Judge Dylan Charles is going cold turkey on "Classic British" anything.
"The British Cinematograph Films Act of 1927 was passed to give motion pictures made in the United Kingdom an edge over Hollywood imports. However technically crude, these low budget "quota quickies" provided on-the-job training for some of the biggest stars of the Golden Age of British Cinema." -MPI.com
There's a problem with the title of this DVD set. It's not with "classic" necessarily, since classic can mean "old" and these movies go back to the 1930's and '40's. It's not with "British" since these movies are alarmingly British. No, I've got a problem with the word "thriller." Specifically, with the use of that word in application to Red Ensign.
Facts of the Case
Red Ensign tells the thrilling tale of a businessman struggling to raise enough venture capital to build his experimental merchant vessel. THRILL as he deals with rabble rousers who almost start a riot, but don't! THRILL as he deals with corporate spies by having them escorted off the premises by security! I get thrills just thinking about it. The Phantom Light: A lighthouse has been the scene of some grisly accidents in the past (people going mad, disappearing, etc) and now Sam Higgins (Gordon Harker) is up at bat as the new lighthouse manager dude. Problem is, Jim Pierce (Ian Hunter) and Alice Bright (Binnie Hale) are both trying to get into the lighthouse, too and their motives could be suspect. The Upturned Glass: Michael Joyce (James Mason, Lolita, A Star is Born) is a neurosurgeon who saves the life of a young girl. He falls in love with her mother, Emma (Rosamund John) and they have a brief tawdry affair, which ends with the return of her husband. But soon afterwards, she is found murdered. Michael Joyce does his damnedest to find the killer.
As I have gently hinted earlier, one of these movies doesn't belong and is not like the others. While The Phantom Light and The Upturned Glass are enjoyable (albeit of questionable quality), Michael Powell's Red Ensign doesn't even qualify as a thriller. It's more like Powell's 49th Parallel than it is his Peeping Tom. This is to say, it is more a propaganda fluff piece meant to rouse the British spirit than cinematic scare. This wouldn't be a terrible thing and hardly worth mentioning, except for the fact that's it's so damn boring. It's the antithesis of thrilling! It's like a whiny orphan went up to Mr. Powell after a preview screening and said, "Please sir, I want some more interminable boardroom scenes." And by golly, if Mr. Powell didn't oblige with gusto.
Powell's second offering in the set, The Phantom Light, is much more enjoyable. It fits the tone of the set better (haunted lighthouses and murders are more fitting fare for a thriller than a business meeting gone sour) and it's just a better made movie. The cast is far more lively, the plot more interesting, there's humor, action, intrigue. That's not to say it's perfect. One of the characters is never explained. She shows up, she takes part in the adventures and that's the end. She gives different reasons for her being there, but it turns out that each and every one is a lie. But Gordon Harker's Sam Higgins makes up for most every fault. He's a by-the-book lighthouse keeper with a penchant for double drinks and bad puns. Without him, The Phantom Light wouldn't shine quite so brightly.
The Upturned Glass is the best of the bunch. James Mason is a bit unsettling as Michael Joyce. He's driven by a need to avenge the death of his lover, but he's oddly emotionless about the whole thing. Joyce is so analytical, so cold that it's a wonder this woman ever fell for him in the first place. The world of The Upturned Glass is populated with problem people; too cold, too needy, too desperate. Joyce spends the entire movie trying to convince himself and others that he's very sane and that he's right, but the more he insists the more it's clear that he's mad as a hatter.
The Upturned Glass also plays some funky tricks with the story structure. It starts as lecture given by Joyce as he tells the story as though it were a case study into the criminal mind. He just leaves out the detail that it's his own criminal mind on display. This is another point in favor of The Upturned Glass, as Red Ensign and The Phantom Light just go from Point A to Point B with nary a deviation.
There are no features at all and the transfers are nothing to write home to mother about. Some dust and some scratches reveal the movies' ages.
Classic British Thrillers is a decent enough set. It's aimed perhaps more movie history buff than the casual viewer though, with a strong emphasis on movies most people outside the UK haven't even heard of and well, probably most people inside the UK as well. Red Ensign doesn't really belong in the set at all, though it is interesting to see that even in the 1930's, Powell was hard at work trying to raise Britain's pride in Britain. Buy the set for The Phantom Light and The Upturned Glass and give Red Ensign a pass.
Red Ensign has been held for contempt when it put Judge Charles to sleep. The Phantom Light and the The Upturned Glass are found Not Guilty and are free to go.
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Scales of Justice, Red Ensign
Perp Profile, Red Ensign
Distinguishing Marks, Red Ensign
Scales of Justice, The Phantom Light
Perp Profile, The Phantom Light
Distinguishing Marks, The Phantom Light
Scales of Justice, The Upturned Glass
Perp Profile, The Upturned Glass
Distinguishing Marks, The Upturned Glass
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