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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

The Ealing Studio Collection
(Kind Hearts and Coronets / The Lavender Hill Mob / The Man in the White Suit)


Starring: Alec Guinness, Dennis Price, Stanley Holloway and Joan Greenwood
Distributor: MVM
RRP: £29.99
Certificate: U
Release Date: 31 March 2014

There was a time when the British cinema was good enough to rival anything being produced by America or our European cousins, a time when our output was matched by our quality. After the cessation of the Second World War, the individual countries, freed from the Nazis, started to reform their film industries. Italy saw the temporary growth of the new realism, France started work on what would become modern film theory.

England was different, never having come under the Germans influence it retained its individuality and whilst the war years were taken up with a surfeit of escapist films and rousing propaganda to shore up the resolve of the population, the years following the end of the war would see a golden age of British cinema in both drama and comedy.

Up to the end of the war most comedies were designed to be star vehicles for contemporary popular comedians, something which would decline to produce a series of witty and clever films, which relied more on great scripts and acting than any given star turn. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Britain has some superb comedy actors.

The Rank Organisation had been steadily growing since its formation in 1937 and its financial clout allowed it to finance Ealing Studios, which would produce some of the best comedy films of this or any other time.

Now, some of the films have been released as a three box Blu-ray set, tied together by the appearance of Alec Guinness, three of the six comedies which Guinness was to do for Ealing have been released in a fully restored state.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (B&W - 1949 - 1 hr, 46 min, 10 sec) was directed by Robert Hamer (School for Scoundrels (1960)) from a script by Michael Balcon and Michael Relph.

The film is a black comedy, set in Edwardian England, a genteel place where murder is the furthest thing from most peoples thoughts, apart from Louis D'Ascoyne Mazzini, whose mother had married an Italian, much to the disgust of the family, prompting her to be disinherited. Louis, disgusted at how he and his mother have been treated, sets about murdering every D'Ascoyne who stands between himself and the title of the Duke of Chalfont.

The film opens with Louis (Dennis Price) awaiting his death by hanging for the numerous murders he has committed and to while away the time he commits the tale to paper. We then flash back to the beginning of his humble start in life and his plan to make himself significantly richer.

The film is notable because all eight members of the D'Ascoyne family, both male and female are played by Guinness.

It is a deliciously funny film, made all the better for Guinness producing a string of comedic characters and Price’s ability to murder in a most genteel and amusing way. If nothing else, the film proved that murder could be funny.

The restored picture is free from dirt and scratches and much has been done to improve the contrast. The disc has a few extras, including an introduction by John Landis. There is a retrospective look at the work of Dennis Price (25 min, 52 sec) and a full length commentary from Peter Bradshaw, Terrence Davies and Matthew Guinness.

The Lavender Hill Mob (B&W - 1951 - 1 hr, 21 min, 20 sec) was directed by Charles Crichton (A Fish Called Wanda (1988)) from a script by T. E. B. Clarke.

In this film Guinness plays Henry "Dutch" Holland, a mousy and unassuming man, who works at the Bank of England. His job is to supervise the collection and delivery of gold to the bank. Henry is so dull that none of his co-workers think that he has any imagination, but Henry has plans.

Like the previous film, the story begins at the end, with Henry living the high life in South America, sitting in a restaurant; he recounts his adventures to an unknown patron. The film then skips back to Henry diligently collecting gold for the bank. Henry has a fool proof scheme to steal one million in gold, what he doesn’t have is other people to help him. This all changes when a new lodger moves into his boarding-house.

Alfred Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway) is also not a happy man, although he has a desire to be an artist, he owns a company which makes novelties for tourists, in fact one of his best lines are lead copies of the Eiffel Tower, which he ships to France. With a way to smuggle the gold out of the country Henry and Alfred set about recruiting two more members, Lackery Wood (Sidney James) and Shorty Fisher (Alfie Bass). Just when everything seems to be going well disaster strikes.

As a parody of a heist movie, it seems appropriate that the film has an introduction by Martin Scorsese (3 min, 38 sec). The extras also have an interview with the Director (12 min, 51 sec), this is audio only and of variable quality and an interview with the screen writer (24 min, 43 sec). The disc is wrapped up with a Restoration Comparison (4 min, 11 sec), this is silent, which is a shame as it would have been nice to know something about how the films were restored, you also get a self-running stills gallery (1 min, 07 sec) which contains twelve behind the scenes shots and the unrestored Trailer (2 min, 31 sec).

The film is also notable as one of the earliest parts taken by Audrey Hepburn - as Chiquita - in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment.

The Man in the White Suit (1951) is a slightly different beast, whereas the first two films are played for their comedic situation; The Man in the White Suit is much more subversive with its view of scientific progress.

Directed by Alexander Mackendrick (Whisky Galore! (1949), The Ladykillers (1955)) from a script co-written with John Dighton and Roger MacDougall, the story tells of Sidney Stratton’s discovery of a material which will never get dirty and is virtually indestructible.

We all live in a world where people make goods designed to have a short shelf life, more and more mobile phones come out each year offering more and better functions, but essentially their main purpose (to be a phone) has changed little. It is the same with all things.

So, when Sidney comes up with his miracle fabric, rather than be lauded as a hero, both the management and the workers try to stop him, after all if you have a set of clothing which will never wear out why would you buy another? Within a year his invention threatens to kill off the textile business for good. Towards the end of the film, when he is being chased through the town by an angry mob, Sidney is confronted by a poor woman whose only income is from washing other peoples clothes, a point at which the penny drops for him about the possible damage his invention will cause.

There is a subplot of a love story with Joan Greenwood as Daphne Birnley, a brilliant post war character actress, who had already appeared with Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Once again, the film has been fully restored. All the films have a mono soundtrack, but this too has been substantially cleaned up. The film has no famous introduction, but it does come with a retrospective; Revisiting The Man in the White Suit (13 min, 20 sec) which places the film in its historical context and discusses its continued importance. There are nine stills to view and another silent restoration Comparison (5 min, 02 sec). the disc wraps with the unrestored Trailer (2 min, 40 sec)

Overall it’s a wonderful set with three of the six comedies Guinness was to do for Ealing. Well worth picking up on Blu-ray.


Charles Packer

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