Review: The Ealing Studios Collection Vol 1 / Cert: U / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Alec Guinness, Dennis Price, Joan Greenwood / Release Date: Out Now
This gem of a Blu-ray box set gathers together three of the very finest Ealing comedies – The Man in the White Suit (1951), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). They're films that need no introduction, but hell, let's introduce them anyway.
From a Starburst reader's point of view, perhaps the most interesting is The Man in the White Suit. Cinemas historians tend not to write about it as such, but what is it if not an early British sci-fi movie? Set in the industrial North, this acidly witty “what if” tale is about what happens when an obsessive chemist invents a form of textile so strong you have to cut it with a blow torch. Answer, he has to reckon with powerful vested interests in the shape of repressive mill owners and bolshy labour forces.
Graced with a perfectly turned script by T.E.B. “Tibby” Clarke, The Lavender Hill Mob is a heist caper wherein a meek bank clerk dreams up a scheme to steal gold bullion from the Bank of England; it's Ealing at its most whimsical and charming. Best of all, though, is Robert Hamer's masterpiece, Kind Hearts and Coronets. The darkest and most brilliant of Ealing's creations, this is a comedy of revenge in which a family of prideful toffs, the D'Ascoygnes (all played by Alec Guinness), are picked off by a jilted relation (the underrated Dennis Price). It's one of those rare films that you just know is going to last and last.
The HD transfers are all immaculate, with scarcely a blemish. The Lavender Hill Mob is especially sharp and clean. The Man in the White Suit is just a touch grainier but again very nice, with both the grit and delicate fantasy of Alexander Mackendrick's direction emerging more forcefully than ever before. But it's undoubted Kind Hearts and Coronets, with its thickly encrusted Gothic décor and dazzling costumes, that benefits most from the shift to Blu-ray. You can now count every feather and flower in the extraordinary confections that Joan Greenwood wears on her head, and you can see a subtle watery reflection bouncing off Dennis Price's face as, submerged up to his neck in the Thames, he sends Ascoygne D'Ascoygne tumbling fatally over a weir.
Each of the films comes with welcome extras. There's a vintage 25-minute interview with T.E.B. Clarke in which he paints an idyllic picture of what it was like to work at Ealing. The rather sad career of Dennis Price is covered in an elderly but thorough documentary. A brisk, more recent 13-minute featurette looks at the background and themes of The Man in the White Suit. Ten stars seems inadequate. How about three cheers and a V for Victory sign?
Extras: Introductions by Martin Scorsese and John Landis / Dennis Price – Those British Faces / Alternative American Ending / Restoration comparisons / Audio interview with director Charles Crichton / Audio commentary / Mavis interviews T.E.B. Clarke / Revisiting The Man in the White Suit / Stills gallery