The rights of the Ealing films have been juggled around a series of distributors from the 80s onwards, when Thorn EMI sold its film division off to the now defunct Cannon Films. Thus begun a trail of owners, each selling-up as they realised they had no inclination of properly storing and paying for the restoration of these steadily declining prints.
The solution seems to have been found by Studio Canal. Take on the rights and do bugger all to preserve these important films. It's hard to find any improvement between the Thorn EMI video tapes of the early 80s and the DVDs in this set, bar the obvious difference in image clarity offered by the technical superiority of the DVD format.
As other DVD labels become increasingly known and supported by consumers for their devotion to quality, the regular standard of mediocrity achieved by Studio Canal UK should serve if nothing else, as a warning to keep the cash firmly in your wallet.
Picture The standard of print quality for the three films veers from downright awful with "Passport to Pimlico" (1949) to reasonable with the colour film "The Titfield Thunderbolt" (1953). "Hue and Cry" (1947) sits between those two dubious goalposts.
The transfer to DVD of each of these movies is technically competent, but when your source material is clearly dirty, and damaged to the point of making certain frames of "Passport to Pimlico" near unwatchable, then why bother putting them on disc?
Sound Sound is mono for all the films, which is fine. The last thing we need is a terrible upgrade to a more ambitious mix. Again though, "Passport to Pimlico" suffers most, with a thin, reedy sound that's at times unintelligible.
A fourth disc accompanies the set and includes two trailers, and DVD ROM-accessible Acrobat documents of the original press brochures for a large selection of some of Ealing's finest films.
Also included is the excellent 50-minute Channel 4 documentary Forever Ealing. This one shining star in a boxset of misery includes memorable interviews with the likes of John Mills, Richard Attenborough, and Jill Balcon - wife of the late, great producer, Michael Balcon.
Rounding off disc four are introductions to four Ealing films, taken from contributors to the documentary. Each lasts for around three minutes and features Martin Scorsese talking about "The Lavender Hill Mob", Terry Gilliam on "The Ladykillers", Stephen Frears with "The Man in the White Suit", and John Landis on "Kind Hearts and Coronets".
Please bear in mind that if you were thinking of buying this boxset for anyone that is hard of hearing (quite possible for elderly friends or relatives that might enjoy revisiting these films), there is not a single subtitle available.
Chapters: 20 (for each film)
Ratio: 1.33:1 (original fullscreen ratio for each film)
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 (mono for each film)
Audio Tracks: English
Menus: Uninspired static menus, with music from the appropriate film, give you a good taste of what to expect
Special Features Subtitles: None of the special features come with subtitles.
This DVD was reviewed on a JVC XV-S57 DVD player.