Ealing Studios Rarities Collection (The): Volume 8
Penrose Tennyson, Robert Stevenson, Pat Jackson: these are three talented directors who for very different reasons had only a brief association with Michael Balcon at Ealing, in contrast to those like Basil Dearden and Leslie Norman, featured in previous sets, who were part of the long-term team. The three are brought together in this eighth set of Ealing Rarities.
Tennyson died in a plane crash in 1941, aged only 28. He was a much-mourned protégé of Balcon, who had employed him as assistant to Alfred Hitchcock in the mid-1930s on films like The 39 Steps, and then gave him the chance to direct when he took over at Ealing in 1938. There Ain’t No Justice is the first of the three films Tennyson made there in quick succession before joining the Navy. Advertised as ‘The Film That Begs to Differ’, it helped establish Ealing as ‘The Studio that Begs to Differ’, the title used ten years later for an affectionate article on Ealing by the future director Lindsay Anderson. The film’s boldness lies in its focus on a working-class London community, and in its attack on the crookedness of boxing promoters, an expression of Tennyson’s own radical politics. Neither the accents nor the extensive ring action are 100% convincing, but the film has a likeable energy and builds to a powerful climax. Outstanding in the cast is Jill Furse, as the boxer’s on-off girlfriend. Like Tennyson, she died sadly young after making only three films; more familiar faces include Jimmy Hanley as the boxer, and Michael Wilding, enjoyably over-the-top in a caddish early role.
Robert Stevenson likewise made only three films at Ealing, before going permanently to America on the eve of the war with his wife and leading lady Anna Lee; he later became Disney’s top director with, among much else, Mary Poppins. In total contrast to Tennyson’s film, Young Man’s Fancy is set in aristocratic circles in the London of 1870, and moves to Paris to take in the fallout from the Franco-Prussian War. At its core, however, is the same kind of anti-materialist romance, as its young hero (Griffith Jones) fights for the humble Irish girl of his choice, played by Lee, and it too comes through a few contrived plot devices to a strong and satisfying climax. The performances of Seymour Hicks and, especially, the wonderful Martita Hunt, as the hero’s parents, in themselves make the film worth acquiring.
Pat Jackson is another director who might have had a steady Ealing career if things had worked out differently. He was part of the 1930s documentary movement from whom Balcon drew recruits like Harry Watt (see West of Zanzibar in Rarities One), but he stayed with the government’s Crown Film Unit and then took up a Hollywood contract. When that ended, Balcon wanted him to direct Whisky Galore, but it became the debut film for Alexander Mackendrick. The one Ealing film he did make is like a sequel to his excellent hospital drama White Corridors (Rank, 1950), in which Googie Withers played a surgeon fighting to advance her own career rather than defer to her partner. The Feminine Touch, shot in colour, is undeniably a less distinguished film, but remains an absorbing and highly professional one. It too has Jackson’s regular theme of conflicts between men and women over work, though the women’s ambitions here are limited: they are nurses, all the doctors are men, and by now both Britain and British cinema are less open and adventurous than they were post-war. But rather than acquiescing in the reality that nurses must surrender their careers on marriage, and treating such marriage as a happy end, the film celebrates the prospect of a change in the rules, dramatising it via the commitment of the hospital matron played by Diana Wynyard, star from the 1930s who here gives moving depth to a small part. On the way to this ending there are pleasures to be drawn from a range of other female performances on both the nursing side and the patient side – Belinda Lee and the child star Mandy Miller, among many others – and from some skilfully sustained long takes which help to showcase them.
The odd film out in this quartet is The Silent Passenger, a much less ambitious pre-Balcon comedy-thriller, adapted from Dorothy L.Sayers, with a director, Reginald Denham, who was always more committed to the stage than the screen. It has the great benefit of a big early role for Donald Wolfit, later the famously ‘barnstorming’ Shakespearean Sir Donald. Far more compelling than Peter Haddon as Lord Peter Wimsey, he plays a sinister railway employee involved in disguise, blackmail, murder, and a hectic climactic chase dodging the trains. Another bonus is an unexpected DVD extra, the American release version of the film, cut down from 70 minutes to 53, making the plot even harder to unravel than it already was. Like The House of the Spaniard from Rarities Five, The Silent Passenger features admirably tight editing by future director Thorold Dickinson, but it’s unlikely he had anything to do with its brutal abbreviation.
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 FEMININE TOUCH (1956)
Under the watchful eye of Matron, five young women begin their nursing careers in the National Health Service.
Colour / 88 mins / 1.66:1 / Mono / English
YOUNG MAN’S FANCY (1939)
Those were the days! When a music hall was a hall of music, whose saccharine and plaintive numbers made everyone weep - from duke to dustman!
Black and White / 74 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English
THERE AIN’T NO JUSTICE (1939)
Jimmy Hanley stars as a young boxer whose family faces financial difficulty. A big-time promoter promises fame and fortune – but is he all he claims to be?
Black and White / 76 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English
THE SILENT PASSENGER (1935)
In his first film sighting, Lord Peter Wimsey, Dorothy L. Sayers’ famous amateur sleuth, sets out to prove the innocence of an acquaintance accused of murder.
Black and White / 70 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English