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Dr Keith M. Johnston

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What is 'The Great Ealing Film Challenge'?

Posted: 14/11/2011 23:00

Earlier this year, various media organisations and outlets published stories about Ealing Studios 80th anniversary as a production house. To commemorate this landmark, there were new Blu-Ray releases of several of the famous 'Ealing Comedies,' most notably The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and Whisky Galore! (1949), and events in London that included special bike tours of Ealing locations from films such as Passport to Pimlico (1948).

Not being in London, but wanting to get into the celebratory spirit - because Ealing Studios has been a stalwart part of British cinema history for much of those 80 years and, in my day job, I do write and lecture on British film at the University of East Anglia - I decided to offer my own small tribute. I thought I would watch a couple of the films, and blog about them. But that felt a little inconclusive: what would watching two, three, maybe even five films allow me to say about Ealing Studios? Maybe it would be easier to just watch all of them. Although, come to think of it, I didn't actually know how many Ealing films there were.

The answer to that is trickier, so bear with me while I delve back through those 80 years of film history. Although films had been made in Ealing since 1902, a new studio (with sound stages to produce the new 'talkies') was built in 1931, where a number of companies, including Associated Talking Pictures, produced films. But crucially, none of those films was made by a company called 'Ealing Studios.' As Charles Barr (author of the main study of this studio) states, the 'true' beginning of what would become known as 'Ealing Studios' is more accurately acknowledged to be 1938, when producer Michael Balcon arrived at the studio to make The Gaunt Stranger (1938). Shortly after, the company adopted the name Ealing Studios Ltd. and, for the first time, Ealing Studios began to produce its own films at its Ealing-based studios.

Having consulted a few sources, particularly Barr's book, I soon had a master list of films that stretched from The Gaunt Stranger in 1938 to The Siege of Pinchgut in 1959. That made 95 films in total, covering a period in Ealing's fortunes from lowly productions and wartime success to post-war uncertainty, the launch of the 'comedies', and the struggle to remain relevant in the changing world of the 1950s. Some of these films are already available on DVD, others I have been able to get copies of via the kind people at StudioCanal (who own the rights to the Ealing back catalogue), and a few I will be viewing at the British Film Institute. The films cover those that I've seen (including favourites such as Passport to Pimlico and Dead of Night), some that I've always wanted to see (The Love Lottery) and some about which I knew very little (The Feminine Touch, or Nine Men)

So, that's where The Great Ealing Film Challenge began. I've been doing this for a while on my own blog, and there you will be able to find posts on the first 19 titles, covering:

Went the Day Well? (1943)
Train of Events (1949)
A Run for your Money (1949)
Fiddlers Three (1944)
The Love Lottery (1954)
The Cruel Sea (1953)
The Long Arm (1956)
Nine Men (1943)
Nicholas Nickleby (1947)
Trouble Brewing (1939)
The Magnet (1950)
The Ship That Died of Shame (1955)
Against the Wind (1948)
Another Shore (1948)
The Black Sheep of Whitehall (1942)
The Ghost of St. Michael's (1941)
Dead of Night (1945)
The Feminine Touch (1956)
The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953)

Starting today, however, The Great Ealing Film Challenge is also being hosted by the Huffington Post. So, to celebrate this new home, join me in a couple of days when I introduce film no. 20 in the Great Ealing Film Challenge, the Alec Guinness classic, The Man in the White Suit (1951)...

 

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