Sunday, June 02, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Underground (1928) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

UNDERGROUND (1928) is an interesting silent British film recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

UNDERGROUND is a restoration from the BFI National Archive. It was one of the first feature films directed by Anthony Asquith, who also wrote the screenplay. It's visually fascinating and has an absorbing story with surprising twists and turns, gradually shifting from working class romance to rather Hitchcockian suspense.

The story concerns Bill (Brian Aherne), a porter assisting passengers and cleaning on the London Underground. He meets and falls for Nell (Elissa Landi, THE SIGN OF THE CROSS), a salesgirl.

On the same day, Nell attracts the eye of brash electrician Bert (Cyril McLaglen, Victor's younger brother), who almost immediately announces to Nell that he wants to marry her. There are just two problems: Nell is more attracted to Bill, and they quickly become serious; meanwhile Bert's recently dumped girlfriend Kate (Norah Baring of Hitchcock's MURDER!) is still desperate to marry Bert herself.

When Bert realizes Nell isn't interested, he plots to break up her romance with Bill...and I'll leave it there for viewers to discover the rest.

I've always liked Brian Aherne a great deal, especially in comedies such as MERRILY WE LIVE (1938). This was a wonderful opportunity to see some of his early work; he's charming as the shy and gentlemanly yet determined Bill.

I've struggled to see Elissa Landi's appeal in her films, so I take the word of Bill and Bert that she's a looker worth pursuing. McLaglen is appropriately obnoxious as Bert, while Baring's Kate seems rather in need of some psychiatric help, for any number of reasons.

What I really loved about the film, besides Aherne, were the visuals. I've loved the London Underground since my first trip to London, and having the chance to see those big wooden escalators and the system as it looked 90 years ago was fascinating. Asquith and cinematographer Stanley Rodwell do all sorts of interesting things with light and shadows; they keep the viewer's eyes glued to the screen.

There are lovely scenes filmed around London, including a ride on the top deck of a bus and a picnic; the finale, involving a power outage and a rooftop chase, is unexpected and exciting. Though I didn't find all of the characters likeable -- not that they're necessarily meant to be! -- the movie itself is quite involving and well worth seeing.

UNDERGROUND is 93 minutes long. (IMDb says 84 minutes; perhaps that was an unrestored running time.)

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray features an excellent new score by Neil Brand along with an alternate score by Chris Watson. There is also a nine-minute 2009 featurette on restoring the film.

Kino Lorber has also released this movie on DVD.

For those who share my love for the London Underground (or "The Tube"), here's a 2017 BFI article on 10 films set in the Underground. I've only seen one, SLIDING DOORS (1998), so I need to look into some of these titles.

UNDERGROUND is recommended viewing.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Maricatrin said...

I haven't seen many silents, so I was amazed by how much this film drew me in. Like you say, the shots of old London alone are worth the price of purchase; it's a great bonus that the simple story is so well told, directed, and cast (and oh, that new music score is beautiful. I don't think I would have enjoyed the film nearly as much without it.) I found both leads very likeable. Nell's ladylike spunkiness and loyal determination were a refreshing antidote to many modern 'strong woman' characters. The scene where she sees Bill for the first time since the accusation is my favorite one in the movie: Just loved the subtle interaction between them here - his hurt, shame, and utter bewilderment; her gentle questioning and loving trust (and oh, the background music!) Trivia: that striking punch to the camera shot during the pub fight resulted in Aherne cutting his knuckle open, leaving him with a scar over thirty years later.

8:05 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

I know It makes me sound as old as Methusela but I remember travelling on those old wooden underground escalators! Yipes!

2:32 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Maricatrin, I'm glad you highlighted the score as it truly is excellent. I enjoyed it very much, and it was one of the highlights for me of seeing the film, along with seeing 1920s London and enjoying Brian Aherne's performance. (Great bit of trivia there, thanks!)

Jerry, I remember wooden escalators from my first trip to London when I was in college! I believe that was just a few years before they started phasing the last of them out due to fire concerns. They definitely made an impression, making traveling by the Tube feel both quaint and modern all at once!

Best wishes,

2:39 PM  

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