The Ealing Studios Collection: Volume 1 - Blu-ray Review

'cultivates an atmosphere that is insatiably straight-faced'

A study in dry English humour and straight-faced wit, Kind Hearts And Coronets is the clear star of this newly released Blu-ray version of Ealing's collected post-war comedies. The name Ealing has come to mean something, even amongst those fairly unfamiliar with the studios output; quintessential Englishness, light Comedy, a smattering of farce, a careful playing with ideas that might, in other hands, have seemed too dangerous to put on screen at the time. In short: Ealing means Kind Hearts And Coronets.

Attractively told almost entirely in voiceover by Louis (Dennis Price) over the night before he is due to be executed, the story follows his murderous rampage through the D'Ascoyne family, almost all of whom are played by Alec Guinness. Wrongfully denied his birthright of a wealthy upbringing, Louis instead ascends the class ladder by way of shotgun, bow and arrow and other more devious homicidal solutions.

Director Robert Hamer cultivates an atmosphere that is insatiably straight-faced, allowing us to laugh with Louis because of the stereotype characters he dispatches. As the protagonist makes it through heirs, a message of sorts emerges through Sibella (Joan Greenwood): being upwardly mobile through the classes doesn't buy happiness and even if Louis does get away with it, there might be a sting in the tail. Everything leading up to that is manipulated with a patience that's rare and a timbre of storytelling that just no longer exists. The film is a joy and one-hundred and six minutes flies by.

Kind Hearts And Coronets is so good that there is at least an element of it overshadowing the other two films in the set. Certainly, by comparison, The Lavender Hill Mob does not come off well. Again featuring Guinness, here as the star rather than eclectic support, this is again a film concerned with a protagonist who, for less defined reasons, feels he has been denied his rightful station in life. The lavish parading of money by Holland (Guinness) in the opening scenes is a world away from the dutiful man shown soon after in flashback, committed to babysitting a bank's millions of bullion.

With a less compelling story and central character, told with less focus on the laughs by director Charles Crichton, it is individual moments which stand out in the second film of the set. A race down the Eiffel Tower's staircase by Holland and partner in crime Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway) is Hitchcockian in the extreme, a bewildering montage of giddy camera work, superb on both a technical and an entertainment level. It would not look out of place on a list of Best Ever Scenes. It is joined by the parade of bank elders, accompanied by Georges Auric's oompa-like score: a withering portrayal of the middle management Holland is trying to escape from. Watch for an early Audrey Hepburn appearance, during the opening segment. In the end though, the heady bromance between Holland and Pendlebury just isn't something you can invest in enough, amidst these individual pieces of storytelling.

Rounding out the set, The Man In The White Suit too has flaws but certainly holds enough interest to recommend highly, particularly for fans or curators of the period. A curious mix of working class socialism and Science Fiction-inflected Drama, there is something to say here about Britain's post-war expansion. With a sole aim of inventing an indestructible fabric, Sidney Stratton (Guinness) is told he cannot work for free towards this aim by worker's rights activist Bertha (Vida Hope) and that he must take his tea break because 'we fought for that'.

Eventually it is the societal concerns of the working class that win out over the scientific invention: 'what about my bit of washing when there's no washing left to do?' another characters asks Stratton, en route to both the suit and his aims unravelling. Before then, director Alexander Mackendrick stops to consider a key Science Fiction pursuit - 'are you wearing the suit or is the suit wearing you?' - identity in a scientific vacuum or ideas around whether we can, rather than whether we should. The Man In The White Suit is also notable for its willingness to cultivate the relationship between Stratton and Daphne (Joan Greenwood again), which adds some much needed warmth and love, where the other films are less concerned with either.

Kind Hearts And Coronets

The Lavender Hill Mob

The Man In The White Suit

The Ealing Studios Collection: Volume 1 is out on Blu-ray in the UK from Monday 31st March.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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