Lots of things happening around the blog lately. As I posted previously I am taking part in the Classic Film History Blogathon with not one but TWO entries, as well as the upcoming Beach Party Blogathon. AND lest we forget I am also taking part in the Summer 2015 Classic Film Reading Challenge…which means that very soon there will be BOOK REVIEWS! I am still trying to find time to watch other films for the blog, and clear off my DVR in the process, which leads me to THE TUNNEL…
A group of millionaires gathers to take in an evening of music at some unspecified date in the future (there is an illusion to a past event being in the 1940s so it is safe to assume that we are at least in the 1950s) somewhere in England. They are introduced to brilliant engineer Richard McAllen (Richard Dix) who has come up with a crazy idea. Having already built “The Channel Tunnel”, McAllen now wants to build a tunnel underneath the ocean to connect America and England. While he pitches his idea, McAllen’s wife Ruth (Madge Evans) and his best friend Freddie Robbins (Leslie Banks) wait anxiously outside. Though initially skeptical the millionaires, lead by arms dealer Grellier, finally agree to back the Tunnel Project.
Years pass and the tunnel construction moves head, now improved by the newly invented radium drill. McAllen is a celebrity but is constantly pulled away from spending any time with Ruth and their growing son Geoffrey. In fact he cannot even attend Geoffrey’s birthday because he is summoned to New York to take part in a publicity promotion lead by Varlia Lloyd (Helen Vinson), daughter of one of the Tunnel Project backers. Varlia has been in love with McAllen for years and the photos of the two together plant doubts into Ruth’s mind. Feeling increasingly isolated and distant from her husband, Ruth decides to join the Tunnel Project as a nurse without letting McAllen know. While working there she becomes affected by the mysterious tunnel gases and begins to go blind. Not wanting to be pitied and tired of playing second fiddle to the Tunnel Project, Ruth takes Geoffrey and leaves her husband with no explanation. Heartbroken at this turn of events, McAllen throws himself into his work and even begins to alienate Robbins.
Still more years pass and the project begins to take its toll both in funds and in lives. The leaders of America and Great Britain (Walter Huston and George Arliss respectively) continue to promote the project and the peace that they hope it will bring. McAllen is now just a shell of the man he used to be, Robbins is losing his patience, and Ruth lives in the countryside with Geoffrey who is now trying to get a job in the tunnel alongside his father. The project is nearing completion when disaster strikes. While digging the men hit an underground flow of fire and lava, causing the deaths of hundreds. When the smoke clears and the situation is assessed, it is discovered that they are digging straight towards an underwater volcano.
This film was based on the 1913 novel Der Tunnel by Bernhard Kellermann, which sold 100,000 copies in its first six months of publication and became one of the most successful books from the first half of the twentieth century. The book had been filmed several times, the first being in 1915 as a silent film directed by William Wauer. The other three versions were all filmed at roughly the same time (from 1933-1935) in German (Der Tunnel), French (Le Tunnel), and English (The Tunnel). This was not uncommon as at the time the studios didn’t have the technology to dub dialogue for different languages and so just filmed a movie multiple times in multiple languages. The films would utilize the same sets and locations but different actors and directors.
THE TUNNEL is what I would call a curio. It is not a fabulous film but it is certainly an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half, especially if you like British melodrama (which I do). The fact that it is set in the future makes it interesting as the sets and props are unique interpretations of what the movie makers felt the future would be like. It is a combination of 1930s fashion and design mixed with imagined futuristic technology, transport, and architecture. Combine that with the engaging dynamic of Richard Dix and Leslie Banks, and this is a film that is at least deserving of a look.