Titfield Thunderbolt (The) (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Studio Canal
Review written by and copyright: Adrian Busby (1st January 2013).
The Film

To celebrate the 60th Anniversary, Studio Canal are releasing The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953) on DVD and Blu-ray on 14 January 2013.

Originally released in 1953, during the Golden Age of Ealing Comedies, The Titfield Thunderbolt was the first Ealing comedy to be filmed in Technicolor and was written by celebrated Ealing regular and Academy Award Winner T.E.B. Clarke (The Lavender Hill Mob, Barnacle Bill), directed by Charles Crichton (A Fish Called Wanda, The Lavender Hill Mob) and starred Stanley Holloway, George Relph, Nauton Wayne and John Gregson.

The film is a wonderful tale of how a community comes together when the British Railways Service announce the closure of the line linking rural Titfield to Mallingford, which they rely on to commute to work and transport their produce to market.

They make a bid to run it themselves, backed by massively wealthy local Valentine (Stanley Holloway), who is instantly attracted to the idea when told that there is a complete lack of alcohol licensing hours on trains!

However, this decision puts them into direct competition with the local bus company, which leads to a whole array of comically genius anarchy, madness and cunning sabotage.


The Titfield Thunderbolt is one of those great little, feel-good films to watch on a rainy or lazy Sunday afternoon. The triumph of the ordinary people over stupidity, bureaucracy and greedy rivals is so heart-warming it makes me yearn for such idealistic times.

There are some great performances given here, but I think of particular note are the wonderfully humorous turns given by Stanley Holloway and George Relph as Valentine and Weech respectively.

There are some great little moments to look out for too, like the 'fragile' package being thrown onto the platform with a smash; Weech singing “all creatures great and small” as the engine he's driving forces goats and cows off the line; the wonderful duel between steam roller and locomotive; and Weech's despair at the line making a profit - “next thing we know we'll be nationalised” - oh how things have changed!

It also makes an interesting precursor to the infamous Beeching report, which resulted in the mass closure of many rail routes some 10 years later. Decades of hindsight since have proved what an awful, non-forward thinking report that was, particularly with the closure of so many local, rural lines which the country could well benefit from now.

Video

The film runs 83:20 (excluding the Studio Canal logo at the start and a few seconds of black at the end) and is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 with an AVC encode. Some shots look a little soft but I'm sure that's down to the original film rather than any issue with the transfer. Generally it's a pleasure to watch the significantly cleaned up picture. See the Restoration Comparison extra for further details of the work that has gone into this release.

Audio

There is a single English LCPM 2.0 Mono soundtrack with optional English HOH subtitles. I did notice some very low level hiss during some quieter moments but generally the audio is fine with crisp, clear dialogue, and nice presentation of the beautiful score by Georges Auric.

Extras

First up is a Making the Titfield Thunderbolt featurette (9:12) which interviews Charles Barr (Author of Ealing Studios: A Movie Book), David Peers (First Assistant Director), Norman Dorme & Tony Rimmington (Draughtsmen) and Rex Hipple (Sound Re-recordist) about their memories of the film's production and fondness for the end result.

Next is Douglas Slocombe Home Movie Footage (10:21) which has highlights of the surviving reconnaissance and behind-the-scenes footage shot by Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe in the summer of 1952. It is presented against an audio interview with him conducted by Matthew Sweet in which he talks about the challenges of working on the film.

A couple more featurettes follow. The first is The Lion Locomotive (5:35) which appears on the Blu-ray courtesy of the Museum of Liverpool, where the Lion locomotive is on display in The Great Port Gallery. It is presented by Sharon Brown, Curator of the Transport and Industrial Collections at the museum. She provides background on the history of the locomotive, both as a working engine and film star! The second is a Locations Featurette (2:33) which is a simple now-and-then comparison of a number of locations used in the film. It's sad to see just how many rail routes are now abandoned or in use as roads instead.

A short Stills Gallery (1:53) is presented against audio from the film's score and includes images of various promotional materials and behind the scenes photographs.

The Restoration Comparison (3:48) is,for me, the most interesting extra on the disc as it demonstrates the superb job done by Pinewood Studio, who spent over 100 hours digitally restoring the picture - removing dirt and scratches where possible - and soundtrack. As this was the first colour Ealing film handled by Pinewood, the grade was carried out by award winning grader Vincent Narduzzo. Take a look at the Digital2Disc article if you want to find out more about the challenges faced in the restoration of the film.

Douglas Slocombe on Charles Crichton audio interview (4:22). Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (who worked with Director Charles Crichton on a number of Ealing films and went on to top off his career as Director of Photography on the three 1980s Indiana Jones films) is interviewed at his home by Matthew Sweet. As it is an audio interview, it is presented against a photograph of the man at work. He tells an interesting little anecdote about a meal out.

Trailer (2:35). This is a wonderful little narrated trailer which proves that even in the 1950s, they were editing trailers to show something out of context to the actual film – in this case, two rivals appear to be shooting at each other!

Overall

A great film which has been given the love it deserves for its 60th Anniversary. More like this please Studio Canal!

The Film: A- Video: A Audio: A- Extras: A- Overall: A-

 


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