Ealing Studios Rarities Collection (The): Volume 7
With this set, the collection of reissued rarities extends to 28 films, and there is no evidence yet of any difficulty in finding worthwhile titles. Even the weakest of this quartet, Take a Chance from 1937, a lightweight comedy of adultery and horse-race betting scams, has one great point in its favour. Where Death Drives Through (Rarities 3, from 1935) had precious period footage of motor-racing on the Brooklands circuit, this has lengthy climactic racing scenes shot at a very uncluttered Goodwood on the Sussex Downs. And it is always a pleasure to catch early performances of cherished British character actors like Guy Middleton and Kynaston Reeves.
The other early title, Play Up the Band (1935), is a much more positive discovery. The Heckdyke brass band comes south to London to compete for a national trophy. The comedy taps strongly into North vs South cultural tensions, not through location scenes in the North – we simply see the band take the train south at the start, cheered off by the community – but through the northerners’ experience in London. Crucial to this are the roles of the keen industrialist sponsor of the band, Lord Heckdyke, and of his snobbish wife, who wants nothing to do with it, least of all when band members intrude upon genteel social occasions. Veteran character actress Amy Veness is terrific as the wife, both before and after her conversion to the band’s values and to her son’s choice of a bride. The film and its music have the same kind of energy as the films Gracie Fields made at Ealing; Stanley Holloway holds up the narrative very acceptably to fit in two of his trademark comic monologues; and there are glimpses of the spectacular building that hosts the competition, the Crystal Palace, the year before it burned down. Music is credited to Eric Spear, famous for the last 50s years as composer of the theme tune for Coronation Street. Altogether a modest but genuine treat.
Play Up the Band underlines the continuity between Ealing under Basil Dean and Ealing under Michael Balcon, both through its cheerful team spirit and through the central role of Stanley Holloway: he went on to play in no fewer than seven of Balcon’s productions, including two of the most celebrated of the comedies, Passport to Pimlico (1949) and The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). The two remaining films in this particular set, however, are not comedies.
The Gaunt Stranger (1938) is notable as the first film produced by Balcon after he moved to Ealing. Like The Four Just Men the following year (directed likewise by the highly competent Walter Forde, and included in Rarities 2), it adapts a popular thriller by Edgar Wallace. That film was updated from the original into a piece of explicitly anti-Nazi, anti-appeasement propaganda; The Gaunt Stranger, made at a slightly less urgent time prior to the Munich agreement, is given no such twist, but in its own way it carries the same message of resistance to dictators. Its star, Wilfred Lawson, was a legendary stage and screen actor whose career was held back by alcohol-fuelled bloody-mindedness; this is arguably his best film role, as the smoothly oppressive London lawyer Maurice Meister whose past misdeeds the mysterious Ringer seeks to avenge. Without perpetrating too much of a ‘spoiler’ of what still stands up as a suspenseful drama, one can note how remarkable it is that the project of assassination is at no point seen by the film as worthy of blame or punishment. As if he were Hitler a few years later.
Eureka Stockade (1949) gives further evidence of the sheer range and diversity of Ealing product. Set and shot in Australia, it aims at nothing less than the creation of a national historical epic, celebrating an event as inspirational – as claimed in the opening voice-over – as Magna Carta or the French Revolution. It dramatises the resistance of gold-digger immigrants of the 1850s to oppressive Colonial authorities, leading after violent clashes to the grant of land and citizenship. A follow-up to Ealing’s magnificent Australian cattle-drive epic The Overlanders (1946), by the same writer-director in Harry Watt, it had nothing like the same commercial or critical success, and it’s easy to see why: it lacks the narrative drive of the earlier film, or indeed of Ealing’s last Australian film The Shiralee from Rarities 5, nor do any of its big cast make an impact to match that of the two great Australian stars of those films, Chips Rafferty and Peter Finch respectively, even though both of these have parts in Eureka Stockade as well. But like any big film brought to light after so many decades of obscurity, it is of huge interest as a period piece, embodying post-war tensions in British attitudes to Australia at a time when the country was starting to feel its way to greater independence and, eventually, to the development of an industry that would make its own films rather than looking half-resentfully to Ealing. Above all, it is testimony to the admirable enterprise of Michael Balcon’s company, whose little-England insularity is often unfairly exaggerated – that was only part of a complex story.
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 Ealing Rarities Collection redresses this imbalance - featuring new transfers from the best available elements, in their correct aspect ratio, this multi-volume collection showcases a range of scarce films from both Basil Dean's and Michael Balcon's tenure as studio head, making them available once more to the general public.
EUREKA STOCKADE (1949)
In the Australian gold rush of the 1850s, the miners’ struggle to gain their rights proves to be a long and bitter one.
Black and White / 99 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English
TAKE A CHANCE (1937)
Irritated by her husband’s seeming indifference, the wife of a racehorse trainer flirts with a man whose real object is to learn the secrets of her husband’s stables...
Black and White / 71 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English
THE GAUNT STRANGER (1938)
A lawyer receives a note telling him that he’ll be dead in 48 hours – and Scotland Yard must work fast to uncover the serial killer known as ‘The Ringer’.
Black and White / 71 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English
PLAY UP THE BAND! (1935)
Stanley Holloway stars in the hilariously chaotic chronicle of the Heckdyke Steam Wagon Works Brass Band’s attempt to get to the Crystal Palace band contest.
Black and White / 67 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English
- Number of Discs
- 1.33:1 / Black and White
- Mono / English
- 2 / PAL
- 308 mins approx