WATERLOO ROAD. Gainsborough, UK, 1945. John Mills, Stewart Granger, Alastair Sim, Joy Shelton, and Alison Leggatt. Written & directed by Sidney Gilliat. Currently available on YouTube.

   Sidney Gilliat’s credits include thrillers like The Lady Vanishes, Bulldog Jack, Night Train to Munich, The Green Man and many others, so with him at the helm this promises to be a witty, fast-paced and suspenseful yarn. It doesn’t disappoint. Waterloo Road (set in 1941 at the height of the Blitz) crackles with movement and tension, even though there’s very little actual criminal activity, mostly done by the hero of the piece.

   Said hero is Private Jim Colton, ably played by John Mills in his usual unassuming way, albeit a bit handier with his fists than usual. When Colton hears that his wife Tillie (Joy Shelton) has been running around with spiv Ted Purvis (a slick job by rising star Stewart Granger) he goes AWOL in London to check things out for himself.

   That’s not a terribly promising start for a thriller, but Gilliat fills the slender tale with fast-paced foot chases as Colton eludes the MPs, tense encounters with Purvis’ thuggish associates, and he backs it up with some colorful smaller parts, ably written and played: Alastair Sim fits in quite suitably as the moral anchor of the tale, and Joy Shelton conveys the complexity of a lonely woman missing her husband and sorely tempted by Granger’s patently phony charm as Gilliat cross-cuts neatly between Colton’s search for Purvis and Purvis’ simultaneous moves on the Missus, each building suspense in its own way. And when the pay-off scene finally arrives it’s handled perfectly, with the most savage fight scene in British Cinema until Sean Connery and Robert Shaw went at it in From Russia with Love.

   Oddly though, what stays in the mind is the emotional resonance of the moment, as feelings are conveyed by a glance, hearts broken and mended with a meaningful gesture, and Colton’s fury is unleashed not by Purvis’s attempted seduction, but when the rejected spiv insults his wife. The delicate emotional balance lends dramatic contrast to the violence that ensues, and the result is one of those truly memorable movie moments in a film well worth seeking out.