In 1920s London, during a normal hectic day on the Underground, mild mannered Northern Line porter Bill (Brian Aherne) falls for shop worker Nell (Elissa Landi). But their newfound love is threatened when brutish power station worker Burt (Cyril McLaglen) also sets his sights on Nell.
With the aide of his besotted ex squeeze Kate (Norah Baring), Burt hatches a plan to discredit Bill in Nell’s eyes, which climaxes in a furious chase through the London Underground and across the rooftops of the Lots Road power station.
If you sniff at the idea of watching a silent movie, then sniff no more as director Anthony Asquith’s tale of love, jealousy and murder is one of the most exciting examples of vintage British cinema you will ever see.
Aged just 26 at the time, Asquith (the son of former British Prime Minister, HH Asquith) gives Alfred Hitchcock a run for his money in the suspense stakes (Hitch had hit the big time in 1927 with The Lodger) with his tight direction, thrilling scenario and sophisticated editing skills, that owe a big debt to German Expressionism and the Russian avant-garde.
For audiences today, this romantic thriller wonderfully evokes 1920s London and the lives of the commuters of city’s iconic transportation system, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Thanks to the BFI National Archive’s superb restoration and Neil Brand’s effective orchestral score, Asquith’s masterly love letter to the Tube looks and sounds as fresh as ever. This is one silent movie you won’t sniff at.
The BFI Dual Format release (comprising DVD and Blu-ray) is presented with Neil Brand’s score performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and includes an alternative score by Chris Watson. The five shorts included on the release featuring footage of Asquith as a child in 1909, scenes of Piccadilly Circus and Hyde Park Corner from 1930, a 1948 film about the expansion of the Central Line beyond Stratford, and a 1958 documentary about the Tube’s nightshift workers.
Released 17 June 2013, from BFI