The Belles of St. Trinian's (1954)

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Released 9-Feb-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy None
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1954
Running Time 86:54
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Frank Launder
Studio
Distributor
British Lion Films
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Alastair Sim
Joyce Grenfell
George Cole
Hermione Baddeley
Betty Ann Davies
Renee Houston
Beryl Reid
Irene Handl
Mary Merrall
Joan Sims
Sidney James
Richard Wattis
Diana Day
Case ?
RPI $14.95 Music Malcolm Arnold


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, Lots of people (including teachers).
Annoying Product Placement Yes, Mars bars, Lux soap, others.
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    I recall a number of Saturdays many years ago when I would sit at my local cinema in North Wales and watch a double feature consisting of the latest Carry On film backed up with a rerun of an old St Trinian's film. The St. Trinian's series can be seen as one of the original sources of inspiration for the Carry On films (just look at the influence these films had on Carry On Teacher as one example - Joan Sims is a young teacher in The Belles of St. Trinian's and a slightly older one in Carry On Teacher). The level of humour is about the same in both series, rather broad, but they are generally worth a good laugh or three over their running time. The St. Trinian's films broke new ground for daring, and the double-entendre reigns supreme (and I'll keep quiet about the influence of all those stockings and suspender belts on the mind of a 12-year old boy).

    The St. Trinian's series is now becoming available on DVD, presented at a budget price with no Extras and apparently no restoration of sound or picture. I suspect that they will have a limited audience, so that this sort of presentation is probably the best that those of us who love the films can hope for - at least they are looking better here than they have on TV or VHS tape. I am reviewing three of the films, so look out for my reviews of Blue Murder at St. Trinian's and The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery.

    If you have not seen any of the films, they are set in a rather out-of-control girls boarding school, and developed from the cartoons of Ronald Searle (you can see some of his cartoons during the credits). After a brief desert scene where an Arab sheik decides to send his daughter Fatima to school in England, The Belles of St. Trinian's continues with the girls returning to school after the summer break. The local policeman locks himself in his cell and calls his superior to announce "They're back!!". Even the chickens at the local farm rush back into their coop to hide (my family audience were laughing out loud when that happened).

    We soon meet Millicent Fritton, the beleaguered headmistress of the school (brilliantly played by Alastair Sim), and her brother Clarence (also played by Alastair Sim, though not quite as well). Clarence is trying to convince Millicent that his daughter Arabella should be allowed back in the school after being expelled - he can't see why she is being singled out when other girls have been forgiven. Millicent replies frostily that "The gym was insured, the sports pavilion wasn't". It seems Clarence has a strong interest in an upcoming horse race, an event which also includes a horse owned by Fatima's father - there may be some horse nobbling in the air. There is also a nice subplot with police Sgt Ruby Gates (sympathetically played in a number of the films by Joyce Grenfell) going undercover as a teacher at the school. This annoys "Flash" Harry (a very young George Cole) who notes that there have "been no murders here, not so far".

    Well, there are a lot more chaotic goings-on going on, but I will let you discover them for yourself (check out why one of the goals on the hockey pitch is larger than the other for one, and keep an eye out for the "old girls" storming the barricades!). If you like this line of British comedy (which led through the Carry On films to TV series such as Bless This House) you will probably like this film. Others of you will no doubt find it all rather silly. For those of you who like this kind of thing, you will recognise many familiar faces in the support cast (including Sidney James as one of Clarence's cronies and Richard Wattis who is hilarious as the unfortunate Department of Education civil servant responsible for the school - the file for St. Trinian's takes most of the space on his bookshelf). The film is old-fashioned, politically incorrect, silly, and I loved every minute of it.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer is reasonable, but the film is starting to show its age (it turned 50 this year).

    The aspect ratio is 1.33:1 full frame, and is not 16x9 enhanced, which closely reflects the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 at which it would have been filmed.

    The picture is reasonably sharp (one of its better features), but shadow detail is rather poor (see 60:57 and 61:44 for examples of the less than adequate representation in low light). There is not a lot of low level noise to worry about.

    The transfer is in black & white, as it was originally filmed (British film companies did not have a lot of money in the 1950s, and colour stock was still fairly expensive). The picture generally has a crisp look (as at 53:10), but there are variations in shade in the greyscale. Overall, this looks like an old picture, but it is watchable.

    There are minor artefacts throughout the film (see 23:13 and 38:18 for examples), as well as reel change marks (the first is at 16:15) and occasional telecine wobble (particularly during the opening credits). There is also minor aliasing (including the jacket at 54:14). All of this combines to be a minor annoyance, but it should not be enough to deter you from enjoying the film.

    There are no subtitles - as I have noted before I would like to see English For the Hearing Impaired titles as a minimum on all DVDs.

    There is no layer change on this single layered DVD.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio transfer is just as average as the video transfer, no doubt reflecting the available source material.

    There is only one audio track (I told you this is a budget release). It is an undistinguished English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono presentation encoded at a bitrate of 224 Kb/s. I generally tell you which audio tracks I listened to for my review, but I'm sure you can work it out this time...

    The dialogue is clear enough, but there is occasionally some background hiss (as at 66:18) which intrudes. The audio sync is good.

    The music is by Malcolm Arnold, with a wonderfully jaunty opening theme which I started humming as soon as I heard it again (I had managed to forget it in the course of time, but remembered it as soon as I heard the first few bars). In case you don't know him, Arnold is one of the premiere classical music composers of the last century, with a number of popular symphonies to his name (amongst other important works). He also supplemented his income by composing the soundtracks for numerous British films. The score here reflects his tremendous talents and matches the comic mood of the film perfectly. Unfortunately the presentation does not, as it is rather shrill at times.

    There is no surround presence on offer, the sound is spread rather diffusely across the front of the soundstage. Switching the amplifier to other sound modes provided no improvement (in Pro Logic mode the sound was better focused but very thin). Your rear speakers and your subwoofer (apart from an odd rumble) can be given the evening off (tell them not to come home too late).

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Extras? Sorry, missing in action (surely the film had a trailer?).

Menu

    Static - allows you to select a scene or play the movie. The scene selection is odd and makes use of arrows at the bottom of the main menu to go to a scene (it seems there are 10 scenes to choose from).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This DVD is apparently not available in Region 1, and is available in Region 2 with the same lack of features as the local version; the Region 4 is marginally preferred for availability reasons.

Summary

    Overall, this is a rather silly, but fairly funny film which will appeal to fans of British Comedy. It is presented with average picture, average to poor sound, and no Extras, but looks good enough to enjoy at the budget price it is on offer for. Fans should rush out and buy it now. All others approach with caution.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Robert Davison (read my bio)
Thursday, February 12, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba SD-K350, using Component output
DisplaySONY VPL-HS10 LCD projector, ABI 280cm 16x9 screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderKenwood. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationKenwood
SpeakersKenwood

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