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Tunnel, The (1935)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Tunnel, The (1935)
35mm, 94 min, black & white
Directed byMaurice Elvey
Production CompanyGaumont-British Picture Corporation
Scenario and DialogueL. Du Garde Peach
ScreenplayKurt Siodmak
PhotographyG. Krampf
EditorCharles Frend
Musical DirectorLouis Levy

Cast: Richard Dix (Richard McAllan); Leslie Banks (Frederick 'Robbie' Robbins); Madge Evans (Ruth McAllan); Helen Vinson (Varlia Lloyd); C. Aubrey Smith (Lloyd); Basil Sydney (Mostyn); George Arliss (Prime Minister of Great Britain); Walter Huston (President of the United States)

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A visionary project to build a tunnel linking Britain and the USA is confronted by industrial intrigues and unforeseen natural obstacles.

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An expensive, ambitiously mounted production, The Tunnel was actually the third screen adaptation of German author Bernhard Kellermann's 1913 novel of the same title, the visionary tale of the construction of a transatlantic tunnel having first been released in simultaneous German and French versions by Curtis Bernhardt (as Der Tunnel and Le Tunnel respectively, 1933).

While a number of revisions were made to the narrative (Mac's wife is struck blind instead of being killed, for example), the British adaptation's most significant change reflects contemporary political developments within Europe.

Both the novel and the 1933 cinematic adaptations had depicted the tunnel of the title as linking the United States with continental Europe (France and Spain in the novel). The British adaptation, however, promotes a union between the United States and Britain alone, with the tunnel now serving as a symbolic link between the two 'English-speaking' countries (tellingly, the film's main villain, an arms dealer, is French, not American as in the earlier versions).

Although it is never satisfactorily explained how, it is argued throughout that the tunnel's joint construction by Britain and America will result in increased commerce, the easing of international tensions and the prevention of future wars. To quote Lloyd, one of the project's financiers, the tunnel means "world peace through the union of the English-speaking peoples".

But the re-routing of the tunnel for the British adaptation reflected more than the current European political climate. By the mid-1930s, Gaumont-British was increasingly focused on breaking into the American market, while at the same time retreating from any similar European ventures. The futuristic linking of Britain and America by the tunnel ("an artery through which will course the lifeblood of our two nations") can therefore be viewed as encapsulating the company's vision of its own future.

The importing of Hollywood actors indicates the degree to which The Tunnel was aimed at the American market. Richard Dix makes a suitably rugged, square-jawed hero, one who certainly looks more at home underground than he does in the domestic sphere, with too much screen time being devoted to family rather than engineering problems. Despite this caveat, the film remains a broadly entertaining slice of speculative fiction, fascinating for both its visualisation of the future and for its commentary on the present.

John Oliver

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Video Clips
1. A transatlantic plan (3:04)
2. Broadcast report (2:57)
3. Tunnel diversion (3:00)
4. Through searing heat (6:13)
Balcon, Michael (1896-1977)
Banks, Leslie (1890-1952)
Elvey, Maurice (1887-1967)
Frend, Charles (1909-1977)
Science Fiction