The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection Volume 1

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‘A global byword for cinematic quality of a quintessentially British nature, Ealing Studios made more than 150 films over a three-decade period. A cherished and significant part of British film history, only selected films from both the Ealing and Associated Talking Pictures strands have previously been made available on home-video format – with some remaining unseen since their original theatrical release.’

The first volume of THE EALING STUDIOS RARITIES COLLECTION, and the first release in the exciting, newly launched ‘The British Film’ Collection from Network Distributing, this four film, double-disc set, from the vaults of Ealing Studios and Associated Talking Pictures, presents four neglected gems of British cinema, unseen since their original cinema releases and presented as new transfers in their original aspect ratios.

Disc One:

Escape!

Network DVD / Basil Dean / 1930 / United Kingdom

Running Time: 68 minutes

Region Code: Region 2 / PAL

Aspect Ratio: 1.19:1

Video: DVD9 / Black and White (MPEG-2 encoded)

Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (restored)

Language: English

Subtitles: None

The first screen adaptation the 1921 stage play by John Galsworthy (long preceding director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1948 remake, starring Rex Harrison in the central role), this 1930 crime drama, only the second feature from director Basil Dean, charts the experiences of Captain Matt Denant, sentenced to a term in Dartmoor after accidentally killing a plain-clothes policeman during a quarrel. Unable to bear the harsh conditions of prison life, Matt escapes across the moor – finding his freedom at the mercy of the various characters he encounters.

Starring the famous English actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier (son of author George du Maurier, and father of Daphne du Maurier) in the central role Captain Denant, alongside an ensemble cast including Madeleine Carroll, Ian Hunter, Edna Best, Gordon Harker, Horace Hodges and Austin Trevor, Dean’s sadly neglected film proves an entertaining and well-crafted affair, and, aside from some very stagey and over the top performances, effectively combines artful direction with Galsworthy’s eloquent dialogue, fine cinematography from Jack MacKenzie and original music from composer Ernest Irving.

In terms of picture quality, the film is now 83-years old, so as expected there are some significant signs of age related damage throughout the presentation. The film does appear slightly soft, and definition is not as sharp as could be hoped for, but on the whole, the transfer holds up very well, contrast levels are impressive, with deep black levels, and thankfully the damage and defects do not threaten to detract from the overall visual.

The English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio mix is unfortunately less impressive and again, as expected, age has rendered unfortunate wear and tear to the track, with hiss and light crackling present throughout. Though the dialogue is fully audible and understandable, the audio track does sound muffled, with dialogue often difficult to discern, and some slight distortion to be heard at times.

West of Zanzibar

Network DVD / Harry Watt / 1954 / United Kingdom

Running Time: 92 minutes

Region Code: Region 2 / PAL

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Video: DVD9 / Colour

Audio: English mono (restored)

Language: English

Subtitles: None

The sole colour offering in the collection, this 1954 British adventure film from Scottish director Harry Watt (best known for his short documentary films during World War II) is a sequel to his earlier and more famous work ‘Where No Vultures Fly’ (1951) (the second most popular film at the British box office in 1952), and continues to develop the themes and characters first introduced in the preceding feature, inspired by the work of the wildlife conservationist Mervyn Cowie.

Bob Payton learns that the Galanas, an African tribe he has befriended, are being forced by soil erosion to move from their homelands. He urges their Chief, Ushingo, to lead them into the hills where they will find fresh, fertile soil and peaceful living; but the young men of the tribe favour the attractions of Mombasa, which represent a new, exciting way of life. Payton knows that such a move would be fatal, placing the Galanas in the way of many temptations – not least the activities of ivory smugglers.

Starring Anthony Steel and Sheila Sim in the central roles of Bob and Mary Payton, reprising their roles from the earlier ‘Where No Vultures Fly’, alongside an ensemble cast including Eric Connor, Martin Benson, Orlando Martins and William Simons, Watt’s 1954 film proves an enjoyable and entertaining hour-and-a-half, and whilst it is never going to wow the masses, it is still an effective exploration of the ivory hunters who plunder Africa’s forgotten wilderness, featuring rich, engrossing colour cinematography from Ealing regular Paul Beeson and original music by Alan Rawsthorne performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

In terms of picture quality, unfortunately the presentation just doesn’t quite offer the rich, captivating quality that would really do this film justice, and truly capture the superb visuals of the African vistas, with definition and sharpness appearing just soft and colours never truly popping and appearing slightly faded. Thankfully though, there aren’t really any significant signs of any wear and tear to report, with the image appearing generally very clean, offering an authentic feeling presentation of the film.

The English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio mix fares stronger and offers good, clear, natural and undistorted dialogue and a nice, clean audio presentation of Rawsthorne’s elegant score.

Disc Two:

Penny Paradise

Network DVD / Carol Reed / 1938 / United Kingdom

Running Time: 69 minutes

Region Code: Region 2 / PAL

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Video: DVD9 / Black and White (from HD transfer)

Audio: English mono (restored)

Language: English

Subtitles: None

Joe Higgins is the captain of a Liverpool tug, with a pretty daughter, Betty, a forgetful Irish first mate, Pat, and a predilection for spending a weekly sixpence on the football pools. When Pat forgets to post Joe’s coupon on the week a winning line is drawn, chaos and frantic comedy are the result…

One of the earliest directorial works from the great Carol Reed, this humorous and beautifully paced little film, starring the fine Edmund Gwenn (best known for his role as Kris Kringle in ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ (1947), for which he received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor) in the central role of tugboat captain Joe Higgins, is an ultimately rewarding and very satisfying piece of work, enhanced courtesy of an astute and well constructed screenplay from Thomas Browne, Basil Dean, Walter Meade and Thomas Thompson, and excellent, absorbing location cinematography from the great Ronald Neame and Gordon Dines.

The comic elements are overall impressive and well paced, with a clever balance between subtle insinuation, sight gags and mild slapstick, however, I feel the decision to intersperse the action of the film with several musical numbers, mostly performed by Driver, does not fully work in the favour of the piece, and often feels just slightly unbalanced, often threatening to diminish the overall flow of the piece.

Edmund Gwenn is excellent in the central role, leading an admirable ensemble featuring a young Betty Driver, a fine Jimmy O’ Dea, Ethel Coleridge, Maire O’Neill, Jack Livesey, Syd Crossley and James Harcourt.

In terms of picture quality, for a low budget film that is now 75-years old, the presentation looks very impressive indeed. Sharpness and definition are again maybe not quite as crisp as would be liked, with the image appearing fairly soft, but there is still a good deal of detail and tone in the presentation; contrast levels are again impressive, with good, deep blacks and sharp whites, and there is some good depth to the transfer. Amazingly, there is vey little to report in terms of significant damage, aside from some very minimal age related wear and tear.

The English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio mix is also very good, though dialogue can at times be just slightly muffled and difficult to discern, but overall dialogue sounds clear, natural and undistorted, and the songs and music are well rendered.

Cheer Up!

Network DVD / Leo Mittler/ 1936 / United Kingdom

Running Time: 68 minutes

Region Code: Region 2 / PAL

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Video: DVD9 / Black and White

Audio: English mono (restored)

Language: English

Subtitles: None

The final inclusion in this volume, this rarely seen 1936 musical film, the penultimate feature from the Austrian theatre and film director Leo Mittler, is ultimately a charming and delightfully upbeat tale of two struggling composers attempting to gain financial backing for their musical comedy, interweaved with some highly comic situations and some impressive, high energy dance sequences.

A struggling playwright hopes to market a musical comedy that he has written in collaboration with another equally penurious composer. Anxious to secure the backing of a millionaire, the two composers only succeed in making him angry – until, following a chain of misunderstandings, they finally emerge triumphant.

Well written by Michael Barringer and music hall star Stanley Lupino (father of Ida Lupino), who also stars in the central role of Tom Denham, alongside a cast including Sally Gray, Roddy Hughes, Gerald Barry, Kenneth Kove and Wynne Weaver, ‘Cheer Up!’ proves the most delightful and entertaining of the four works included here, featuring slick, well paced direction from Mittler, strong ensemble performances and original music, arranged and performed by the British pianist, composer and bandleader, Percival Mackey and his Orchestra.

Looking at the picture quality, this presentation features some slightly more noticeable wear and tear due to the considerable age of the film, and the quality of the original source, and does again appear slightly softer than would be liked, but that said, overall the presentation offers good levels of definition, texture, tone and well-rendered contrast.

The English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio mix proves very impressive, with good, clear, clean dialogue, songs and music, with very minimal signs of hiss or muffling.

Special Features:

Gallery (Disc 2)

Overall:

Presenting four rare, forgotten works of British cinema, unseen since their original theatrical releases, the first volume in Network DVD’s new Ealing Rarities collection proves a fine and thoroughly entertaining release, and though the transfers are never going to please everybody, it is wonderful that these lost or forgotten gems have now been restored and given a new lease of life, making this a truly essential purchase for anyone interested in the history of British film.

Release Date: 8 April, 2013:

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