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Old 04-30-05, 12:50 PM   #1
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Reviews for Ealing and British War Collections

Just wanted to thank Stuart Galbraith for his two extensive reviews of Anchor Bay's British War and Ealing Studios Comedy collections. I've been a long-time reader of DVD Talk, and I must say that I don't often agree with Galbraith. But I agree entirely with his largely positive reviews of both boxsets. I hope Anchor Bay will continue to make Studio Canal's large library of British films available to us here in Region 1. As far as I'm concerned, the only real weakness of either set is the lack of extras. I don't understand why Anchor Bay didn't spring to include the excellent "Forever Ealing" documentary as an extra to the Comedy collection.

However, I'd like to point out that, contrary to Galbraith's claims, the following three films were indeed shot for 1.33:1 framing: The Dam Busters, The Ship That Died of Shame, and The Maggie. The British film industry did not switch over to widescreen formats as quickly as we did here in America. In fact, widescreen didn't become widespread throughout the rest of the world until 1956. Even David Lean, the master of widescreen framing, shot Summertime in 1.33:1 as late as 1955. So if you follow Galbraith's advice and readjust these films for 16:9 sets, you're not seeing these films as they were intended. Anchor Bay was quite right to give them a full-frame transfer. This is an easy mistake to make, so I don't mean any disrespect. But Galbraith really ought to correct his reviews accordingly.
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Old 04-30-05, 01:00 PM   #2
natevines
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Agreed. Great reviews, great sets. IMHO, the main weakness isn't the dearth of extras, it's the exorbitant price. I believe the MSRP is 90$! Warner sets with as many movies AND plenty of supplements retail for $30 dollars less. Anyone know why it's so expensive?
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Old 04-30-05, 09:07 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by natevines
Agreed. Great reviews, great sets. IMHO, the main weakness isn't the dearth of extras, it's the exorbitant price. I believe the MSRP is 90$! Warner sets with as many movies AND plenty of supplements retail for $30 dollars less. Anyone know why it's so expensive?
I've seen both sets for $70.00 at Best Buy and in the high 50's online. I've got the comedy set and will probably wait until Deep Discount does their summer sale to purchase the war collection.
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Old 05-01-05, 08:52 PM   #4
S Galbraith IV
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Thanks for the kind words.

Regarding aspect ratios, I still contend that THE DAM BUSTERS and especially THE SHIP THAT DIED OF SHAME were released with at least some cropping in mind. While I agree that the British (and most of the rest of the world) were much slower in switching over to a widescreen standard on non-scope films for their domestic product, I've also seen a number of British movies (1954's BEAUTIFUL STRANGER, for instance) that were clearly meant for cropping, possibly with the American market in mind.

When I worked at MGM, and was annoyed at their wrong-headed belief that "nearly all" non-scope movies made before 1962 were full-frame, I did some extensive research on their behalf. Basically I went to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Library and looked through every issue of both DAILY VARIETY and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, studio synopses, etc. from January 1, 1953 through December 31, 1959, noting aspect ratios for all MGM-owned films, as provided by their original production companies (UA, AIP, etc.).

What surprised me was just how common cropped widescreen was even in the months prior to the release of THE ROBE. (But you’re right, some films were still released full-frame through about 1955 or so.)

None of the films reviewed above were part of this research, but based on the layout of the opening titles and framing of the actors (i.e., empty, unused space above actors heads, etc.) both THE DAM BUSTERS and especially THE SHIP THAT DIED OF SHAME sure look like they were shot for 1.66 or 1.75:1 widescreen to me. (As I said in my review, I believe THE MAGGIE was at least >shot< full-frame, but might have been shown in some theaters slightly cropped.)

Of course, I could be wrong. Standard size aspect ratios have never completely gone away, and were quite common in some countries well into the 1970s. When you write, "the following three films were indeed shot for 1.33:1 framing," are you referring to a specific source? Obviously I want my reviews to be as accurate as they possibly can, but need authoritative evidence before making any change.

Fair enough?

Thanks again for reading!

Last edited by S Galbraith IV; 05-01-05 at 11:03 PM.
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Old 05-02-05, 09:48 PM   #5
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I'm not sure what you mean by "authoritative evidence," but I'll include as much info as I can get immediate access to. Here goes:

The Dam Busters is the easiest to verify, but there's some evidence for The Maggie, too.

1.) IMDb lists the original aspect ratio for The Dam Busters as 1.37:1 here. That's slightly wider than the 1.33:1 I had originally thought, but it's more or less the full-frame transfer on the Anchor Bay disc.

2.) Sue Harper and Vincent Porter back up the IMDb in the excellent British Cinema of the 1950s (Oxford UP, 2003: see pages 209-10). After mentioning that nearly all widescreen films made in England before 1955 were Hollywood productions (like MGM's The Knights of the Round Table and Quentin Durward), they single out The Dam Busters as a film that was shot for the traditional full-screen aspect ratio. (They go on to claim that it actually helps the suspense, focus, and tautness of the film.) They further say that Rank was relunctant to convert its theaters for the showing of widescreen films, which suggests that pre-1955 Ealing films like The Maggie (which Rank distributed in 1954) would have been in the same aspect ratio as The Dam Busters.

3.) The BFI maintains web pages dedicated to both The Dam Busters and The Maggie. Here is the page for The Dam Busters, and here is the page for The Maggie. If you look at the production stills (via links on the right-hand side of each page), it looks as if they all fit the full-frame transfers on Anchor Bay's DVDs.

4.) The R2 and R4 DVDs of The Dam Busters, and the R2 DVD of The Maggie are also shown in full-frame, just like the Anchor Bay R1 DVDs. The R2s were distributed by Warner in the UK. The R4 was distributed by Universal/Dreamworks in Australia.

The Ealing films are more difficult for me to check at the moment, as I don't have George Perry's excellent Forever Ealing with me. However, I seem to recall reading that The Ladykillers was Ealing's first widescreen release. (Don't quote me on that, but if you have Perry's book, you can verify if I'm remembering correctly.) If that's so, then that means that both The Maggie and The Ship That Died of Shame were definitely not intended to be widescreen, as they were released before The Ladykillers, which was the last of the five films Ealing released in 1955.

Just by comparing my own perception of The Ship That Died of Shame to yours, however, it also seems to me that a 1.66 or 1.75:1 framing of that film is too tight at the top and bottom at significant moments. For instance, during chapter 2 (roughly 0:02:45 to 0:03:00), a widescreen projection seems to cut off too much of George Baker's head and seems to ruin the first binocular POV. Also, during chapter 10 (when they pick up the child murderer at 0:55:00), it seems to me that Basil Dearden composed the dutch angles specifically for full-screen (either 1.33 or 1.37:1).

Finally, just as a plug for Anchor Bay's fine work, I've got to say that I own nearly all of the StudioCanal films they've released on R1, and I don't think they've ever failed to provide a transfer in the OAR. (And no, I don't work for Anchor Bay.) Even their Three Musketeers/Four Musketeers two-disc set, which included both the OAR and a pan-n-scan, did provide the proper widescreen transfer. Thus, I've come to rely on them making the right choices and doing a good job of it. Frankly, I wouldn't understand why they'd go to all the trouble of releasing The Colditz Story in widescreen (at its OAR) and not The Dam Busters or The Ship That Died of Shame -- especially since both of the latter films are released uncut, as you noted in your review.

Anyway, I hope I don't come across as overly anal in this post. I really meant to compliment you on providing two solid reviews of two excellent boxsets that hadn't received much press yet. However, as I'm sure you do, I value accuracy, and the thought of people sitting down to watch these great movies in an improper aspect ratio makes me shudder. Hopefully, my info will be of value to you.
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Old 05-04-05, 02:37 AM   #6
S Galbraith IV
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Hi Ambassador,

Again I think you make some good points, and I don't think you overly anal at all. I'm quite intrigued by these questions, actually.

I'd argue, though, that your four points still don't quite provide a definitive answer. The IMDb, though indispensable, is full of inaccurate or incomplete information. Literally anyone can submit information that may have come from anywhere, and a good deal of it gets past their screeners, though much less so now than in the past.

The pages you point to in BRITISH CINEMA OF THE 1950s are very interesting, but are mainly concerned with the introduction of CinemaScope and VistaVision. My reading of that same passage is that THE DAM BUSTERS was >not< shot in CinemaScope, not that it "was shot for the traditional full-screen aspect ratio."

I'm not sure what you mean when you compare production stills on the BFI's website to their theatrical aspect ratio, as one has nothing to do with the other. I may not understand your argument here, however.

As for the R2 and R4 releases (and the R2-D2 release, for that matter), I can only guess that Warner and Universal/Dreamworks were provided with full frame masters by Canal Plus. There are many possible reasons Canal Plus didn't/couldn't/wouldn't provide anything else, or maybe those companies never thought to ask for anything better.

None of this is saying you're wrong, just that I'm not entirely convinced either way about THE MAGGIE, and that THE SHIP THAT DIED OF SHAME and nearly all of THE DAM BUSTERS really does look better to my eyes composition-wise, at 1.66:1 than 1.37.

But you're right -- I'd rather viewers watch the film in the aspect ratio intended by the filmmakers. I've noted this thread in my review. I guess for now we can only leave it up to them.
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Old 05-04-05, 03:42 PM   #7
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Well, even if I haven't convinced you, I still take it as a compliment that you've provided a link to this thread from your articles. There is, however, one last source I'll muster for a 1.37:1 OAR of The Dam Busters -- which I just located today:

In The Dam Busters: A British Film Guide (I.B. Tauris, 2002), John Ramsden talks about director Michael Anderson's framing and composition in two places. On page 41, Ramsden writes that Anderson was "already telling interviewers in 1955 that he was fascinated by the creative possibilities of colour and widescreen technologies, but that he had decided on a black-and-white format and a traditional screen-ratio for The Dam Busters because he wanted to achieve the documentary feel of a film of the early 1940s." On pages 82-83, Ramsden also suggests that Anderson's choices for composition and framing were dictated by original photographs that Cmdr. Gibson and his men took themselves in 1943. Both passages indicate to me that Anderson was consciously deciding against a widescreen format. And to tell the truth, the reason I stand so adamantly behind my original claim -- at least for The Dam Busters -- is because I attended a 35mm projection of the film at a revival showing in York a few years ago, and it was definitely framed at either 1.33:1 or 1.37:1. I didn't include this info in my previous post, as I figured it was simply anecdotal evidence.

For The Maggie and The Ship That Died of Shame, I have no other evidence to offer. I actually e-mailed the Information Unit over at the BFI, and they point out that aspect ratios are very hard to confirm for 1950s British films simply because no single authoritative reference work lists OARs. (Apparently, British film historians have been less concerned about OAR than Americans, which suggests that there's at least one more major history of British cinema to be done. Any takers?) They do imply that, at least until 1959's "Expresso Bongo," widescreen was always the exception rather than the rule for UK-financed productions. Notable exceptions would be the last few Powell-Pressburger productions (Oh, Rosalinda!, Battle of the River Plate, and Ill Met by Moonlight); their names carried enough weight to get financing for larger-scale productions and wider distribution in America.

Perhaps your original point -- that the two Ealing films were shot in 1.37:1 but composed so that a reframing at 1.66:1 by American distributors would be acceptable -- holds true for The Maggie and The Ship That Died of Shame. And maybe it's simply that your American-trained eyes are comfortable with a widescreen readjustment, while mine have been acclimatized to the full-frame projections I witnessed while studying in the UK. Still, I really believe that, in the case of The Ship That Died of Shame, Basil Dearden's framings and compositions are much closer in style to the 1.37:1 aspect ratio he used in his other films at Ealing (1945's Dead of Night, 1946's The Captive Heart, and 1950's The Blue Lamp) than to the later films that were definitely composed for widescreen (1961's Victim, 1963's The Mind Benders, and 1966's Khartoum). But I'll let it rest now.

Still, I'd like to hear your thoughts on my new offerings, especially the quotation from Ramsden's book about The Dam Busters.
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Old 05-04-05, 07:55 PM   #8
S Galbraith IV
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I'm still holding fast on THE SHIP THAT DIED OF SHAME, but you've convinced me about THE DAM BUSTERS. If the director himself says he considered wide screen by opted for standard frame, who am I to argue, particularly since he said so right after the film was made?

Incidentally, the Japanese DVD of the VistaVision BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE is excellent.

Thanks again for all that research. I'm impressed and grateful for all your digging.
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Old 07-30-06, 02:24 PM   #9
grand todger
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first start work as projectionist in 1957 for rank organisation. odeons and gaumonts used to have wide screen ratio of 1.66 and prints were nearly all masked. ranks had funny idea of when we showed cinemascope the top mask on screen would drop and sides would go out. bit of a cop out.
a.b.c. cinemas used to vary between 1.75 and 1.85 and sides would go out for `scope.
if one can get grubby hands on some old prints you should find that they were nearly old masked.
granada cinemas always seemed to have the really big screens and 1.75.
seem to remember first mighty epic of wonder ranks showed in `scope was "sign of the pagan". there was some dispute with fox at the time.
life is not perfect unless it is in vistaVision
most odeons and gaumonts would have been showing 1.66 and a.b.c. showing 1.75/85 by end of 1954.
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Old 07-30-06, 06:34 PM   #10
S Galbraith IV
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Quote:
first start work as projectionist in 1957 for rank organisation. odeons and gaumonts used to have wide screen ratio of 1.66 and prints were nearly all masked. ranks had funny idea of when we showed cinemascope the top mask on screen would drop and sides would go out. bit of a cop out.
a.b.c. cinemas used to vary between 1.75 and 1.85 and sides would go out for `scope.
if one can get grubby hands on some old prints you should find that they were nearly old masked.
granada cinemas always seemed to have the really big screens and 1.75.
seem to remember first mighty epic of wonder ranks showed in `scope was "sign of the pagan". there was some dispute with fox at the time.
life is not perfect unless it is in vistaVision
most odeons and gaumonts would have been showing 1.66 and a.b.c. showing 1.75/85 by end of 1954.
Fascinating stuff! So nearly all prints were themselves hard-matted, and nearly everything exhibited 1.66/1.75 or 1.85? Could it be said that most American films were 1.85 (and, to a lesser extent, 1.75), while most British productions were 1.66/1.75?

Tell us more!
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Old 07-31-06, 11:58 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by S Galbraith IV
Tell us more!
Yes, please! Funny to see this thread resurrected after all these months, but I'm still intrigued -- and sometimes downright mystified -- by the practices of British distributors and projectionists throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.

Of course, I'm most intrigued by what intended aspect ratios British directors shot their films for during the same period. Since I started this thread last year, I've been purchasing more and more R2 UK DVDs, and it looks like the majority of British films from this period were indeed composed for 1.66 or 1.75. (For instance, the BFI went for 1.66 for most of the Tony Richardson and Karel Reisz films they released on DVD: Taste of Honey, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, etc.)
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Old 08-02-06, 02:51 AM   #12
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Life had a golden look in those far off days of carbon arcs and 2,000 foot spools, When we used to put fesh bread in the arc lamps to heat it up and a green spot on theslaes girl for a laugh.
I think that 1:66 was a compromise as it was easy to frame the shots and leave it rather then franticly rack the picture up and down. In those day we used to have a seperate show on a Sunday, which was usually pre-scope films. Also we also would be showing newsreels. Pathe News logo did appear to get changed for 1:75. Some of the Rank cinemas, eg Majestic. Wembley would show VistaVision via a 2:1 aperture plate and takes the sides out using a wide angle projection lens. This particular cinema had 50ft wide screen and stuff like Stratigic Air Command looked great. There was also ranks Anomorphic VistaVision which used a 1.5 expansion ration. Ranks used to make a Variomorph which could be used to adjust expansion ratio. This would some be used to make picture fit the screen.
Ranks management was known as C.M.A. which staffed christened, Cruscfier of Mans Ambition.
A.B.C. was sometimes known as All Balls and Confusion. Warner Bros had share in company.
Quailty of prints of American films would not be brilliant, the only place to see them in their glory was show case cinemas which had Amrican prints..
Unless the original was Technicolor and printed by Techniclor UK it would not be brilliant as quality of the printing master sent accross would produce strange result. Often the colour crossover would give cyan skys and pink clouds. Fox would have their stuff printed at Kays which could contrasty and with a lot of cross over.
It was a pleasant surprise to see how good the colour was on Brigadoon and It`s Always Fair Weather on latest DVDs.
When we showed Trails of Oscar Wilde, because of the rush to get prints out, the different layers started to peel of mid week...
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Old 08-03-06, 01:31 PM   #13
grand todger
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worked as projectionist at twickenham studios where long distance runner was edite and we should rushes at 1:75, same for tom jones.
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Old 08-03-06, 07:20 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by grand todger
worked as projectionist at twickenham studios where long distance runner was edite and we should rushes at 1:75, same for tom jones.
Come again?
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Old 08-03-06, 09:16 PM   #15
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Quote:
worked as projectionist at twickenham studios where long distance runner was edite and we should rushes at 1:75, same for tom jones.



Come again?
Translation:

"I worked as a projectionist at Twickenham Film Studios, where The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) was edited, and where we'd show rushes at 1.75:1, just like Tom Jones (1963)."
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Old 08-04-06, 09:56 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by S Galbraith IV
Translation:

"I worked as a projectionist at Twickenham Film Studios, where The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) was edited, and where we'd show rushes at 1.75:1, just like Tom Jones (1963)."
Thanks, Stuart. I guess my eyes were blurry yesterday evening and couldn't quite make it out. (Hope I didn't sound like a smart-alec. This person obviously has lots of valuable info to share.)
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Old 08-05-06, 05:29 AM   #17
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Ref: the dam busters

the tank used for dam buster was on on the back lot of a.b.p.c. studios elstree, and was used for moby dick and hammer`s the lost continent..
we used to spend time on the tank in a rowing boat for a bit of quiet.
also used for saint tv series and other mony berman/roy baker shows.

has any one out there ever seen "bat`s whisper" in all it`s glory, have on dvd and the widescreen version shows up stage original setting.
seems mike todd used the camera for todd ao once he cleaned out the cob webs.

dam buster prints were full frame.
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