DVD Review: EALING STUDIOS COMEDY COLLECTION (Blu-Ray in HD from Film Movement Classics)

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by Barry Creyton on January 16, 2021

in CD-DVD,Film


There was a bright, shining moment in the history of British film and it wore the banner: Ealing.

The Ealing studios have been in operation since 1902, making them the oldest, still operating studios in the world. Their most recent productions include the popular series Beecham House, and the remake of Murder on the Orient Express. But in the decade following the end of World War II, they produced some of the finest dramatic, and most enduring comedy films in all of British cinema.

At a time when popular American comedies made fun of the privileged classes (Palm Beach Story, The Philadelphia Story, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Sabrina), Ealing produced comedies in which the common Britisher laughed at himself. Four of these have been restored by Film Movement – a North American-based company dedicated to distributing and restoring award-winning independent and foreign films. These are released in an attractive, boxed Blu-ray set with informative notes and documentary extras.

Ealing Studios Comedy Collection comprises HD restorations of The Maggie (1954), Whisky Galore! (1949), both directed by Alexander Mackendrick, The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953), directed by Charles Crichton, and Passport to Pimlico (1949) directed by Henry Cornelius.

The Maggie concerns an all-but derelict cargo boat overdue for the scrapyard, which, owing to the conniving of its wily captain MacTaggart (Alex Mackenzie), and the errors of a bureaucratic official, is assigned the task of transporting the valuable goods of American businessman Calvin Marshall (Paul Douglas). Over the course of the protracted, obstacle-plagued journey, Marshall finds the compassion and humanity missing from his business-obsessed life, and is warmed by the unswerving loyalty of the cabin boy, Dougie, to his obstinate captain.

One of the finest of all of Ealing’s light comedies, The Maggie was written by multi-award-winning William Rose, who had created the classic Genevieve in 1953, and would go on to write other iconic comedies including The LadykillersThe Smallest Show on EarthThe Russians are ComingIt’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World, and to win the Oscar for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Derived from his novel, Compton Mackenzie’s screenplay for Whisky Galore! concerns the inhabitants of a remote Scottish island who are dealt a crippling blow by wartime rationing: they run out of whisky. As luck would have it, a ship carrying 50,000 cases of the stuff is wrecked on a nearby reef. The islanders band together to salvage the cargo against the opposition of officious customs agents. As in many of the Ealing comedies of this period, the little man triumphs over bureaucracy and finds strength in community. The characters are realized perfectly, the standouts are perhaps Gordon Jackson as the henpecked son of harridan Jean Cadell, and the great comedy actor Basil Radford, brilliantly underplaying the upright, uptight establishment figure, Captain Waggett.

Of all the Ealing oeuvre, and certainly in this collection, perhaps the two which exemplify their ongoing theme of the meek inheriting the earth, are The Titfield Thunderbolt and Passport to Pimlico, both written by T. E. B. Clarke.

The Titfield Thunderbolt was the first Ealing comedy to be shot in Technicolor. It concerns the plight of the people of Titfield, a near-London village, who rely on their minor branch railway line to ferry them to and from central London. The line is threatened with extinction by a private bus company whose owners sabotage the locomotive the night before a government inspection. The Titfielders band together to employ the only locomotive available to them – the ancient Titfield Thunderbolt. The scene in which the villagers remove the 1838 vintage engine from the local museum in the dead of night is the enduring image from this now dated, but sweetly entertaining movie.

The screenplay by the great T. E. B. Clarke is slight by comparison to his screenplay for the gem of this collection, the warm, funny and still relevant Passport to Pimlico.

Clarke’s genius as a comedy writer was a combination of his compassion for the average Britisher while providing situations in which the same Britisher laughed at his own foibles. In Passport to Pimlico, he creates a cyclone from a minor disturbance in a drop of pond water. Stanley Holloway, Hermione Baddeley, Margaret Rutherford and Paul Dupuis star in what is still one of the most whimsical and utterly charming of all Ealing films.

Immediately post World War II, in the war-damaged London suburb of Pimlico, a forgotten German bomb explodes exposing a long-buried cellar which contains treasured artifacts and a medieval proclamation asserting that the district belongs to the Duchy of Burgundy. Margaret Rutherford’s eccentric historian finds the charter has never been rescinded, and therefore, Pimlico is actually French territory. Crippled by wartime rationing, the inhabitants create borders to their “Burgundian” state, and are able to bypass the British wartime restrictions, buying and selling goods freely. Bumbling attempts by bureaucracy to resolve the issue result in Pimlico being isolated from the rest of London, with no one able to enter or leave. Provisions depleted, it seems the inhabitants will be starved out, when Londoners come to the rescue, gleefully pitching food and essential goods over the guarded borders from passing buses and trains.

The restorations bring these important British comedies to new life. The documentary extras contain revealing interviews with historians and those of the production team who remain to tell the tales. This attractive boxed set is an important addition to any collection of British film in general, and a must for anyone respectful of a ground-breaking studio whose comedies remain undimmed by time, blockbuster, or screen ratio.

Ealing Studios Comedy Collection
Film Movement Classics
The MaggieWhisky Galore!The Titfield Thunderbolt, Passport to Pimlico
Blu-ray/DVD (New HD Restorations | 343 minutes | 1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio | Mono


  • Whisky Galore! audio commentary by John Ellis
  • Distilling Whisky Galore! documentary
  • The Real Whisky Galore! featurette
  • 16-page booklet with notes by film scholar Ronald Bergen (Blu-ray only)
  • Interview with BFI Curator Mark Duguid
  • Locations Featurette with Film Historian Richard Dacre
  • Restoration Comparison
  • Stills Gallery
  • 16-page booklet (Blu-ray only)
  • Featurette: “Making the Titfield Thunderbolt”
  • Featurette: “The Lion Locomotive”
  • Featurette: Locations
  • Home Movie Footage from Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe
  • Slocombe on Charles Crichton audio interview
  • Original trailer
  • Archival stills gallery
  • 16-page booklet (Blu-ray only)

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