They’ve made some classics at Ealing Studios. Some are well remembered, but hundreds of others have been made there since 1902. The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection – now on its 11th volume – gives some of the more obscure productions a shiny new transfer and offers them up for reconsideration.
Volume 11 opens in good old Ealing fashion with Return To Yesterday, in which the sudden arrival of a Hollywood star (played by real life matinee star Clive Brook) brings hope to a struggling seaside theatre company. Despite a couple of supporting performances flatter than the backdrops, it’s a witty piece. It does a good line in the sort of sweet dialogue you wouldn’t get away with today (“Give my love to Carol when she’s not listening”).
The collection stumbles with its second entry, a 1934 adaptation of Lorne Doone. A couple of horrible juvenile leads ruin the early childhood scenes, while the film’s plagued throughout with the mangled accents of which 1930s cinema should be ashamed. It’s more concerned with getting as much of the book onscreen than finding any flavour in it, and ends up with the cinematic equivalent of an abridged children’s edition.
Things get a lot better as we burst into the 1950s – and colour – with the highlight of the collection, Lease Of Life. Robert Donat plays a saintly, long-suffering vicar – of the sort verisimilitude doesn’t let exist anymore – whose failing health causes him to reassess life and faith. It’s an uplifting piece with a surprisingly modern feel. “We are all part of the pattern,” Donat says at one point; I could imagine Matt Smith saying that before bursting into light.
We head back into what feels like the deep and distant past for the concluding film in the collection, Calling The Tune from 1936. It’s the usual story of star-cross’d lovers, but the setting (the early days of the gramophone industry) gives it an interesting period flavour. The extreme contrasts in lighting and industrial sets have the echo of the German Expressionists who were making themselves felt in Hollywood at the same time – the ‘visual gramophone’ wouldn’t be out of place in the works of Fritz Lang.
Like the rest of the films in The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection Volume 11 – all of them except Lorna Doone at least – Calling The Tune is a joyfully slight thin: unprepossessing but with its un-cherished charms, interesting ideas and discrete successes. You won’t uncover any lost classics on these two discs, but you will find a few rough diamonds.
The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection Volume 11 is available on DVD from March 3
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