Originally created 05/26/05

Film company produced top-notch British classics



I'm an Anglophile. I'll drink tea without worrying about the emasculating effects; will speak at length, and in reverent tones, about The Beatles' lasting contributions to popular music; and married an English woman because, among her many fine qualities, she had an accent that really did it (and continues to do it) for me.

Oddly, my affection for English does not always extend to the country's cinematic output. I find the kitchen-sink cinema of the 1960s to be dreary and uninteresting, and the recent spate of period films pretentious and dull.

But there is an exception - films from Ealing Studios.

For much of the 20th century, this London-based conclave produced bright, brilliant and very British movies. Equally adept at both comedy and drama, Ealing, which hit its stride in the 1940s and '50s, found an amazing array of interesting themes and stories that mined the collective English psyche for material.

Sadly, what made Ealing films so interesting also ultimately doomed the studio. The small and very English movies in which it specialized lost favor in the shadow of the big Hollywood spectaculars that became fashionable in the 1950s. In the end, Ealing could no longer compete with the likes of Ben-Hur. Here are some favorites:

THE CAPTIVE HEART (1946): Caught behind enemy lines, a British officer takes on the identity of a dead POW as a means of survival. Matters become complicated when he is forced into correspondence with the dead man's widow. This could have become a forgettable wartime melodrama, but beautiful writing and a real sense of sorrow make it a compelling look at the possibilities borne of an impossible situation.

THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT (1951): This film takes the fantastic premise of a miracle textile that never wears out or gets dirty, and weaves it into a tale of corporate greed and social mores. The film stars British thespian Alec Guinness, who was a stock player at Ealing.

THE CRUEL SEA (1953): The English love their war films, and this little gem remains a favorite. The story of a convoy escort ship during World War II, The Cruel Sea uses the rigors of war as a stage for a series of smaller human dramas. Gripping and, if you happen to be English, unapologetically patriotic.

KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (1949): A bright, biting and very black comedy, this film about a serial killer's blood-soaked spree through a wealthy English family manages to comment on life, death, family and the English class system. It also features Alec Guinness playing eight different roles.

HUE AND CRY (1947): One of Ealing's occasional forays into the caper film, this comedy features a group of street kids who manage to foil a criminal gang that communicates through the comic strips in a favorite magazine. Nothing weighty here, but a lot of fun.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.