The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953)
|Year Of Production||1953|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Charles Crichton|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
What is considered the ultimate steam train lover's movie, The Titfield Thunderbolt has recently appeared on DVD thanks to the people at Madman. Surely one of the most loved films of the 1950s, as is often the case with "old movies" this release has snuck onto the shelves daring prospective purchasers to find it. I have not seen it in any retail outlet, from Big W to JB. Hopefully the consumers for these old titles are able to stumble upon these desirable issues. Earlier this week I found Fox's Tobacco Road for under $7 at Big W, a very rare title which I had no idea had been released, and last week Tyrone Power's and Sonja Henie's Second Fiddle. But back to the movie at hand.
The Titfield Thunderbolt was a 1953 production from the British Ealing Studios. These studios are the longest continuously working film studios in the world, with recent releases including the reborn St Trinian's franchise, the marvellous Easy Virtue (2008) and the seductive reworking of Dorian Gray (2009). During the 1930s and 1940s Ealing comedies gave the public the huge stars George Formby and Will Hay, but it is in the years immediately after WW II that "the Ealing Comedies" became a genre of their own. A few of the unforgettable titles are Whiskey Galore (1949), Passport to Pimlico (1949), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Man in the White Suit (1951), The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953) and The Ladykillers (1955). It was in many Ealing comedies that Alec Guinness became a huge name.
The plot of this charming film is placed in and around the fictional town of Titfield and was actually filmed in the Cam Valley, just south of Bath. The screenplay was written by T.E.B. Clarke, the previous year's Best Original Screenplay Oscar winner for The Lavender Hill Mob. The villagers, dependent on rail to get their produce to market, are trying to prevent British Railways from closing their branch line and replacing it with a bus service. This is a genuine "feel good" movie, with the eccentric and lovable little people battling the entrenched powers and ultimately triumphing. The driving force behind the villagers is the Vicar (George Relph), who enlists the support of the youngish Squire Gordon Chesterford (John Gregson). Gregson had a big year in 1953, also scoring a major hit with the Royal Command Performance film, Genevieve. This personable actor was to have his biggest impact in stoic British war dramas during the 50s, includingAbove Us the Waves (1955) and The Battle of the River Plate (1956). Gregson’s busy film career produced almost forty films, and towards the end some major TV appearances including the lead in Gideon's Way (1964-67). Sadly the actor was killed by a heart attack in 1975, aged only fifty-five.
Back to Titfield! Financial support for the valiant save-the-railway enterprise comes from the wealthy local, Walter Valentine, whose support is ensured by granting him the rights to operate a legal bar on the train, making it unnecessary for him to wait for the local pub to open for the day's business. As Valentine we have top-billed Stanley Holloway, three years before his Broadway triumph as Alfred Dolittle in My Fair Lady. Amazingly, Holloway's first Ealing appearance had been almost twenty years earlier in 1934's Sing As We Go with Gracie Fields. Holloway’s lengthy career spanned music hall, stage, movies, TV and recordings, where he produced LPs of comedy monologues and cockney songs. His final film for Ealing was the less successful Mr. Lucifer (1953), but his greatest success playing Julie Andrew's father was waiting in the wings.
Amongst the other familiar friendly faces to appear on the screen are prissy Naunton Wayne on his British bicycle with briefcase, bowler and brolly, Godfrey Tearle, Hugh Griffith and, as a malevolent steamroller driver, Sidney (Sid) James. As an interesting comment on the times, in pre Rebel Without A Cause 1953 the youngest character to appear on screen would, I think, be that of thirty-something John Gregson. The teen revolution had not yet happened!
At barely eighty minutes, there is not a moment wasted in the telling of the story of The Titfield Thunderbolt. Director Charles Crichton (A Fish Called Wanda) whips it along with economy and wit, as in the wonderful opening shot which juxtaposes the past and the 1950s present in rail transportation in one glorious panning shot. The delightful score by Georges Auric, performed by the Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ernest Irving, sets just the right tone, beginning with the overture-like main title. In the same year, 1953, Auric also had his name on Roman Holiday and The Wages of Fear, with the chilling The Innocents still to come in 1961. However, some of the comedy, considered slightly hilarious over fifty years ago, may not be as funny as it was then and the special effects are much less than special, even happening off screen which is indeed a very cheap way of having a train wreck! But, in this DVD transfer, which I assume is from the 1995 restored 35mm print, the Technicolor countryside is just as beautiful as remembered, and the sheer joy of seeing the wonderful old trains puffing through the green countryside makes you sit back and beam stupidly at the TV screen. This film has dedicated websites and there is even a bookstore bearing the Titfield name. It is easy to see why this film is held with such affection.
This DVD would be welcomed in the Christmas stocking of anyone, particularly anyone male, over the age of sixty. Looking back over fifty years there is, added to the original comedic charm and physical beauty, a sadness for the loss of such a sweetly innocent cinematic past.
The Titfield Thunderbolt looks most attractive in this, I believe, 1995 restoration.
The image is presented in the original aspect ratio of slightly less than 1.33:1 without 16x9 enhancement, the original ratio being 1.37:1. The transfer is very clear and sharp, with very little variation in quality throughout. Shadow detail is good, although the night scenes are a little murky at times. There is minimal low level noise. The Technicolor palette is wide and rich, with very little variation. Skin tones are very good indeed, though there is a ruddiness in some of the darker interior scenes. The film has an overall slight graininess, which gives it a very film-like appearance.
I was not aware of any MPEG artefacts and film to video artefacts are not evident.
There are no subtitles.
This is a dual layered disc but there is no layer change within the feature.
There is a single audio stream, English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono encoded at 192 Kbps. Overall the audio is sharp, crisp and clear with dramatic presence and depth. Dialogue is crystal clear and there are no sync problems. There was no background hiss noticed and crackles and pops were minimal.
The mono reproduction of the excellent Georges Auric score is clean, clear and vibrant.
|Surround Channel Use|
There are absolutely no extras on the disc. It is a pity that there couldn't have been at least a generic Ealing retrospective.
The main menu uses a colourful cartoonish graphic from the jacket of the UK release. There is no animation or audio.
Options presented are :
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Here is a charming British comedy which will be fondly remembered by most moviegoers over sixty. The print is beautifully clean and with quite lovely colour. A thoroughly entertaining way to spend eighty minutes, however it is a pity that there is nothing extra at all.
|DVD||SONY BLU RAY BDP-S350, using HDMI output|
|Display||Samsung LA55A950D1F : 55 inch LCD HD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.|
|Speakers||VAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)|