Ealing Studios Rarities Collection (The): Volume 4
The big rediscovery in this fourth quartet is The Loves of Joanna Godden. Made in 1947, it belongs to the fluid period when Ealing under Michael Balcon was searching for a clear identity, between the purposeful drive of the war years and the launching of the trademark Ealing Comedy brand in 1949. The studio’s major star of those years was the glorious Googie Withers, playing a succession of strong proto-feminist women who embody the determination not to slip back, after the war, into conventional subservience. Though set in the early 1900s, Joanna Godden is – like Gainsborough’s 17th-century melodrama The Wicked Lady – very much a document of its time. Joanna is a Kentish farmer determined to run both the business and her love-life in her own way.
As in the Ealing drama that followed, It Always Rains on Sunday, Withers plays opposite her own future husband, John McCallum. Joanna may seem to compromise her independence at the end by succumbing to marriage, but this counts for little against the assertiveness of the previous 90 minutes: she will be at least an equal partner. Two great bonuses are the location photography by Douglas Slocombe and the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, especially powerful in a tragic scene of drowning on the beach at Dungeness – decades before Derek Jarman made the place his home.
As before, this set of four rarities includes two from Ealing under Balcon alongside two from the earlier years when Basil Dean ran the company. The second Balcon item is Davy from 1957, made after Ealing, in crisis, had sold the studio and moved to MGM in a doomed attempt to keep going. It stars Harry Secombe, then famous both as partner of Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan in radio’s Goon Show, and as a talented singer: the film type-casts him as a performer torn between loyalty to a family Music Hall act and an opening at Covent Garden Opera House. At the time, the flat predictability of the narrative meant that Davy pretty much sank without trace, but like so many Ealing films it grows progressively more interesting as a document of its time: it plays out topical late-50s issues of class and culture, and serves as an allegory for the dilemma of the cosy ‘family act’ of Balcon’s Ealing. Can the enterprise keep going in a changing world? In the film, the act is preserved, but for Ealing this is wishful thinking, since the company would soon be wound up. Apart from this major historical interest, Davy offers a handsome aesthetic attraction in its wide-screen colour cinematography, again by Douglas Slocombe.
Made at Elstree after the company had moved out of the studio at Ealing, Davy is balanced, in this set of four, by Birds of Prey, directed 27 years earlier by Basil Dean at Beaconsfield before the construction of the studio was complete. Like its predecessor Escape! (see Ealing Rarities #1), it has extensive location sequences, shot in rural Essex, which look great in this high-quality print. To be honest, that is all that can be said in its favour – but it stands as an instructively vivid example of the creakiness of British cinema, or at least of some British cinema, at this time of early-sound upheaval. Based on a murder play by A.A.Milne of Winnie-the-Pooh fame, it struggles unsuccessfully to adjust to cinema in terms of acting, staging, and basic continuity. This gives it, like Davy but in a different way, genuine value as a period piece –‘so bad that it’s good’, compulsively so. And it preserves early performances by actors like C.Aubrey Smith and Nigel Bruce, destined for Hollywood, and the feisty Dorothy Boyd, whose British career would sadly peter out by the end of the decade.
Secret of the Loch, produced four years later at Ealing by an outside company, is in contrast a thoroughly professional and entertaining job. As editor, the young David Lean keeps the narrative going at a fast but always lucid pace; the co-writer is Charles Bennett, who was shortly to create the template for the Hitchcock thriller with the series of films that began with The Man who Knew Too Much and The 39 Steps. Like the latter film, this moves between London and a studio Scotland, in constructing its pioneer Loch Ness Monster story: the special effects are nothing special, but so what, when there is so much else to enjoy? Milton Rosmer had the long experience as actor and (here) director to coordinate the talents of these bright young men and of an attractive cast, ranging from theatre veteran Seymour Hicks to Gibson Gowland (star of von Stroheim’s Greed) and the debutant Rosamund John. It completes another quartet of films that are in their different ways, like the Monster, well worth bringing back from obscurity up to the surface.
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.
THE SECRET OF THE LOCH (1934)
An elderly professor seeks to prove the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. His claims meet with hostility, but one reporter decides to test them for himself.
Black and White / 73 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English
THE LOVES OF JOANNA GODDEN (1947)
Googie Withers stars as a young woman who flouts convention by choosing to run the farm she inherited, and by rejecting the man she is expected to marry...
Black and White / 85 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English
BIRDS OF PREY (1930)
A former police commissioner becomes the target of a revenge plot by two men he had helped convict years before.
Black and White / 91 mins / 1.19:1 / Mono / English
A young music-hall entertainer aspires to stardom on his own terms, but faces a dilemma as to whether he should go it alone or stick with his family troupe.
Colour / 79 mins / 2.35:1 / Mono / English
- Number of Discs
- See description
- See description
- 2 / PAL
- 350 mins approx