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A few words about...™ David Lean Directs Noel Coward -- in Blu-ray

A Few Words About

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#1 of 28 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted March 31 2012 - 04:30 AM

Criterion's David Lean Directs Noel Coward brings to Blu-ray in one fell swoop four films -- David Lean's entire output for the first half of the 1940s.


This represents 25% of his work coming to Blu-ray in a single release.  I find that both amazing and fortuitous.


Four brilliant productions -- two in black & white, two in Technicolor -- and all great films.


The normal ethic in released films to home video is to package the wheat with the chaff.  Want the good stuff, and you're forced to purchase things that you may not wish to own.


Not here.


In Which We Serve (1942) is one of the consummate WWII productions, an early war production, that literally glistens on screen, as much of the image was harvested directly from the original nitrate camera negative.  Co-directed by the more famous Noel Coward, and first-timer David Lean, IWWS is a film that stands the test of time.


Let's return for a moment to one of my posts from 2008:


David Lean told me a story about the production of In Which We Serve (1942) in which he shared the directorial assignment with Noel Coward.

In the background of one scene there was a need for a whistler. Coward pushed to cast a professional, who could whistle as necessary on cue, with the audio being recorded live.

Lean wanted an actor, whistling or not, knowing that the actual audio could be added later.

Mr. Coward won out, and a professional whistler was cast.

When it came time to shoot the scene, however, Coward was less than thrilled, as the non-professional stuck out like a sore, well... whistler.

The way that Lean told it, Coward approached him, and acknowledging the casting error, shook his head at the problem and explained to Lean that it wasn't working, as the gentleman "had the eager gaze of the uninitiated."



This Happy Breed (1944), based upon the work of Noel Coward, concerns the lives of people in Britain between WWI and WWII.  A beautiful film, and a rarity.


Technicolor, which was an extremely expensive process was used extremely sparingly outside of Hollywood until after the war.  To place this in perspective, while  Becky Sharp signaled the advent of three-strip Technicolor in the Colonies in 1935, it was not until 1937, with The Coronation Film and Wings of the Morning, that the process arrived in the UK.


1938 saw 3 UK Technicolor productions, while in the U.S. there were 10.


1939, a huge year for Technicolor, had 2 UK productions (Four Feathers and The Mikado), while in the U.S. there were 10, inclusive of the sequences in The Wizard of Oz.


A single UK release in 1940, The Thief of Bagdad.


None in 1941. A single production in 1943, as well as a lone Technicolor film in 1944.


This Happy Breed, which was not released in the U.S. until 1947.


As represented in Criterion's Lean / Coward set, This Happy Breed, looks terrific.  While not a full-blown digital restoration the expense of a Red Shoes or African Queen, it is represented in a quality element recombine by the BFI, that comes off beautifully in Blu-ray.


Blithe Spirit (1945), adapted from Noel Coward's play, which became a staple for high school drama clubs, is also in Technicolor, and this recombine, also from the BFI, is stunning.


To be complete, and to append to the notes above, 1945 saw 3 Technicolor productions from the UK.  The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Sudan were the others.  In the U.S., there were 22.


Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond and the inimitable Margaret Rutherford as Madame Arcati star in this wonderfully light haunting.


The final film in the collection, Brief Encounter (1945), is one of the most romantic film ever produced.  Concerning a brief encounter between two strangers at a railroad station, it takes on a life of its own, and is not to be missed.  IMHO, it's the most important of the four -- simply brilliant filmmaking.


This release also portends well for the next couple of Lean films, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, which will hopefully come along in the near future.


At under $70 for the collection, this is one of the bargains of the year, and should end up in the top half dozen classic releases for Blu-ray in 2012.


In Which We Serve:


Image: 4.5


Audio: 4


This Happy Breed:


Image: 4


Audio: 4


Blithe Spirit:


Image: 4


Audio: 4


Brief Encounter:


Image: 3.5


Audio: 4


Very Highly Recommended.


RAH

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"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#2 of 28 OFFLINE   John Hodson

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Posted March 31 2012 - 08:52 AM

There's a fascinating piece on the BFI website regarding the restoration of This Happy Breed, but also encompassing the other titles which were restored for the 2008 David Lean centenary - see here.
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#3 of 28 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted March 31 2012 - 10:10 AM



Originally Posted by John Hodson 

There's a fascinating piece on the BFI website regarding the restoration of This Happy Breed, but also encompassing the other titles which were restored for the 2008 David Lean centenary - see here.


The BFI did a beautiful job on these films.  I do love the before and after images on the site.  As always, they're basically worthless.  I don't like providing them.


The way around mold (sorry, mould) is simple, if one can get over the need to use the original negatives, which in the case of three-strip, make very little difference.  Because of the quality of current fine grain stocks, one can go from mouldy original negative to a new wet-gate fine grain master, comp the masters, and be rid of the mold problem.


The difference between a 4k scan from the original and the fgm, comped and screened in 2k is almost imperceptible.  On film, it would be transparent.


RAH



"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#4 of 28 OFFLINE   Mark Walker

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Posted March 31 2012 - 05:11 PM

I know it is considered a lesser film, but I have loved Blithe Spirit since first seeing it about 15 years ago shortly after seeing the play performed live. The previous DVD left much to be desired. The new Blu-ray is such a giant leap in quality; I am trilled. I had the previous Criterion DVD of Brief Encounter and look forward to revisiting it on BD. The other two films are new to me and seeing Coward acting on film will be interesting. The behind the scenes of him available on the BD for Blithe Spirit was certainly interesting. Thanks, as always, for the review RAH.

Paramount, please release DRAGONSLAYER on Blu-ray

Dragonslayer_1981HTF_zps4e370848.jpg

 

 

Vermithrax Pejorative deserves to be seen in high-def.


#5 of 28 OFFLINE   Richard--W

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Posted April 01 2012 - 03:23 AM

Can't wait to get my hands on this box-set. Blithe Spirit is not a lesser film. Just a different kind of story being told than their other collaborations, but no less accomplished. I love the color, the locations, and the slice-of-life depicted in This Happy Breed. David Lean is so good with faces. He always strikes just the right tone. Each film is different, and he finds the right tone for each of them. Most of you want to see how Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and Hobson's Choice look on Blu-ray, but I'm more interested in the David Lean films that haven't been released at all in the USA. The Passionate Friends (1949), Madeleine (1950) and Breaking the Sound Barrier (1952) are long, long, long overdue. The British DVDs are okay, even at the higher PAL pitch, and the films are no less great than the titles collected in this box-set.

#6 of 28 OFFLINE   John Morgan

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Posted April 01 2012 - 05:47 AM

Wasn't SUDAN (1945), a Universal film filmed here and the last of the Montez/Hall TechniColor specialties? Great overview of these great British films. I look forward to seeing them.

#7 of 28 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted April 01 2012 - 06:01 AM



Originally Posted by John Morgan 

Wasn't SUDAN (1945), a Universal film filmed here and the last of the Montez/Hall TechniColor specialties?
Great overview of these great British films. I look forward to seeing them.



Universal back lot and Mexico.


RAH


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#8 of 28 OFFLINE   SeanAx

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Posted April 01 2012 - 09:24 AM

I watched all four films in the set, two of them my very first time seeing them. "Blithe Spirit" is the least of the films, and perhaps a less-than-perfect match between director and material, but it's a perfectly snappy and witty production and I call it "the least" in comparison to the great ambition and depth of the other four films. Watching them in order, however, offers a front-row seat to David Lean's growth as an intelligent, talented, driven director proving himself to the industry to (in "Brief Encounter") an expressive artist in his own right, reshaping the raw material of a Noel Coward one-act play into a David Lean film, defined by Lean's sensibility and as expressive a portrayal of the pain of a love affair beset by guilt and self-recrimination and the inevitable end before it has really begun. What I love so much about watching this progression is seeing the other side of the portrait of British restraint and self-sacrifice that is so admirable in the first films, which becomes in "Brief Encounter" an obstacle to expressing their yearning and desire for something more. There is nothing with that depth of emotion and disappointment in the earlier films.


The films are beautifully mastered, of course, but as a set it is even greater than the sum of its parts. This is the birth and development of a director who becomes one of the great British filmmakers over the course of this unique collaboration.


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#9 of 28 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted April 01 2012 - 09:29 AM



Originally Posted by SeanAx 

I watched all four films in the set, two of them my very first time seeing them. "Blithe Spirit" is the least of the films, and perhaps a less-than-perfect match between director and material, but it's a perfectly snappy and witty production and I call it "the least" in comparison to the great ambition and depth of the other four films. Watching them in order, however, offers a front-row seat to David Lean's growth as an intelligent, talented, driven director proving himself to the industry to (in "Brief Encounter") an expressive artist in his own right, reshaping the raw material of a Noel Coward one-act play into a David Lean film, defined by Lean's sensibility and as expressive a portrayal of the pain of a love affair beset by guilt and self-recrimination and the inevitable end before it has really begun. What I love so much about watching this progression is seeing the other side of the portrait of British restraint and self-sacrifice that is so admirable in the first films, which becomes in "Brief Encounter" an obstacle to expressing their yearning and desire for something more. There is nothing with that depth of emotion and disappointment in the earlier films.


The films are beautifully mastered, of course, but as a set it is even greater than the sum of its parts. This is the birth and development of a director who becomes one of the great British filmmakers over the course of this unique collaboration.


One of the most thoughtful posts to hit HTF.


If you take a quick look back, you'll find DL honing his skills as an editor on some very fine films.  Before that, he was shaping newsreels.


RAH



"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#10 of 28 OFFLINE   Will Krupp

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Posted April 01 2012 - 02:11 PM



Originally Posted by Robert Harris 

None in 1941.  Queen Victoria, the long production in 1942.



I have to ask, what is this in reference to?  I've never heard of a 1942 Queen Victoria production.  Was this an unfinished epic or are you maybe talking about 60 GLORIOUS YEARS?  That was released in both the UK and the US in 1938.


While I enjoy the Carlton UK DVD of Blithe Spirit, I am positively panting to see a good, non-PAL version (the colors look quite good on the Carlton but the pitch of Rex Harrison's voice is so obviously manipulated it's maddening) as I've always loved it (and the ancient, rickety region 1 release was appalling in every way.)


I just wish they were available separately as I just can't afford the big box right now.



#11 of 28 OFFLINE   Robert Harris

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Posted April 01 2012 - 03:12 PM



Originally Posted by Will Krupp 


I have to ask, what is this in reference to?  I've never heard of a 1942 Queen Victoria production.  Was this an unfinished epic or are you maybe talking about 60 GLORIOUS YEARS?  That was released in both the UK and the US in 1938.


While I enjoy the Carlton UK DVD of Blithe Spirit, I am positively panting to see a good, non-PAL version (the colors look quite good on the Carlton but the pitch of Rex Harrison's voice is so obviously manipulated it's maddening) as I've always loved it (and the ancient, rickety region 1 release was appalling in every way.)


I just wish they were available separately as I just can't afford the big box right now.


I occasionally confuse my UK and US releases.  You're quite correct about Sixty Glorious Years (1938).  There were two Victoria films, Victoria the Great, released in October of 1937, and Sixty Glorious Years, aka Queen of Destiny.  Both starred Anna Neagle and Anton Walbrook.  AFAIK, neither was terribly good.  In 1942 they were combined and released to the lucky American public as Queen Victoria, which to confuse things even further, may also have been known as Queen of Destiny.


Paging Leonard Maltin!


RAH


"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did." T.E. Lawrence


#12 of 28 OFFLINE   Will Krupp

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Posted April 01 2012 - 03:45 PM



Originally Posted by Robert Harris 


I occasionally confuse my UK and US releases.  You're quite correct about Sixty Glorious Years (1938).  There were two Victoria films, Victoria the Great, released in October of 1937, and Sixty Glorious Years, aka Queen of Destiny.  Both starred Anna Neagle and Anton Walbrook.  AFAIK, neither was terribly good.  In 1942 they were combined and released to the lucky American public as Queen Victoria, which to confuse things even further, may also have been known as Queen of Destiny.


Paging Leonard Maltin!


RAH


Hahah....thank you, sir, for clearing that up.  I had always heard that 60 GLORIOUS YEARS was only released as QUEEN of DESTINY in the US but I came across an old NY Times ad that proves it played Radio City Music Hall under its original name at Christmas 1938.  I thought for a second that QUEEN VICTORIA was (horrors!) a Technicolor title I didn't know about!!  Never knew about the re-issue so, thanks (and I've seen both and you're right.....they bring a whole new definition to the term "stodgy," though I never pass up a chance to see Anton Walbrook)  Posted Image




#13 of 28 OFFLINE   williammossop

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Posted April 01 2012 - 06:10 PM

To Robert Harris: Congrats! Re: The Big Country Blu-Ray.com mention: "Update 7/7/11: Noted film archivist and restorer Robert Harris has been in touch with me and is investigating what appears to be a slight anamorphic stretching on this transfer due to incorrect digital manipulation to remove anamorphosis." Thanks for bringing this to light, Mr. Harris; I noticed in the first moments after the main titles had ended that Greg Peck and Charlton Heston both looked 5'8" rather than 6'3". Returned my blu-rays TWICE to Columbia House and once to Amazon with emails and phonecalls. All of my communications resulted in the same responses (also one from 20th Home Video): "We've checked everything out and it is just fine" - then all went on to criticize my player, my TV and my ability to figure out the right aspect ratio. Hopefully, as with the distorted DVD of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (ten?) years ago, this problem will be corrected and the brilliant Big Country will reappear in a blu-ray that does it justice. Can you please let those in charge know that I am not an idiot? (At least in regard to this; former film editor who worked on Jaws, American Graffiti, The Sting and Godfather II.) Plus the one mentioned below. Nice review of the Lean films. I knew David - visited with him and Sandy off of the Appia Antica in Rome, etc., after working with him on the film editing of Ryan's Daughter. He was a huge fan of BC and Wyler - and Ford's The Quiet Man (another dismal DVD - any chance of its restoration?). (Also knew Merian Cooper well, and spent an afternoon with Wyler at his home off of Benedict Canyon Dr.) Am now a big fan of yours! "William Mossop"

#14 of 28 OFFLINE   AdrianTurner

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Posted April 01 2012 - 09:52 PM

Well, by gummm!

#15 of 28 OFFLINE   lark144

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Posted April 02 2012 - 12:37 PM

For those of you who are interested in obtaining an excellent DVD of David Lean's THE SOUND BARRIER (or BREAKING THE SOUND BARRIER, as it's known in the US), it's available in an excellent transfer on a Lion's Gate set entitled THE WORLD WAR, along with THE CAPTIVE HEART, Joseph Losey's KING AND COUNTRY, which I think is one of his best films, & ANGELS ONE FIVE. For this viewer, all of the transfers, especially THE SOUND BARRIER & KING AND COUNTRY, look quite luminous and clean of all defects that I could find. I'm going to paste the link to Amazon below. http://www.amazon.co...1_7?ie=UTF8 I also would like to put my two cents in and state that I've always loved BLITHE SPIRIT, and also do not consider the film a lesser Lean, but only a film possessing a different sensibility, a film that is very theatrical while at the same time being gloriously cinematic. Anyway, it contains possibly Margaret Rutherford's best performance on film, and what more does on need?

#16 of 28 OFFLINE   SeanAx

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Posted April 03 2012 - 03:44 AM



Originally Posted by Robert Harris 


One of the most thoughtful posts to hit HTF.


If you take a quick look back, you'll find DL honing his skills as an editor on some very fine films.  Before that, he was shaping newsreels.


RAH



Thank you for the compliment, sir.


This set encouraged to pull out my copy of Kevin Brownlow's biography of David Lean and browse a bit, and made me want to revisit those films he edited just before making the jump to the director's seat. "The 49th Parallel" and "One of Our Aircraft is Missing" are also classic British war dramas and I can't help but believe that Lean learned a thing or three about directing from working with Powell and Pressburger.

FYI: I had the great pleasure to conversing with Mr. Brownlow last weekend at the American premiere of the uncut "Napoleon." It was quite the honor, as his book, "The Parade's Gone By," was my gateway to embracing silent cinema as a uniquely expressive period of filmmaking. But I digress...




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#17 of 28 OFFLINE   dpippel

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Posted June 06 2012 - 05:28 PM

Having never seen any of these four films, I was able to pick up this set for a song and on a lark. I watched In Which We Serve tonight for the first time. Wow. What a treat of British filmmaking. It rises above its wartime propaganda roots into a real tour de force of script, characterization, and camera work. All of this coupled with an absolutely luminous transfer from Criterion made for a wonderful cinematic experience, and I'm really looking forward to watching the other three films that David Lean and Noel Coward collaborated on. Thanks Criterion!

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#18 of 28 OFFLINE   Doctorossi

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Posted June 07 2012 - 01:26 AM

My copy (finally!) arrives today and I can't wait to verify the reports about the quality of this set with my own eyes and ears. :D

#19 of 28 OFFLINE   Scott Calvert

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Posted June 07 2012 - 04:04 AM

Indeed these films look fantastic. There are still some noticeable age related defects particularly in the technicolor productions but the film transfers are great. Very sharp and if there is any digital BS going on, it's invisible. This and the BBS box are the current crown jewels of the Criterion Collection, IMO.

#20 of 28 OFFLINE   Doctorossi

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Posted June 07 2012 - 04:15 AM

Very sharp and if there is any digital BS going on, it's invisible.

I think I read that once- isn't that PKD? "Do Digital B's Go Invisible S?"





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