30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Alan W. Petrucelli
- Published on Amazon.com
Criterion, who probably makes more film fans happier than any other company, has just released David Lean Directs Noel Coward. An odd pairing, at first glance---the man who directed such epics as Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and The Bridge on the River Kwai---with the premier light comedy actor/author/composer of the twentieth century. Even odder is the choice of material: A world class war story about the sinking of a ship; a world class romance about lost love; a world class picture of the British lower-middle class; and the world class comedy fantasy of the last century, respectively In Which We Serve, Brief Encounter, This Happy Breed and Blithe Spirit. Perhaps even more surprising is that all four were made during a period of about three years, from 1942 to 1945.
Briefly, all four films are extraordinary examples of propaganda at its best. Lean and Coward were both fervently patriotic, and England was the underdog at the time in a war. Lean was just beginning his astonishing career; Coward had just finished a dozen or so years of incredible success on the stage, but considerably less success, or even attempts, at a film career. In 1941, Germany bombed London for 57 consecutive evenings.
Coward wrote and Lean directed these films, with Coward playing the lead for In Which We Serve. Coward also produced, wrote the screenplay, composed the score, and officially codirected, though he handed the reigns to Lean in his directorial debut.
Coward was entertaining the troops during the shooting of the other three films, yet his mark is clearly visible in each films. The cameraman for the quartet was Ronald Neame, perhaps less a household name, yet later the director such gems as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, I Could Go on Singing and The Horse's Mouth.
In Which We Serve is the story of a ship, sunk off the coast of Crete during the war. Based on incidences in the life of Coward's great friend Lord Louis Mountbatten, flashbacks tell the story of the few remaining survivors, clinging to a lifeboat, waiting for rescue. In lesser hands, this narrative technique would be worse than banal, but the creators, relying so very strongly on flashbacks, allow the audience to see war through the eyes of the women left at home, waiting, not knowing when or if their sons, husbands or boyfriends will return.
Brief Encounter is based on a slight one-act play Coward wrote for Tonight at 8:30 entitled Still Life. A man and a woman, both more or less happily married to other people, meet quite by accident in a train station. To the overused strains of Rachmaninoff, they fall hopelessly, helplessly and enormously in lover. Again, in lesser hands, this stiff-upper-lip-do-the-right-thing sort of drama could be cloying and irritating, but the moral quandary this couple feels somehow slips into the audience's brain, and the horrible realization that although love is usually just nifty, it can cause extraordinary heartache and pain. Parenthetically, Andre Previn has just turned this text into an opera.
This Happy Breed, an ordinary story about an ordinary family living an ordinary life just before the war, grabs the audience with its specificity and universality, until the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and the small pains and pleasures of everyday life insinuates into the audience's psyche. Based on an early play of Coward and drawing on his own lower-middle class background, the triumph here is really Robert Newton and Celia Johnson as the father and mother experiencing the trials and triumphs of everyday life.
The final film, Blithe Spirit, is perhaps the most well known. Rex Harrison stars as an author, re-married after the death of his first wife, hiring psychic Margaret Rutherford to perform a séance so he can learn the lingo of the telepathic trade for his new book. Alas, Madame Arcarti, Rutherford's character, somewhat ineptly brings back the ghost of his first wife, with hilarity and confusion ensuing.
Criterion's restruck prints are wonderful, the extras are pretty astounding, with the complete South Bank show on Coward and some lovely interviews with author and critic Barry Day who has made Coward very much something of his own cottage industry. Day resembles someone who might be in an unexpurgated Alice in Wonderland, but has that fuzzy British charm which can be so endearing. All in all, we owe a deep debt of gratitude to Criterion.
Now, if we could get them to clean up and release the nearly unavailable films Coward acted in, such as The Scoundrel, The Astonished Heart, and perhaps even the television version of Blithe Spirit?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
[KNDY] Dennis A. Amith
- Published on Amazon.com
he Criterion Collection's release of "David Lean Directs Noel Coward" is possibly one of the most exciting box sets that I have been wanting to see in America for quite some time.
A legendary playwright, writer, filmmaker, actor, you name it...Noel Coward has probably done it. And it's one thing that has made fans of his work so appreciative of this individual is because he brings so much life into his work.
As for David Lean, he's already considered a legendary filmmaker. From directing "Lawrence of Arabia", "The Bridge on the River Kwai", "A Passage to India", "Doctor Zhivago" to name a few... Both Noel Coward and David Lean are legendary for their highly acclaimed work in their oeuvre.
But you go further back to when David Lean first became a filmmaker, it's because of Noel Coward, he was given the opportunity.
For both men, it would begin during World War II. Noel Coward who wanted to do something for the British public during the war and the fact that he was raised with a grandfather who was a Captain of the Royal Navy, Coward so much wanted to do something during wartime. Having worked with British Intelligence, there was no doubt that Coward wanted to do more.
And that opportunity would come in 1942 with the release of his British patriotic (and propaganda) film "In Which We Serve". The film would feature Noel Coward as a lead actor but since he is a man that was only focused on directing certain parts of the film and action wasn't his forte, what best than to bring highly regarded editor David Lean. David Lean got his first opportunity to co-direct the film with Noel Coward and both managed to create a film that was well-liked, praised very well not just in Britain but also in the United States and it earned Coward an Academy Award for "Outstanding Production Achievement).
And this would be the beginning of the working relationship between Noel Coward and David Lean (there is also a third man included in this and that is cinematographer Ronald Neame).
The two would once again reunite for "This Happy Breed". A film adaptation based on Noel Coward's 1939 play and for those who were enamored with Noel Coward's 1933 film "Cavalcade" (directed by Frank Lloyd) about an upperclass British family from 1899 through 1933 (which covered the family through the Second Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic and World War I), "This Happy Breed" would feature on a working class British family during 1919 through 1939.
As Coward was busy with his plays at the time, it gave David Lean the opportunity to direct his first solo film. "This Happy Breed" would also give Lean the chance to work (and experiment) with three-strip Technicolor and once again, the reception was favorable for this second collaboration.
The third collaboration between David Lean and Noel Coward was not as smooth as the first two films. Noel Coward wanted his comedy "Blithe Spirit" to become a film and David Lean, known as a serious person was reluctant in directing a comedy. While the film at the time was criticized for a film about "death" (or deceased love ones reappearing as ghosts), not many were wanting to see a film about that subject matter while many were dying during World War II.
Needless to say, both men have differing opinions on both films but both agreed that they should work again for another, more realistic film and that would "Brief Encounter".
The film would captivate audiences as it would win the Grand Prize, the "Palme d'Or" at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival. The film would also earn Celia Johnson an Academy Award nomination for "Best Actress". Recognized as one of the top 100 British Films of All Time (#2 in the British Film Institute Poll), "Brief Encounter" would solidify David Lean's filmmaking career (Noel Coward was already well-known worldwide).
And this popularity would lead David Lean to work on Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations" and "Oliver Twist" and many other well-known films for the next three decades. But the popularity gained from "Brief Encounter" would lead both David Lean and Noel Coward to bigger things and the film would be their Magnum opus and their final collaboration together.
These four beloved films would receive new restoration in 2008 courtesy of BFI National Archives and in 2012, receive a special high definition remastering for Blu-ray release.
The Criterion Collection will be releasing these four films as part of the "David Lean Directs Noel Coward" Blu-ray and DVD Box Sets featuring many special features paying tribute to Noel Coward and also David Lean but most of all, paying tribute to their collaboration for these four films.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
"In Which We Serve" is presented in a brand new high-definition digital transfer courtesy of the BFI (British Film Institute) National Archive's 2008 restoration. With that being said, because this film has been restored, if you want the best version of this film to date, you definitely want to pick up the Blu-ray release of the "David Lean Directs Noel Coward" box set.
As for the DVD, "In Which We Serve" is featured in black and white (1:37:1 aspect ratio) and for a film that was created back in 1942, this 70-year-old film looks absolutely fantastic on DVD. Grain is noticeable, contrast is wonderful. Black levels are nice and deep, whites/grays are vibrant and clear but I can only imagine how much sharper and pronounced the quality is in HD via Blu-ray.
As for the picture quality, according to Criterion, the picture has been slightly windowboxed (for the DVD version) to ensure the maximum image is visible on all monitors. The new restoration was created in 4K resolution on an Oxberry 6400 liquidgate scanner at Cineric, New York, from the original nitrate negative and sections of the nitrate fine-gran master.
"This Happy Breed" is presented in a brand new high-definition digital transfer courtesy of the BFI (British Film Institute) National Archive's 2008 restoration. With that being said, because this film has been restored, if you want the best version of this film to date, you definitely want to pick up the Blu-ray release of the "David Lean Directs Noel Coward" box set.
As for the DVD, "This Happy Breed" is presented in technicolor (1:37:1 aspect ratio). It's important to note that while this film was shot in three-strip Technicolor, director David Lean did not want this film too look like a standard Technicolor film.
"Blithe Spirit" is presented in a brand new high-definition digital transfer of the BFI National Archive's 2008 restoration. With that being said, because this film has been restored, if you want the best version of this film to date, you definitely want to pick up the Blu-ray release of the "David Lean Directs Noel Coward" box set.
As for the DVD, "Blithe Spirit" is presented in technicolor (1:37:1 aspect ratio). It's important to note that the film was shot in Technicolor. Picture quality for an early Technicolor film is very good. There are some specks that do show up a few times but for the most part, for something this old, it looks rather good on DVD and no film warping or any major blemishes.
As for the audio, the audio is presented in Monaural.
According to the Criterion Collection, the monaural soundtrack was restored from a sound print made from the original nitrate track negative. Click, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation.
English subtitles are presented in English SDH.
"In Which We Serve" comes with the following special features:
Barry Day - (16:08) Featuring an October 2011 interview with Barry Day, author of "Coward on Film: The Cinema of Noel Coward" discussing "In Which We Serve".
A Profile of "In Which We Serve" - (24:27) A short documentary produced in London in 200 for Carlton International Media featuring interviews with cinematographer Ronald Neame, actor John Mills and associate producer Anthony Havelock-Allan, among others.
Coward and Attenborough at the NFT - (1:04:57) An audio recording from Dec. 1969 featuring actor and director Richard Attenborough and playwright Noel Coward onstage at London's National Film Theatre to discuss Coward's career and his work on "In Which We Serve".
Theatrical Trailer - (1:18) The original theatrical trailer for "In Which We Serve".
"This Happy Breed" comes with the following special features:
Barry Day - (14:55) Featuring an October 2011 interview with Barry Day, author of "Coward on Film: The Cinema of Noel Coward" discussing "This Happy Breed".
The Golden Age - (44:03) A 2010 interview with cinematographer/producer/screenwriter Ronald Neame who talks about the making of the four Noel Coward/David Lean films and things that took place behind-the-scenes and his feelings towards those films.
Trailer - (2:36) The original theatrical trailer for "This Happy Breed".
Re-Release Trailer - (2:20) The re-release trailer for "This Happy Breed".
"Blithe Spirit" comes with the following special features:
Barry Day - (11:09) Featuring an October 2011 interview with Barry Day, author of "Coward on Film: The Cinema of Noel Coward" discussing "Blithe Spirit".
The Southbank Show: Noel Coward - (50:39) A 1992 episode of "The Southbank Show" hosted by Melvin Bragg and covers the life of Noel Coward and his career in theater, film and music. Featuring archival footage and interviews with actors John Gielgud, Daniel Massey and John Mills.
Trailer - (2:27) The original theatrical trailer for "Blithe Spirit".
"Brief Encounter" comes with the following special features:
Audio Commentary - Featuring the original 2000 Criterion Collection audio commentary by film historian Bruce Elder who discusses the film and also the career of David Lean, Joyce Carey, Celia Johnson and Stanley Holloway. Also, the adaptation of "Still Life" to cinema. There is one section and this relates to Elder talking about a scene with Dr. Alec Harvey and his colleague which I totally agree with him and how that scene was a bit abrupt to the film. Interesting enough, how this abruptness was an inspiration for director Billy Wilder for his film "The Apartment". But for the most part, an informative commentary track.
Barry Day - (16:14) Featuring an October 2011 interview with Barry Day, author of "Coward on Film: The Cinema of Noel Coward" discussing "Brief Encounter".
A Profile of "Brief Encounter" - (24:14) A short documentary produced in London in 200 for Carlton International Media featuring interviews with screenwriter/producer Ronald Neame, actress Margaret Barlon and actress Celia Johnson's daughter Kate Fleming and more.
"David Lean: A Self Portrait" - (57:56) Featuring the 1971 documentary "David Lean: A Self Portrait" by Thomas Craven featuring an extensive interview with Lean about his work and approach to filmmaking.
Theatrical Trailer - (3:01) The original theatrical trailer.
46-Page booklet - "David Lean Directs Noel Coward" comes with a 46-page booklet with essays for each film. For the "Brief Encounter" portion, the essays are all brand new. For "In Which We Serve", the essay "Battle Stations" by Terrence Rafferty (author of "The Thing Happens: Ten Years of Writing About the Movies") is included.
There is no doubt that fans of Noel Coward and David Lean have been highly anticipating the "David Lean Directs Noel Coward" box set release.
These four films look absolutely incredible thanks to the restoration effort by BFI National Archive and watching these films today, no matter if they are over 70-years old they look fantastic. And if it's one thing to look so great on DVD, I believe that the Blu-ray release of the "David Lean Directs Noel Coward" box set is fantastic.
But video and audio quality aside, the reason why I enjoyed this box set is because not only do you get four magnificent films but with each disc down to the booklet, the entire set pays its respect to both Noel Coward and David Lean.
From Barry Day's insightful knowledge to the collaboration of both men, to documentaries featuring both men, interviews with cinematographer Ronald Neame who worked on all four films and many other special features included, the "David Lean Directs Noel Coward" is the definitive collection for any cineaste who enjoyed these four films.
Overall, for any movie fan who have been captivated by the work of Noel Coward and David Lean, the "David Lean Directs Noel Coward" is one of those must-own Blu-ray or DVD sets that a cineaste or fans of British cinema would want in their collection. You get the best versions of these films to date and fantastic special features included as well.
The Criterion Collection's"David Lean Directs Noel Coward" is highly recommended!