he is wanted for questioning in Alice’s murder.
He takes a bus out of town and ends up at a truck stop. He hitches a ride with truck driver Wally Mason (Alan Jeayes). Mason offers to take him up to Manchester. One of the other drivers starts to look at Shorty suspiciously. Thinking fast Shorty decks him and accuses him of sleeping with his wife. He calls him Smith. Wally breaks up the fight and tells Shorty that he’s looking at the wrong man. Shorty apologizes and everyone calms down. The man forgets his suspicions. Shorty and Mason leave. A few miles down the road Mason confronts Shorty and finally Shorty admits who he is but insists he did not kill Alice.
Then the truck hits a slippery area and goes off the road crashing. Mason is hurt. Instead of running Shorty helps Mason. They stop at a roadside café where they run into Molly O’Neill (Anna Konstam). Molly is Alice’s roommate but is not aware that Shorty is being sought for Alice’s murder. Molly is hitch hiking back to London. The driver who is giving her a ride pulls off looking for sex. They struggle and Molly tries to run away. Just then Shorty and Mason show up and rescue Molly. Eventually Molly starts to think that maybe Shorty is innocent. When they get to Mason’s house the police are not far behind having traced Shorty’s movements from London.
Shorty decides that he needs to return to London. Knowing that the cops will never stop looking for him he believes he needs to investigate on his own to find the real killer. He enlists Molly’s help. Alice use to work at the same dance hall as Molly. Shorty thinks that the killer is someone that Alice danced with. He asks Molly to try and find out who Alice’s customers were around the time she died. Shorty barely starts his investigation when instead of finding the killer, the killer finds him.
“They Drive by Night” was released in 1938 and was directed by Arthur B. Woods. It is a British mystery movie. Sometimes it is confused with the film noir movie also called “They Drive by Night” done in 1940 with Humphrey Bogart. This movie is based on a novel by James Curtis who also did the screenplay. The female victims in the book were prostitutes. To prevent issues with the censors they were changed to dime-a-dance girls or “glamour girls”. Also the book featured scenes of police brutality that is nowhere in the movie.
The movie also stars Ernest Thesiger. Perhaps best known for his portrayal of Dr. Septimus Pretorius in “Bride of Frankenstein”. And as with Frankenstein, he does creepy very well.
I enjoyed this movie. It is a basic thriller. Most of the movie is the chase between Shorty and the police. The killer himself is almost incidental to the film. You’re not looking for clues. There’s no list of suspects, just a fun ride.