WolfmanOz at the Movies #52


Ealing comedies

As promised last week, this weeks post will be taking a look at the comedies from Ealing Studios – thanks to Pogria for the suggestion.

Ealing Studios is a London based film and television production company and is actually the oldest continuously working studio facility for film production in the world of which its’ output numbers in the many hundreds.

But it is the small block of comedies released in the late 40s to the late 50s that the reputation of Ealing became so well known. Their success was not just restricted to the UK but also in the USA where a number of their films won or were nominated for a number of Academy Awards.

Hue And Cry (1947) is generally regarded as the first of the classic Ealing comedies as it tells the story of a group of schoolboys who confront a criminal gang. Directed by Charles Crichton from a script by T.E.B. Clarke, both of whom would become stalwarts of Ealing along with directors Alexander Mackendrick, Robert Hamer and Henry Cornelius; and actors the magnificent Alec Guinness, Stanley Holloway and Raymond Huntley etc.

Then came Passport To Pimlico (1949) a delightfully quirky film where a suburb of London is declared a legal part of the House of Burgundy and therefore exempt from post-war rationing and other petty bureaucratic restrictions active at the time in Britain.

Next there was Whisky Galore ! (1949) which concerned a shipwreck off a Scottish island where the inhabitants have run out of whisky due to wartime rationing but they find out the ship is carrying 50,000 cases of whisky. This film became the first to achieve box office success in America.

1949 was rounded up with the release of my favourite Ealing film – Kind Hearts And Coronets (it’s in my top 100 films of all-time). This gloriously witty black comedy concerns Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini, the son of a woman disowned by her aristocratic family for marrying out of her social class. After her death, Louis decides to take revenge on the family and take the dukedom by murdering the eight people (all played by the incomparable Alec Guinness) ahead of him in the line of succession to the title.

The film is told in flashback as Louis is awaiting execution as he writes his memoirs, where the irony is, he is to be executed for a murder he didn’t commit.

https://youtu.be/IBpoxBAouSE

1951 saw the release of 2 more great but quite different comedies in The Man In The White Suit and The Lavender Hill Mob both starring Alec Guinness.

The Man In The White Suit is a superb satire on business and trade unions as a scientist invents an incredibly strong fibre which repels dirt and never wears out. From this fabric, a suit is made, which is a brilliant white. The ramifications of which causes great consternation amongst both labour and the capitalists.

Whereas The Lavender Hill Mob is a highly inventive comedy caper as Guinness superbly plays a mild-mannered London clerk who devises a plan to steal a consignment of gold bullion from his bank.

https://youtu.be/Tc2Nw_iOxP0

Later notable comedies included The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953), Meet Mr. Lucifer (1953), Touch And Go (1955), The Ladykillers (1955) and lastly Barnacle Bill (1957). I have to admit, despite its high reputation, I have never overly cared for The Ladykillers but I will say it is a masterpiece compared to the awful 2004 Coen Brothers remake.

So what made the Ealing comedies so special and enduring, 70 years after they were first released ?

Well they tended to reflect Britain’s post-war spirit after WWII but they also depicted the peculiar, and varied, nature of the English sense of humour which has proved to be so popular over time.

They were also blessed to have some of the finest talents in British cinema at the time, of which Alec Guinness, one of the greatest actors of the 2oth century, featured prominently. Guinness was hugely popular with the British public and he had a chameleon ability to absorb himself into his roles, whether it be comedy or drama, which made him a truly great film actor.

The Ealing comedies were also made economically i.e. the films generally ran for only 80-90 minutes so they never wore out their welcome but at their heart was a warmth and affection for their characters written with humour and a mischievous wit such we don’t see much anymore.

Enjoy.

and as a tease for next weeks post . . . Man is the warmest place to hide.


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Johnny Rotten
Johnny Rotten
January 5, 2023 7:41 am

Great Post WolfmanOz. I can watch those films all day. GEM( Ch92) often shows these films on weekday afternoons and at the weekends. Brillo…………………….

calli
calli
January 5, 2023 8:08 am

Thanks Wolfman. I must re-watch. Love Sir Alec Guinness in just about any role. Most simply remember him from Kwai and SW, but his filmography is extensive and varied. And so much in glorious B&W.

On Ealing…you forgot St Trinian’s!

As for your tease… oh, the horror! 😀

Christine
Christine
January 5, 2023 8:18 am

Thank you
Am going to watch “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, at long last
I never fancied Alec Guinness – until I saw him playing George Smiley (even though he didn’t “look”
like Smiley, but then neither did talented Gary Oldman)

Louis Litt
Louis Litt
January 5, 2023 8:30 am

Cali 8.08am
You guessed it – I’m doing a review.

Thanks Wolfie, you really do a great job each week.
The Earling films show real people .
Also the theatrical sense of the production, where scenes are shot at a set and it’s up to the script, director and actors to deliver.
I find this cinema as the saviour of modern cinema.
Also the British behaviour, civil, well mannered, compare that to modern behaviour esp from America.

calli
calli
January 5, 2023 9:10 am

Oh. I stand corrected. Dazzled by box pleats and gym slips.

calli
calli
January 5, 2023 11:24 am

Ahaha! Quite so. But mum would have had my guts for garters had I vandalised my panama hat.

Lee
Lee
January 5, 2023 11:40 am

The Ladykillers is my favourite Ealing with Kind Hearts And Coronets not far behind.

Mother Lode
Mother Lode
January 5, 2023 12:50 pm

My mother steered my reluctant self toward The Ladykillers when I was in my teens – how could an old black and white movie I had never heard of before be funny.

She persuaded me by saying that it started Alec Guinness – Obi Wan from Star Wars!

The movie had me in stitches.

When I stumbled upon Whisky Galore I was I was a confirmed fan.

Bar Beach Swimmer
January 5, 2023 1:56 pm

Wolfie,
what a great choice for the new year!

I simply love those movies – it’s the Joie de vivre, which of recent years has been waylaid by those who want to make woke, crap movies. (Perhaps, now, it only remains in kids’ fillums – I’m thinking of Paddington).

In Passport to Pimlico that joy in living simply comes through as the neighbourhood is able to bypass all the sad existing on post-war rationing from its legal status outside the UK. But when government bullying of its small neighbour – the removal of services and starvation of the residents begins – the British beyond Burgundy simply refuse to allow such government overreach.

Of course, these movies couldn’t be made today unless in children’s films. Why? Because that culture is gone.

The other day, the other half and I watched Cosi – the 1990s Australian comedy about a bunch of mental patients putting on Così fan tutte inside the asylum. Barry Otto, Jacki Weaver, Paul Chubb and David Wenham, at their best, with straight man support from Ben Mendelsohn, Toni Collette and Colin Friels.

To coin a term: more, please!

Bruce in WA
January 5, 2023 2:07 pm

As a child growing up in East Victoria Park in the 1950s, Saturday night was “pictures night”. (Always ‘the pictures’, never “the movies” or “the cinema”.) We would walk from home if it wasn’t raining, down to the Savoy Theatre or, in summer, the open air picture gardens further down Albany Highway.

Dad was an Anglophile, and had a predilection for British comedies and “warries”, though not so much American (“Bloody Yanks think they won the war.”) So the British sense of humour became part of my life, I guess. Plus there was a certain gentle innocence in the humour, despite the sometimes risqué double entendres in, for example, the “Carry on” films like “Carry on Nurse”.

As kids we had favourites, too. For me, it was Norman Wisdom, Terry-Thomas, James Robertson Justice and later, Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Dirk Bogarde (the “Doctor” series) and even Kenneth Moore (in “Genevieve”). Then St Trinian’s came along and my interest in anatomy grew …

So, thanks for the memory jolt, WO. Reading your piece saw 60+ years gone in a flash, and I was once again just a tired kid being carried home from the pictures on Dad’s shoulders, tucked into bed, and falling asleep to the soft “clink, clink” of a teaspoon in a cup as Mum and Dad had a final cup of tea for the night.

Simpler times. reflected in the movies of the time.

P
P
January 5, 2023 7:18 pm

Late in 1952 in my first year at high school ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’ was all the rage. All of us school kids just had to see it.
I was in the same school year as John Howard and most of the boys I knew locally went to the same high school as him, and this movie was a must.

vlad redux
vlad redux
January 6, 2023 1:54 pm

I found the children in Hue And Cry irritating beyond endurance, but have seen most of the other films and agree they were good.

Anchor What
Anchor What
January 7, 2023 6:35 am

“I have never overly cared for The Ladykillers”
That’s a character flaw, Wolfie.
That film is an absolute gem.

Anchor What
Anchor What
January 7, 2023 6:37 am

P.S. compliments on doing this roundup, however. I have the box set.
The other day Mrs. A had a very gurglie tummy. I said she sounded like the laboratory scene in Man In A White Suit.

WolfmanOz
WolfmanOz
January 7, 2023 12:12 pm

Anchor What says:
January 7, 2023 at 6:35 am
“I have never overly cared for The Ladykillers”
That’s a character flaw, Wolfie.
That film is an absolute gem.

LOLs . . . I can’t like/love every film !

Anchor What says:
January 7, 2023 at 6:37 am
P.S. compliments on doing this roundup, however. I have the box set.
The other day Mrs. A had a very gurglie tummy. I said she sounded like the laboratory scene in Man In A White Suit.

Now that’s very funny !

Pogria
Pogria
January 7, 2023 12:16 pm

Thanks so much for this absolutely lovely post. Many Movies to revisit, and more that I haven’t seen before.
Apologies for not having thanked you sooner. I have just waved goodbye to a friend who was here for three days and three nights. Whew, thank God. She is a good friend but, (always a but!), she is full on. We walk endless miles in pursuit of shops etc. Drive countless miles. Yackitty Yak endlessly. She is also an unquenchable fusspot. It is the fussing that drives me crazy. But, all good now.

Wolfman, have you given any thought to viewing the movies I mentioned in my earlier post. I adore the Ealing comedies, but the Poms have still been making contemporary gentle comedies, some with a little wickedness, which is always fun.

Hope you had the Christmas and New Year you desired, and thanks again. 😀

WolfmanOz
WolfmanOz
January 7, 2023 2:00 pm

All good Pogria

I have it down to a post (don’t know when) re general British comedies from the 50s to recent times, as the British sense of humour is far more varied, subtle and funnier than any other nationality . . . all IMHO. It may even stray into TV as their are some absolute gems there.

I’m a Pom by birth and left the Mother Country when I was 12 when the family emigrated to NZ, so my sensibilities and humour are decidedly British/English.

Pogria
Pogria
January 7, 2023 5:35 pm

Wolfman,
I was born two months after my parents migrated here from Slovenia. From as far back as I can remember, I have always enjoyed British comedy. Back in the sixties and seventies, there were far more British productions on television than American. At an early age I “got” and preferred the Pommy sense of humour. It was a lot more enjoyable than the awful slapstick that was the mainstay of US comedy shows.

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