Ealing Studios was a British institution and it’s easy to forget that they didn’t just make comedies. This month, Studio Canal have three of their films released (Nowhere to Go, The Titfield Thunderbolt and Dance Hall). Nowhere to Go and Dance Hall have been issued on DVD whereas The Titfield Thunderbolt, tying in with its 60th anniversary, is getting a Blu-ray and a DVD release.
Nowhere To Go is a great British noir film, based on the novel by Donald McKenzie and scripted by Kenneth Tynan, made in 1958. This is an uncut version of the film which has never been released before. Canadian conman Paul Gregory (played by George Nader), has come to London to steal the rare old coin collection of old woman Harriet Jefferson (Bessie Love). He does this successfully but ends up going to prison, sentenced to ten years. The spivvy Victor Sloane (Bernard Lee, playing against type here) helps to break Gregory out of prison but despite the fact he does escape prison, his journey to flee the country is hindered by a number of double crosses and accidents and so he finds himself on the lam with young socialite Bridget Howard (a very young Maggie Smith). Director Seth Holt, who also went on to make Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb and The Nanny, moves the action on with panache and Nader is very good as its protagonist and it’s refreshing to see Lee in a role that’s quite different. Nowhere To Go is an exciting slice of fifties noir with a very British feel and it’s certainly worthy of a new home cinema release…
The Titfield Thunderbolt, which was made in 1953, deals with a classic Ealing preoccupation: small town vs big business. A group of railway enthusiasts decide to run their own train when British Rail decides to cancel their service. The restored cut does look lovely on screen but The Titfield Thunderbolt does feel rather lightweight these days. Director Charles Crichton (Lavender Hill Mob) does manage to make the journey entertaining though, with his lightness of touch and bringing the bucolic Titfield to life, and the cast, which includes Stanley Holloway, John Gregson and even a cameo from Sid James, do bring an infectious liveability to what is a very slight film. It’s not up there with Ealing’s classic output but it is definitely worth a watch…
Finally, Dance Hall, which predates The Titfield Thunderbolt by three years but was also directed by Charles Crichton. This is an odd film: a drama about four factory girls and their romances at the local dance hall. Alexander Mackendrick, who went on to direct The Ladykillers, is one of the screenwriters here and Dance Hall does have its own naive charm. We get to see a young Petula Clark and a youngish Diana Dors as two of the girls, although Dors was never much of an actress. It is interesting to see London in 1950 but much of it feels very artificial. There are some nice moments though: the fight between the two men caught in a love triangle, Alec (Bonar Colleano) and Phil (Donald Houston), is surprisingly well orchestrated and there are some well-delineated relationships between the characters. Natasha Parry as Eve is also stunning and magnetic on screen. It doesn’t compare to Ealing’s classic films either but it is worth watching if you’re an aficionado of British cinema. Dance Hall is a curio but still worth checking out.


I admit that when I went to see Skyfall, I was expecting it to be the same sort of experience I had had when going to see Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. So, solid and entertaining but a slightly disappointing cinemagoing time. Don’t get me wrong, I thought Casino Royale was very good but Quantum of Solace felt like a Bourne film. At one point, it seemed that Bond was cursed: MGM was in severe financial difficulties and we didn’t know if we were going to see another James Bond after 22. But Sony came in and rescued the franchise and director Sam Mendes was reattached to the film as was Daniel Craig. Skyfall is not an attempt to make Bond with Bourne. Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins and production designer Dennis Gassner have created a Bond film which feels properly British and like a proper cinematic experience. The Adele song in the opening credits is unmemorable but then every Bond song for the past few years has been the same although Daniel Kleinman’s opening credits are worthy of Maurice Binder, the man who did many of the classic credit sequences for James Bond. The pre-credits sequence is blown in the trailer, so I am not spoiling much by revealing that Bond goes off the edge of a bridge in Turkey and is missing, presumed dead. At the same time, the heart of the British secret intelligence services is hit by a mystery attack, which leaves MI6, M and her team seemingly on the back foot. So they are forced to regroup to ascertain this threat and it turns out that it comes from someone with a connection to M’s past, the suitably demented Silva (a blond Javier Bardem). Bond does reappear but he is a broken man: injured by the fall and from months of being out of active service, his reflexes are shot and he has to start from the ground up again. Mendes has shaped a scenario that uses London and British settings in a way that is neither arbitrary or just another dot on James Bond’s international globetrekking life. You do have scenes that take place in Shanghai and Macau but Britain including Scotland are the key locations for Skyfall. The film has this wonderful visual flair that has been lacking in Bond films of late and Deakins manages to make the Scottish Highlands, part of a very pivotal scene later on in the film, look as grand and as epic as the highways of southwestern USA while still looking very British. London looks wonderful and it is used in a very cinematic way, including a great scene that takes place on the Tube. Craig looks fantastic as Bond and there is a certain cool frailty here that really lends to the atmosphere. Mendes also uses M (Judy Dench) as a major player in the plot and the introduction of new Q (Ben Wishaw) is clever and subtle while addressing all of the criticisms that were levelled at casting him from the press and public. Naomie Harris as fellow MI6 agent Eve feels more than just eye candy and by the end of the film, you realise that she has been introduced as more than just someone who looks good on screen. Also, Rafe Fiennes, very watchable, as government minister Gareth Mallory has a key role that is revealed at the very end of the film. Mendes has introduced some really nice nods to Bond’s past too, and I’m not going to spoil them here as one of them made me smile when it appeared on screen. Skyfall succeeds in feeling contemporary and yet classic at the same time. Mendes has managed to subvert some of the Bond tropes while setting things up for the future. In the fiftieth year of James Bond on screen, Ian Fleming’s creation has never felt so fresh and up-to-date before. Skyfall is smart, cool, exciting and quintessentially British. Mendes has made one of the best James Bond films in years. Bond is definitely back…


The advent of Blu-ray has given a new lease of life for old cult classic films. British horror and cult movie house Hammer is no exception and two of its minor key movies, The Reptile and The Plague of The Zombies, have just been released on Blu-ray by StudioCanal, a company for connoisseurs of the kitsch. Neither film features Hammer stalwarts Cushing and Lee and so they are less well-known than the Dracula and Frankenstein efforts from the studio. Beginning with the stronger film, The Plague of The Zombies is a simple tale of gothic horror: set in a small village in Cornwall where its inhabitants are dying of a mystery disease, and Professor James Forbes and daughter Sylvia are invited down to try and get to the bottom of what’s been going on. Andre Morrell, as Professor Forbes, is good value on screen and John Carson as the sinister Squire Clive Hamilton is suitably creepy. As with the best of Hammer’s output, there’s a naive charm here that the filmmakers carried off with panache and there’s even a few genuinely creepy moments. The transfer here to Blu-ray looks great with the picture sharper than it’s been in years and it is great to see one of the lesser known Hammer films get a new release for home entertainment…

The Reptile, from the same year as The Plague of The Zombies, hasn’t aged as well as the other film. The plot is simple enough: soldier Harry Spalding and his wife inherit a house in the countryside from Spalding’s dead brother. But when they get down there, they find themselves caught up in a web of murder and deceit with Dr Franklyn (Noel Willman) at its centre. The transfer is crystal clear here too and the move to Blu-ray has really sharpened the picture but the script feels like a rejected Doctor Who plot and the acting isn’t up to much, although Jacqueline Pearce is always worth watching. It does have a little bit of that naive charm I mentioned earlier and the makeup on The Reptile is quite well-done though and if you’re a Hammer completist, then you should have this film.
So The Plague of The Zombies is a worthy addition to Hammer on Blu-ray but The Reptile is a bit of a curio and for Hammer obsessives only.