Transatlantic Tunnel / Tunnel, The (1935)

“There’s a certain charm about a dreamer — even if he dreams of iron and steel.”

Synopsis:
An engineer (Richard Dix) leads a years-long effort to build a transatlantic tunnel between the U.S. and England, but finds that his personal life suffers, as his wife (Madge Evans) turns to his best friend (Leslie Banks) for emotional support.

Genres:

Review:
Inspired by a 1913 German novel, this early sci-fi engineering flick tackles a fascinating topic, yet fails to full take advantage of its subject matter, instead relying far too heavily on melodramatic conventions to move its storyline along. While presumably concerned with relating the host of troubles faced by visionary scientists and engineers like ‘Mack’ McAllan (Dix) — including ongoing concerns with raising enough money, and managing public opinion over the enormous safety issues involved in such a risky venture — the bulk of the narrative ultimately rests upon McAllan’s rocky marital relationship with saintly Evans, who (minor spoiler here) goes blind while volunteering in the tunnel, yet unrealistically refuses to tell McAllan what’s happened, instead simply breaking off their marriage and turning to Banks for support instead.

Meanwhile, the sexy daughter (Helen Vinson) of a primary financier (C. Aubrey Smith) is naturally waiting in the wings for a chance to nab McAllan for herself, and Vinson’s would-be suitor (Basil Sidney) plays a conveniently situated villain in the entire affair. Yet another dramatic tension arises later in the film, as McAllan’s grown son (Jimmy Hanley) enters into the tunnels to work, and McAllan must reconcile his very-real concern with the fact that he routinely asks hundreds of other workers to place their lives in similar risk. While these plot elements all serve to add some personal dramatic tension to the storyline, I was surprised to find myself wishing for even more of a “hard” scientific emphasis; details of the dangers inherent in the tunnel-building itself are glossed over far too superficially.

Throughout the film, much is made about the fact that building a transatlantic tunnel remains a critical element in the pursuit of world peace — which doesn’t make much sense at all, until one contextualizes the movie within a global pre-WWII tableau; yet it still comes across like a weak argument at best. Nonetheless, this film may be of interest to those curious to see its creatively conceived “futuristic” sets (including wide-spread use of television) and its early vision of the type of engineering moxie necessary to carry out such a grand, as-of-yet unrealized plan.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Interesting “futuristic” sets

Must See?
No, though classic sci-fi and/or transportation buffs will be curious to check it out. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Transatlantic Tunnel / Tunnel, The (1935)”

  1. First viewing. Not a must.

    I’m in complete agreement with the assessment given and find little to add, since the review rather expresses my feeling entirely.

    Perhaps the film had a more encouraging reception when it was first released – perhaps because of its technical aspects or the overall ambitiousness of its premise. That’s a possibility.

    Personally, I find the script to be trying much too hard too much of the time, and its forced quality is troublesome. There are moments that stand out as intriguing (esp. involving the villains in the piece). But the melodrama is a little thicker than it needs to be.

    All told, rather forgettable.

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