Archive for November, 2020

The Titfield Thunderbolt – more on this lovely film

This film seems to have acquired classic status among film fans, railway enthusiasts, nostalgia fans and almost everyone young and old.

It was in Technicolor which was a great boost and made the English countryside in summer look so lovely – as indeed it always does.

I always think that if I lived overseas and was homesick – as I frequently would be – I would watch this film again and again. It just evokes a feeling of the quirkiness of life in England at any time really but the storyline fits the fifties perfectly.

Thinking of what I have just written above, it occurs to me that watching this film would make me even more homesick

Just enjoy the Trailer Below – It gives us a taste of the treat we are in for :-

I do remember holidaying down in St Albans with my girl friend at the home of my family where we went as often as we could – this would be in the early to mid Sixties – and there was a Film Club in the Town Hall in St Peter’s Street. While we were there they were showing ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’. In an immediate fit of excitement I rushed to buy tickets only to find out that they had sold out days before.

What a dis-appointment that was – I would think that it would have been a really great venue

ABOVE – The old Titfield Thunderbolt is brought back into services to save the day

Stanley Holloway and John Gregson

I always think that even when in his early career as he would be here, that he was self confident enough to hold his own in any scene with any actor – he was not overawed in any way. I have watched him in many films and noticed this and admired him for it

An early film for Sid James – ABOVE

Naunton Wayne, Stanley Holloway and Gabrielle Brune enjoy a drink as the train travels along it’s route.

In the spring of 1952 a car was making its way through the lanes of the Somerset countryside. Seated in the car were film director Charles Crichton and cinematographer Douglas Slocombe. The pair were on the look-out for the perfect country railway track, a possible location for the latest Ealing Comedy. Everything was already set; the stars had been chosen, the screenplay and the scripts were being finely tweaked in Ealing, and filming was already scheduled for the summer of 1952 with hopes that the film would be completed and released by the spring of the following year. But the production didn’t have its most important ingredient: the film’s location. 

The story of The Titfield Thunderbolt actually goes back to the spring of 1951, when regular Ealing writer T. E. B. Clarke (Hue and Cry, 1947, Passport to Pimlico, 1949, The Blue Lamp, 1950 and The Lavender Hill Mob, 1951) was on holiday in North Wales: “I found myself standing on a station of the narrow-gauge Talyllyn Railway, blinking incredulously at a notice which said, ‘Volunteer Platelayers Required’. Curiosity had to be satisfied, and my inquiries brought the information that this was a private line run through the summer months by railways enthusiasts from all parts of the country, who spent their holidays as engine-drivers, firemen, guards or booking clerks. Thus was born the idea of The Titfield Thunderbolt”

After seeing Clarke’s draft proposal, with some elements influenced by the Talylln railway manager’s published book Railway Adventure (1953), Ealing boss Michael Balcon green lit the project.

There was one slight problem, however, trying to find a big enough location – one that included a good few miles worth of track as well as a train station. To top it all off they needed to have classic British countryside as a backdrop (perfect for Technicolor). They seemed to be asking too much.

The location ended up being a seven mile stretch of line between Limpley Stoke and Camerton. When Crichton and Slcombe recced the disused line and train station they realised they had found their Titfield. Slocombe, armed with a 16mm Ben & Howell colour camera shot a number of sequences in the area, giving a general idea of the surroundings for the rest of the team back at Ealing. That footage still survives today. 

Hugh Griffiths joins the crowds

Filming lasted 6 weeks from June into July with members of the general public straining to see what was happening in and around Limpley Stoke. Crowds were held back at Britsol Temple Meads as the crew filmed sequences which doubled as Titfield’s local town. Filming was also frustrating at times; due to the very bright, sunny weather they had throughout the summer. 

The plan was simple: Crichton wanted an idealised country village set within an even more idealised English countryside, which Slocombe delivered. Taking possible influences from the famous national railway posters, Slocombe gave The Titfield Thunderbolt the essence of nostalgia that both Balcon and Crichton wanted.

Slocombe later said “It was a fun film to make. it was fun because we had our own railway. Also, one could feel when making it that this was a bit of old England that was going forever – but I was very conscious of the beauty of the English countryside.” 

Filming on location also gave Slocombe the chance to free himself from the prying eyes of Technicolor’s ‘quality control team’.

What we end up with is a beautiful film – not Ealing’s best comedy, but most certainly their most beautiful and, if anything, it symbolised the true spirit of what Michael Balcon wanted to do in the later history of Ealing Studios: to celebrate the lost English countryside. 

The railway has always had an incredibly important place in the history of cinema. Many films have been celebrated, but there is only one film that has been celebrated by film and railway enthusiasts alike, Charles Crichton’s The Titfield Thunderbolt

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The Siege of Pinchgut 1959

I am very familiar with this film from remembering it being released and shown – to the reviews in Picture Show and Picturegoer Magazines

It seemed an odd title at first, but when I came to learn that Pinchgut is a tiny fortified island in Sydney Harbour, then somehow to me it had more appeal. We then knew what the film was about and where it was set

The Film had been on ‘Talking Pictures’ and having recorded it, I sat down and watched it this Saturday afternoon – and am so glad that I did.

It was a tense drama played out against this Sydney Harbour background with much of the filming done on Pinchgut island.

We see great shots in and around Sydney Harbour – shots of how it was in those days, before the famous Opera House was built.

Heather Sears was the pretty female lead with Aldo Ray in the main role

Heather Sears, Barbara Mullen and Gerry Duggan

ABOVE: Aldo Ray I remember him being around in films but he was never an actor on the radar somehow. He seems to be very well thought of as an actor – more so these days in fact.

Apparently he was someone who was not afraid to voice his opinions – something that would not always go down well – and he did tend to drink too much which would not be helpful. Nevertheless he had a long and quite successful career.

This film offered him a good role and in fairness he was well up to the job.

ABOVE – Neil McMallum

Approaching the climax of the film here with these dramatic actions shots on Pinchgut

The military storm Pinchgut ABOVE

Aldo Ray

From Pinchgut Island looking at the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Almost the end of the siege ABOVE


A Michael Balcon Production

Out of interest an actor in this film, playing a police inspector in Sydney, was Kenneth J Warren who was actually born in Sydney. He was in quite a lot of films but also ran a very popular Australian Restaurant just of Leicester Sqaure in London. He sadly died very young at 43 years old.

I mention Kenneth Warren here because I remember him from a Steptoe episode ‘Cuckoo in the Nest’ where he played Albert’s long lost son who surprises them when he comes ‘out of the blue’ to visit and decides to stay.

Harold is none too pleased as his father lavishes all affection on this new ‘son’ and Harold leaves and takes a room somewhere else close by and sets up a rival business with a horse and cart.

Albert slowly comes to realise that the new ‘son’ is lazy and constantly after money – when it comes to getting out on the rounds with the horse and cart he is reluctant and seems to be more interested in the horses ‘running at Kempton Park’ than the business – and he is continually asking for money to bet with.

His ‘new son’ clears off after Albert tells him off and then Albert has to meekly go round and persuade Harold to return which he of course does.

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The Flame and the Arrow 1950

Now here is an action packed, adventure tale that lives up to all schoolboy hopes – when we were taken to see this we were just wide-eyed and totally overawed – it was just brilliant.

Here is one stunt BELOW – done by Burt Lancaster which, at the time was just so impressive in that woodland setting – a studio set but again just how good that was.

Burt Lancaster falls backwards with a back flip onto the ground BELOW

Backward Drop in The Flame and The Arrow | First Impressions

Virginia Mayo starred alongside Burt Lancaster

I am not familiar with the musical score from the film but it must have been pretty exceptional to be released as a record at that time

I have used this picture before – showing a wonderful Matte Painting shot very early in the film

Also I have come across this picture – BELOW of Burt Lancaster with Nick Cravat – I felt sure that this still is from ‘The Crimson Pirate’ made a little later, but now it seems that this is from ‘The Flame and the Arrow’ – I still have my doubts though

BELOW – I have cropped the picture a little to see how it would have looked on the screen – although a still photographer is in the foreground – doing a good job I am sure

The Flame and the Arrow – in fact it seems the photographer did do a very good job – picture BELOW

The Flame and the Arrow

We keep coming up with these Double Bill promotions – what about this one for two great adventures stories :-

A really good promotion I reckon – both these films excellent, colourful and action packed – with Joan Rice in there too in the South Sea Islands‘His Majesty O’Keefe’ of course

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Fabulous Double Feature on Video – ‘She’ and ‘The Reptile’

You just couldn’t get much better than this as a double bill – a Video that I purchased when with my family a few years ago in Port Adelaide at a very large – and very good- market there.

Both of these films are, of course, from the Sixties

First the trailer :-

Ursula Andress looking very beautiful in ‘She’ – the spelling on the video sleeve above is clearly wrong.

ABOVE – Jacqueline Pearce – a useless fact but this young actress was married and divorced twice and in each case her former husbands both went on tomarry Felicity Kendall

Jennifer Daniel BELOW- a very attractive young lady – starred in ‘The Reptile’

Jennifer Daniel and Noel Wilman in a tense scene
Ray Barret, John Laurie and Jennifer Daniel

This was just before John Laurie became a firm favourite in ‘Dads Army’

Jennifer Daniel

I have written about this lovely actress before –

What a lovely looking girl she was. The other evening I watched one of the Edgar Wallace Mysteries on Talking Pictures – and she was in it – this is what prompted me to write this article having looked a bit further into her life story.

She was actually in THREE of the Edgar Wallace Mystery series – Marriage of Convenience,  Clue of the Silver Key and  Return to Sender.

She was married to Dinsdale Landen the actor from 1959 until his death in 2003.

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The Caine Mutiny -Soundtrack on Vinyl

Now this is a little off track for this Blog but it does feature a very well known film from 1954 – ‘The Caine Mutiny’ starring Humphrey Bogart in one of his most famous screen roles

It’s extremely unusual for a film soundtrack album to gain significant traction as a rare collectible item , but that’s exactly what happened with The Caine Mutiny from one of golden-age Hollywood’s most beloved composers, Max Steiner.

It was released by RCA Victor who apparently had not actually secured proper rights, which led to its being almost immediately recalled.

It is estimated that are only around ten original copies still in existence, and their value is very high indeed.

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The Mole People 1956 – John Agar

We were treated to a lot of these Horror films in the early to mid fifties and beyond – and truth to say, we loved them

John Agar the star of this film seemed to be an actor identified with this sort of film.

Maybe that is a little unfair in a way, because he was in many others – in fact looking back it is very unfair because he had a long film career and was not in that many Horror Films.

He began right at the top in Westerns with John Wayne ‘Fort Apache’ being the first one then came ‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’ and not long after that, a war film ‘Sands of Iwo Jima’ – all with John Wayne starring

Before ‘The Mole People’ he had been in ‘Revenge of the Creature’ and a film I remember from when it showed locally at a small cinema nearby ‘Tarantula’ – famous for being Clint Eastwood’s first film.

John Agar

John Agar achieved cult status as the exceptionally handsome but bland leading man in 1950s science-fiction classics such as Tarantula, Revenge of the Creature, and a others. By 1945, he had become one of the most famous men in the USA when he married 17year-old Shirley Temple.

John Agar with Shirley Temple enjoying a drink

ABOVE – Having a drink together – trouble is it seemed that John Agar, at that time, like more than just ‘a drink’

Mind you, later in his life he brought this well under control

John Agar with Shirley Temple looking very happy with their baby girl.
They certainly would be happy
What a lovely picture that is

John Agar was born in 1921 and his family was well-known in the Chicago meat-packing industry. While in the army, he met Shirley Temple through the actress Zasu Pitts, a friend of his mother, and their romance captured headlines all over the world.

Mr. Agar was a 24-year-old physical training instructor at March Field at Riverside, Calif., in 1945 when it was arranged for him to escort Ms. Temple, then a 16-year-old child star, to a Hollywood party given by her boss, David O. Selznick.

The marriage undoubtedly kick-started his career as an actor, but the divorce in 1949 – Shirley Temple cited mental cruelty and drink problems – attracted equal notoriety and the descent into B movies began, not helped by John Agar’s growing dependence on alcohol.

John Agar and Shirley Temple appeared together in two films, ”Fort Apache” and ”Adventure in Baltimore.”

He was not a particularly good actor and he knew it. “I had never really planned to be an actor, and it was thrust on me at an early age,” he said in 1988. “It was not something I really wanted”

Later on John Wayne, who appeared with him in ”Fort Apache” and ”Sands of Iwo Jima,” tried to revive Mr. Agar’s career by casting him in ”The Undefeated,” ”Chisum” and ”Big Jake.’

He eventually joined Alcoholics Anonymous and later appeared in his last major film in 1976, the remake of ”King Kong.” In later years he sold insurance and real estate.

John Agar, with his alcoholic days long behind him, had happily remarried but his wife Loretta Combs, who had been a model – they had married in 1951 – died in 2000 After that he still occasionally appeared on television and in films, and was a popular guest at science-fiction and horror movie conventions in the USA.

However he never took any of it too seriously: “I always kind of had the feeling that when people looked at some of these science-fiction things, we were going to get a big laugh.”

John Agar died in 2002

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