From The Lavender Hill Mob to The Ladykillers and beyond, a film researcher from the University of East Anglia will be spending almost 200 hours watching the complete Ealing Studios' back catalogue.
Above: James Robertson Justice (Dr McLaren) raises a glass to the canny islanders in Ealing Studios' Whisky Galore! (1949).
Dr Keith M. Johnston, a specialist on British cinema from the university’s School of Film and Television studies, is blogging about each film in celebration of the studio’s 80th anniversary this year.
His ‘Great Ealing Film Challenge’ will see him watch and write about almost 100 films – a project which will extend well into next year.
Ealing is the oldest continuously working film studio in the world – having first opened for business in 1902, then occupied by Will Barker Studios. It opened as Ealing Studios as we know it today with the introduction of sound in 1931.
The studio is best known for its prolific output across the 1930s, 40s and 50s, featuring stars such as Alec Guinness, George Formby, Will Hay, Tommy Trinder, Googie Withers, Jack Hawkins, and Sid James. It was bought by the BBC in 1955 where it was used for a range of dramas, documentaries and other programmes including Doctor Who and The Singing Detective. Since 2000 it has been revived as a film studio, producing movies including the new St Trinian’s series and Dorian Gray.
Dr Johnston is concentrating his efforts on the studio’s prolific output of the late 1930s, 40s and 50s – the period when celebrated producer Michael Balcon ran the studio and created films that were claimed to ‘project’ Britain. He will watch a total of 95 films.
He said: “Despite my love of the films they produced, I began to realise I only knew a small selection of Ealing films, mainly the comedies like The Lavender Hill Mob, Passport to Pimlico, Kind Hearts and Coronets, and The Ladykillers.
“I find the company fascinating because it is one of the few times in British cinema that a studio was able to produce a consistently strong series of films that were popular to domestic audiences.
“The films also span a fascinating period in British history - the second world war, a changing British political and cultural landscape, the growth of television as a 'rival' to film, and the introduction of new cinema technologies like colour and widescreen.
“Ealing was right in the middle of many of those debates, while at the same time producing a wide range of films from period drama to spy thrillers, supernatural horror to wartime comedy.
“There are huge tracts of Ealing’s output which are rarely talked about so I decided to make my own contribution to the 80th anniversary celebrations.
“I also lived in Ealing for the best part of a decade, and feel a strong connection to that part of London. Walking past the studios was always a bit of a thrill, as was going into 'Studio Six' - the Red Lion pub - which effectively functioned as the studio's common room where all the directors, writers and producers planned their next films.”
Dr Johnston plans to watch and write about two films a week. While many of the movies are readily available on DVD, some will be harder to trace. He will be able to access unreleased material via Studiocanal, which owns the rights to all but a handful of the films.
owns a vast back catalogue of classic British (and foreign language) films, and they are very happy to be able to support any activity that brings more attention to the older films they own that make up such an important part of the UK's cinematic heritage.
Dr Johnston hopes to see the remaining few on 35mm at the National Film and Television Archive in London.
“I think there are at least 60 or 65 which I haven't seen at all, and others that I may only have seen clips of.
“My favourite was Passport to Pimlico, but I'm most looking forward to those that are more obscure - I just watched one called The Ship That Died of Shame which was fantastic.”
To read Dr Johnston’s blog, visit www.keithmjohnston.blogspot.com