The Titfield Thunderbolt [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Film Movement
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (9th April 2020).
The Film

When British Rail plans to close the line that takes the residents of Titfield to Malingford, Sam Weech (Ben-Hur's George Relph), whose grandfather built the line, and local squire Gordon Chesterford (The Holly and the Ivy's John Gregson) decide to take over the line and run it independently with the financial backing of wealthy Walter Valentine (My Fair Lady's Stanley Holloway) who is promised that their train will have a bar car. The town's application to the Ministry of Transport is met with opposition by Alec Pierce (The Internecine Project's Ewan Roberts) and Vernon Crump (The Fearless Vampire Killers' Jack MacGowran) who want to take over local transport with their bus line, even though it cannot serve all of the town's leads which include taking livestock and produce to market, and are none-too-pleased when the ministry decides to let Titfield have a trial period of operation. Although Weech and Chesterford are quickly overwhelmed not only by the demand in the village which leads to skepticism from attorney Blakeworth (Dead of Night's Naunton Wayne) who lives locally but travels to Malingford daily and depends on the train running like clockwork as well as the volume of help from the locals (which is not always helpful), Pierce and Crump also find help from local steam roller operator Harry Hawkins (The 39 Steps' Sidney James) who has a grudge with the railway exacerbated by his waitress girlfriend Joan (White Fire's Gabrielle Brune) quitting her pub job to work aboard the train's bar car. In the days leading up to the ministry's inspection run of the line, Pierce, Crump, and Hawkins attempt to sabotage the line but discover that the villagers of Titfield are quite innovative in dealing with everything from uncoupled cars, drained water tanks, and enthusiast Chesterford's ongoing war with appointed engineer old-timer Dan (Oliver!'s Hugh Griffith).

Like the best of Ealing Studios' post-war comedies where the studio truly found its footing, The Titfield Thunderbolt comments indirectly on British social conditions, particularly the effects of austerity measures on the working class in London suburbs and small villages; and how the "Blitz Spirit" of the British during the war effort against a supposed common enemy is then directed at the government functionaries and outsiders taking advantage (a running theme in the screenplays of T.E.B. Clarke who also penned Passport to Pimlico); here, in the form of a bus line run by two Cockney ne'er-do-wells hypocritically accusing Weech and Chesterford of trying to monopolize transport whose dreams of expansion threatens the British village way of life ("You're condemning our village to death! Open it up to buses and lorries and what will it be like in five years? Our lanes will be concrete roads. Our houses will have numbers instead of names. There'll be traffic lights and zebra crossings, twice as dangerous"). Lead Relph acquits himself well but is overshadowed by the broader and showier playing of Gregson, Griffith, and the wonderfully nasty MacGowran who similarly overshadows Roberts. With the transition to Technicolor, cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (Raiders of the Lost Ark) does the most to romanticize English village life with lush greenery, warm browns, and saturated colors in the wardrobes and the village's new paintjob on the old station, aided by the underscoring of Georges Auric (The Wages of Fear). Just as director Charles Crichton started out as an editor on films like Ealing Studios' Whisky Galore!, editor Seth Holt went on to a directing career with such Hammer Films efforts as Scream of Fear and The Nanny.


Released theatrically in the U.K. by General Film Distributors and in the U.S. by Universal-International, The Titfield Thunderbolt was with Studio Canal (much of GFD's catalogue went to Rank and then ITV) by the time it was released stateside on DVD by Anchor Bay in 2005 as part of the Ealing Studio Comedy Collection. Studio Canal's high definition master from a 3-strip dupe negative made its debut on Blu-ray in the U.K. in 2013 as part of their Vintage Classics, and the same master is used for Film Movement's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.37:1 pillarboxed fullscreen Blu-ray. Apart from some minor age defects in the materials and the usual thicker grained opticals, the results are quite stunning as an ideal demonstration of Technicolor in British film with a full range of vividly saturated colors even though Slocombe mentioned disregarding some of the Technicolor consultant's demands to use more light and fill (a not uncommon belief of the time that color rather than lighting would provide the contrast in color images).


The LPCM 2.0 mono track is not particularly full-bodied nor does the scoring or sound design demand it, but the dialogue, music, and effects are always cleanly conveyed. Unfortunately, no SDH subtitles have been included even though they are present on the UK release.


Apart from a restoration comparision on the U.K. disc, the extras package is virtually identical starting with Making The Titfield Thunderbolt (9:15) featuring Ealing Studios: A Movie Book author Charles Barr, first assistant director David Peers (The Ladykillers), draughtsmen Norman Dorme (Krull) & Tony Rimmington (Brazil) and sound re-recordist Rex Hipple in which they discuss production anecdotes, their fondness for the film, and the real-life basis for Clarke's script with a branch line in Wales. Also included is Douglas Slocombe Home Movie Footage (10:48) shot by Slocombe's 16mm Bell & Howell camera scouting locations as well as some production footage augmented with an audio interview from 2012 in which he recalls ignoring the rules of the Technicolor consultant about shadows and contrast. From the same interview session comes the audio interview excerpt Douglas Slocombe on Charles Crichton (4:21) in which he tells an anecdote about the director sorting out the crew. "The Lion Locomotive" (5:37) is a featurette on the history of the then-hundred-year-old locomotive Lion that served as the Titfield Thunderbolt and is now on display at the Great Port Gallery. As with the Blu-ray of Passport to Pimlico, film historian Richard Dacre hosts another then-and-now locations featurette (2:34), included along with a stills gallery (1:24), and a new theatrical trailer (2:39).


Packaged with the disc is a booklet by film scholar Ronald Bergen in which he contextualizes the film within the running themes of Ealings' comedies.


The "Blitz Spirit" is still alive and well in post-war England where fellow Brits are disrupting the British way of life in The Titfield Thunderbolt.


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