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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Filmmaking > Industry > Studios > British > Drama > Comedy > Mystery > MurderWar > WWII > Backst > The Elstree Story (1952)/Ealing Studios Rarities Collection, V. 1 (w Penny Paradise), V. 2 (w The Four Just Men (1939)), V. 3 (w Cage Of Gold) and V. 4 (w Davy/1930 – 1957/Network U.K. Region 2/PAL DV

The Elstree Story (1952)/Ealing Studios Rarities Collection, V. 1 (w Penny Paradise), V. 2 (w The Four Just Men (1939)), V. 3 (w Cage Of Gold) and V. 4 (w Davy/1930 – 1957/Network U.K. Region 2/PAL DVDs)


Picture: C+     Sound: C     Extras: C+/C-/C-/C-/C+     Films: B-



PLEASE NOTE: These Region 2 PAL import DVDs are only available in the U.K. from our friends at Network U.K. and can be ordered from them exclusively at the website address link provided below at the end of the review.



Network U.K. is revisiting the glorious past of the great Elstree Studios in a series of DVD releases that are both interesting and historically significant.  This includes a vintage documentary on the first quarter century of the studio and a 4-film-per-volume series of films produced at that studio.  We start with the inaugural five releases in this cycle.



The Elstree Story (1952) is a compilation documentary introduced by Richard Todd about the first 25 years of the still-enduring studio, starting with their entry into filmmaking in what turned out to be the late silent era much like RKO Radio Pictures, who they had a contract with.  They quickly moved into sound and launched some of the most important careers in cinema history, including that of Alfred Hitchcock, whose film Blackmail (1929) was the first British sound film and one of the Master of Suspense’s early hits of many to come.


This only ruins an hour, but manages to cover a ton of films, a ton of stars and a ton of historical firsts as the studio quickly developed into something special like no other studio around and after decimation after WWII, never lost its character or special sense of a one-of-a-kind place for cinema that would keep getting rediscovered over and over again in decades to come thanks to more hit movie classics, some classic TV and much more.


It was the home to Associated British who would also make an early splash on British TV with its own ABC company and classics like The Avengers and that was only a few years away (hard to believe) after this film was made.  This is a classic must-see documentary all serious film fans and scholars need to catch up with.



Like the That’s Entertainment films, it makes you want to see the whole feature films discussed, so we are seeing a new series called the Ealing Studios Rarities Collection that offers four films per set so you can catch up with said films respectively as well.  Here are the first four releases and their films….



V. 1 offers Basil Dean’s Escape (1930)is a prison escape drama with Gerald du Maurier as the Captain on the run for a killing he did not do and a very young Madeline Carroll who starts to believe he is innocent.  Simple, basic and professionally done, it holds up well for its age.


Harry Watt’s West Of Zanzibar (1954) is a colonial drama with Anthony Steel dealing with British usage of African lands and the “dangers” that are about to follow, but it is not just a B-movie or kids matinee work, but a drama that also deals with ivory smuggling and just holds up better than most of its kind of tale.  The screenplay was co-written by Jack Whittingham (Thunderball).


Carol Reed’s Penny Paradise (1938) has the legendary director doing a comedy about gambling, missed opportunities and missed fortunes with Edmund Gwenn, but is not just outright silly.  Not bad, though not a classic, Reed was a good director early on and this is often not as seen as his later works.


and Leo Miller’s Cheer Up! (1938) has Stanley Lupino in a comedy about a playwright doing a musical stage comedy, but can he and his gang get the money to launch a big success?



V. 2 has Carol Reed’s Midshipman Easy (1935) is an 18th Century war drama as the British and Spanish take each other on in a drama with some adventure featuring Hughie Green, Margaret Lockwood, Roger Livesey and a big cast.  Not bad, but not the best of its kind, despite more competent helming by Reed.


Edmond T. Grenville’s Brief Ecstasy (1938) is a romantic drama made as Britain still has interests in a colonized India and a love triangle between Paul Lukas, Hugh Williams and Marie Ney.  Also well done, it ages a bit, but is interesting viewing.


Charles Frend’s The Big Blockade (1942) is an anti-Nazi docudrama with John Mills, Michael Redgrave, Will Hay, a very young Robert Morley, Leslie Banks, Bernard Miles and Michael Rennie that shows the growing menace in full view.


and Walter Forde’s film of Edgar Wallace’s The Four Just Men (1939) also goes after the Nazis in this version of the 1905 classic novel with a very young, dynamic Anna Lee as the new female interest and the plot of the novel tailored to point fingers at the Nazi Menace.  Purists might not like the film, but it is well made for its time and has an inarguable intent and some good moments.  You can read more about the book in our coverage of an audiobook version of the classic elsewhere on this site or the later 1959 TV series we also covered from Network U.K. on DVD.



V. 3 offers Basil Dearden’s Cage Of Gold (1950) reunites Jean Simmons and David Farrar (of the Powell/Pressburger classic Black Narcissus) of doctors and another love triangle co-written by Jack Whittingham (Thunderball) that also give us James Donald, Bernard Lee and Herbert Lom in a decent all-around drama that can be a little too melodramatic for its own good, but is well done otherwise.


Edward L. Cahn’s Death Drives Through (1935) is an early race car film that has what is some great car race footage for its time, some old-fashioned racers, great location footage of early race tracks and sometimes comic performances as a man creates a powerful new car, but wrecks the thing before he can show off his breakthrough.  Note the lady reading an early copy of Motor Magazine and the Autocar Magazine ads all over the place.  Top Gear fans should see this one once too.


Basil Dean’s The Impassive Footman (1932) is a love triangle on a boat film with Owen Nares, Betty Stockfield and Allan Jeayes that is sometimes campy, but efficient and to the point.  It did not stay with me, but was interesting while it lasted.


and Walter Ford’s Frieda (1947) is a Nazi drama with David Farrar falling for a German gal (Mai Zetterling) which has some rough spots, but is made worse when he bitter pro-Nazi brother turns up alive.  Glynis Johns and Flora Robinson are among the supporting cast.



And finally, V. 4 gives us Milton Rosmer’s The Secret Of Loch (1934) which is an early Loch Ness Monster movie that has some fun and funny moments, but is not necessarily a monster or horror film.  Still, it is worth a look for being so ahead of the genre curve and that it holds up as well as it does gong on 80 years since its first release.


Charles Freund’s The Loves Of Joanna Godden (1947) is a farm drama about the title woman (Googie Withers) and can she run the place herself and which of three men will she pick to be with.  Chips Rafferty, John McCallum, Derek Bond and Jean Kent also star.


Basil Dean’s Birds Of Prey (1930 aka The Perfect Alibi) has C. Aubrey Smith in this adaptation of A.A. Milne’s (creator of Winnie The Pooh!) play about a police commissioner targeted for revenge.  Has some nice touches and moments, even if some of it does not date as well as Hitchcock’s best.  Nigel Bruce and Jack Hawkins also star.


and Michael Relph’s Davy (1957) is a widescreen backstage musical with Harry Secombe as a circus comedian who is part of a performing family who might go solo in what would be the last of Ealing’s many comedy films.  Not bad, but not great, it is an ambitious production with mixed results.




The 1.33 X 1 black and white image on most of the film presentations range from impressive (Penny Paradise is an HD transfer source) to sometimes rough, soft and aged, but owner Studio Canal Plus is taking care of the films decently just the same, though some have complained that certain films have telecine people taking odd liberties (and not just for Network U.K.), but that is for a separate essay.  A few of the 1.33 X 1 are slightly windowboxed, Escape is here in a 1.19 X 1 presentation, West Of Zanzibar is in a 1.33 X 1 color presentation that is not bad and Davy was shot in Technirama and is presented in an The anamorphically enhanced 2 X 1 image, though the text says it is 2.35 X 1, that is wrong, as is the color.  It is supposed to be three-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor, but it looks poor, sometimes awful, muted and flat.  People have complained about past transfers before and it is disappointing.


The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on all films show their age, with some rougher than others, but even the clearest are at a lower volume than I would have liked.


Extras on all five releases include Still Galleries, while Elstree adds a terrific 22-minutes-long Revisiting The Elstree Story: Back In The Studio featurette with the current head of the studio, Paul Welsh and PDF-accessible DVD-ROM materials, while V.1 adds a Zanzibar Theatrical Trailer and Zanzibar PDF-accessible DVD-ROM materials, V.2 adds PDF-accessible DVD-ROM pressbooks and fliers on Easy, Blockade & Four Just Men and V.4 adds an all-audio interview taped on March 14, 1997 with Elstree alum Sidney Cole running 80:48.




As noted above, you can order all these PAL Region 2 import DVDs exclusively from Network U.K. at:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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