Ealing Studios Rarities Collection (The): Volume 10
All nine sets of Rarities up to now have included films from the two distinct periods of Ealing production, under Basil Dean and then Michael Balcon. This one is different, being all-Balcon, with nothing before 1939 – set 12 will make up for this, with an all-Dean all-30s quartet.
The Balcon films in Rarities 10 divide neatly into Before and After, two of each. Before and after he had put his imprint on the studio, and built up a new creative team. Before and after the war, which was such a defining period for Ealing and its ethos.
As so often, there is one film that in itself justifies the set: the last one, The Divided Heart from 1954. No extravagant claims can be made for the other three but it is always valuable to have fresh pieces in the jigsaw filled in, for Ealing ‘completists’ and for anyone interested in British film history.
Let’s Be Famous (1939) and Saloon Bar (1940) are directed by Walter Forde, two of the six films he made at Ealing in quick succession before moving on; three of the others are included in earlier sets (The Gaunt Stranger in Rarities 7, The Four Just Men in Rarities 2, Cheer Boys Cheer in Rarities 9. As the mix suggests, he was a quick and versatile worker, at home both with comedy (he had been a comedy star himself) and with melodrama. Balcon had used him earlier, at Gaumont-British, and he was just the right man to help get him settled in at Ealing, turning his hand to anything, filming the script efficiently, sympathetic to his actors.
Let’s Be Famous features the Irish comedian Jimmy O’Dea and the Lancashire singer Betty Driver, both of them brought to London as candidates for radio stardom. It has to be said that their previous comedy at Ealing, Penny Paradise (1938), directed for Dean by Carol Reed – see Rarities 1 – was livelier, but it is fascinating, again, to see and listen to the still-teenage Driver, decades ahead of her comeback as Betty Turpin in Coronation Street. And there is enough period detail, especially of the broadcasting scene, to hold the interest. Saloon Bar is based on a stage play, and set mainly in the bar itself, an effective set which Forde uses fluently and suspensefully, directing a remarkable cast. Alec Clunes, father of Martin and primarily a theatre man, has a strong role as an innocent man who will shortly hang, unless pub regulars can rally round to trap the real murderer. One of the drinkers will become an familiar Ealing face of the 40s: Mervyn Johns, father of Glynis, best known as the architect in the classic horror tale Dead of Night.
Jump forward a decade, and Ealing has a new team of film-makers, most of them brought in as young men during the war to serve an apprenticeship, absorb the studio ethos, and then direct. Interestingly, some writers span both periods: Roger McDougall worked on Let’s Be Famous and The Man in the White Suit (1951), John Dighton on Saloon Bar and Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). His Excellency is in fact the first film that Robert Hamer, one of the bright new generation, directed after Kind Hearts, with nothing like the same success. Its main interest is as a record of a very topical stage play written in the aftermath of the Labour election victory of 1945, dramatising the tensions that arise from the appointment of an abrasive Trade Union leader as a colonial governor. One of the great British film actors, Eric Portman, enters vigorously into the part, and as his daughter Susan Stephen – later married to Nicolas Roeg – is a delight; sadly, neither of them made another Ealing film.
The Divided Heart engages in a different and movingly direct way with the aftermath of the war, tracing the struggle between two mothers for custody of a boy. Smuggled out of Yugoslavia for safety, and adopted by a German couple, he is reclaimed years later by his birth mother, a survivor of Auschwitz. The play of emotion is delicately handled, so that it’s hard not to sympathise equally with the ‘good German’ adoptive parents and with the Yugoslav mother – and indeed with the trio of judges who have to decide. Both Michael Balcon and his wife had a special commitment to this project, and regretted its relative failure at the time, despite good reviews. Sixty years on, it is one of the Ealing films that comes up very fresh, and prompts reassessment of its director Charles Crichton, best known for comedy (The Lavender Hill Mob, The Titfield Thunderbolt) but here doing admirable work of a different kind. A strong companion piece in this respect is the film of the same year,1954, made by another of the wartime generation of Ealing directors, Charles Frend, Lease of Life – see Rarities 11. Once again, this flow of re-releases allows a subtle shift of perspective on the studio and its history.
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.
LET’S BE FAMOUS (1939)
Village shopkeeper Jimmy fancies himself as a great singer; when he catches the attention of a passing BBC official, his dream seems to be within reach...
Black and White / 79 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English
THE DIVIDED HEART (1954)
A multiple BAFTA-award winner based on the true story of a German couple who adopt a boy thought to be a war orphan, and the mother who desperately wants him back.
Black and White / 86 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English
HIS EXCELLENCY (1952)
Yorkshire ex-docker George Harrison is appointed governor of a Mediterranean island; it stuns the aristocracy, interests the artisans and disturbs the double-dealers...
Black and White / 81 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English
SALOON BAR (1940)
On the night before the planned execution of a man convicted of murder, can bookie and amateur sleuth Joe Harris unravel the mystery of who really killed Mrs Truscott?
Black and White / 73 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English