Town on Trial (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (28th March 2018).
The Film

Investigating a murder in a small English town, a brusque Police Inspector (John Mills Hobson's Choice, Ice Cold in Alex, Young Winston) discovers that virtually everyone he encounters has something to hide. Setting the template for British crime thrillers for decades to come (including recent TV hit, Broadchurch), director John Guillermin s audacious, often salacious, drama is untypical of mainstream British cinema of its time. An intelligent and gripping police-procedural thriller and macabre melodrama, Town on Trial is a rare treat which is ripe for rediscovery.

Video

After a young woman (Magda Miller) is murdered in a small town, a London police inspector (John Mills) is sent to investigate and finds that there are many suspects. All the men adored her and all the women hated her.

Interesting, engrossing, entertaining mystery film has a great cast, solid director (John Guillermin) and a fun story with plenty of twists and turns. This must have been controversial at the time due to racy content, which must have got folks all in a lather.

This has a great, suspenseful sequence with a suspect up a church steeple and a copper trying to talk them down. Easy to see why Guillermin was snapped by Hollywood for blockbusters like The Blue Max (1966), The Towering Inferno (1974) and King Kong (1976). Previously he’d made challenging low budget fare and this was his break in the big league and he seizes the opportunity with brio.

The image is a peach with a wonderful, grainy, inky B&W look. That said some will feel it’s too grainy but not this reviewer. Black levels are rich and deep throughout with no major crush issues that aren’t a part of the original production, with shadow detail being particularly noteworthy.

Contrast is subtle and appropriate in a way we didn’t use to see on standard definition formats like DVD and Laserdisc, where to compensate companies would give the image a boost usually in concert with edge enhancement and DNR to make folks think that the image was sharper than it was capable of being.

Detail is ever present as no digital tinkering is in evidence, or if it has been used it is judicious and very sparing. I certainly couldn't detect any and the print is largely free of damage; once again, I didn’t notice any.

Powerhouse have given this a generous bitrate which allows the transfer to breath and as usual the encode is topnotch with issues arising such as clumping etc.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 1.78:1 / 96:09

Audio

English LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English HoH

As usual, a typical mono track of the period which when heard by younger, modern ears will no doubt seem very retro and flat but it gets the job done. There is some use of base and music is never colliding with dialogue, at least not to any worrying degree. I’m also happy to report that there are no sibilant issues either which can affect ADR work.

Extras

“The John Player Lecture with John Mills: Conducted by Margaret Hinxman at the National Film Theatre, London in 1972” (plays over the film) (95:28)

Yet another in the long line of superb lectures from the NFT and / or the BFI that have turned up on these wonderful releases from Powerhouse Films. This one runs virtually the entire length of the film and is a doozy. Mills is a great raconteur and has plenty of stories from his long career up that point.

“Barry Forshaw on Town on Trial” featurette (19:19)

Forshaw is an author who seems to have specialised in writing about crime and noir cinema; I wasn’t aware of the gentlemen before this but he does a fine job of putting Town on Trial in context of UK crime cinema.

“Adventure in Hopfields: Revised Version 1972” 1954 short film (58:52)

The Children’s Film Foundation was a staple of UK TV and cinema going from the early ‘50s through the mid ‘80s and specialised in making films about children for children; usually little dramas and adventures. This on is about a young girl who accidentally breaks one of her mother’s ornaments and is then determined to replace it and sets of to work picking hops. Actress Mandy Miller (The Snorkel) is on fine form as the precocious youngster. This is another fine transfer in B&W and HD. The image is slightly soft but has plenty of fine grain.

“Shooting Hops: Focus Puller Alec Burridge on John Guillermin and Adventure in the Hopfields” featurette (6:38)

Memories of the shoot and on working with the late, great, largely unsung director John Guillermin who made some splendid films during his career but is best known for The Towering Inferno and the ‘76 King Kong.

“Theatrical Trailer (1:24)

Typical, hyperbole filled trailer.

“Town on Trial Image Gallery: Original Promotional Gallery (18 images)

A small but choice selection of promotional material.

“36-page liner notes booklet with a new essay by Neil Sinyard, extracts from the original campaign book, a profile of actor Barbara Bates, an overview of contemporary critical responses and film credits

Another excellent, meaty, contextual booklet; it should be law that all films and TV series released on Blu-ray should be through Powerhouse Films if only to get one of these wonderful booklets. Sinyard’s essay is wide ranging and full of detail covering the story, the cast and crew and has a few unusual little titbits. The campaign book is very much of the era with all sorts of snippets to be used by newspapers; I was particularly amused to hear of Derek Farr’s reasons for avoiding bad guy roles. The short and tragic career of Barbara Bates is well covered and we get the usual roundup of vintage critical reactions, which were largely positive based on this selection.

Overall

Another relatively obscure film given the deluxe treatment from Powerhouse Films; I’d certainly not heard of it in any lasting way. Having enjoyed all of the other Guillermin films I’d seen this was no different and the transfer is a glorious success. I love me some inky, grainy, heavenly film like B&W with all of the moodiness you’d expect. This is a sort of genteel, very English noir thriller with a generous helping of Agatha Christie. The sound is a good as can be as is the image given the excellent master provided by Sony. Extras are the usual generous collection with the jewels being Guillmermin’s Children’s Film Foundation film and the feature-length Mills lecture.

A film that deserves to be better known and this disc is another winner; film buffs should run out and buy it.

The Film: B+ Video: A+ Audio: A Extras: A+ Overall: A+

 


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