The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953)

February 3, 2009

When I watched Whisky Galore! last week I commented on the way that Ealing comedies pit small groups of determined individuals against corrupt or small-minded or bureaucratic opposition and see them come out on top without resorting to foul play.  Here the residents of a small village want to buy up and save a small railway branch line and are up against stuffy Whitehall officials, pernickity lawyers, corrupt business men and paid-off saboteurs but by pitching together, showing ingenuity and good old British pluck they win out against all the odds.

It’s nonsense obviously, but good-hearted and entertaining and morally-sound nonsense.  I mentioned the word British earlier and this is a typically British kind of film.  The film is packed with British stereotypes- the scoundrel poacher, the fussy old maid, the drunken Lord of the Manor, the police sergeant who isn’t afraid to turn a blind eye, the eccentric vicar and so on- and a kind of gentle, pastoral humour which appeals more now, perhaps, with the added lustre of nostalgia.  At a Town Hall meeting to decide the fate of the branch line, a heartfelt appeal is made:

“Don’t you realise you are condemning our village to death? Open it up to buses and lorries and what’s it going to be like in five years time? Our lanes will be concrete roads, our houses will have numbers instead of names, there will be traffic lights and Zebra crossings … [the railway] means everything to our village.”

It sums the film up beautifully.  The locals know best that progress will be the ruination of their idyllic lifestyle and they pull together (or, indeed, push together) to do the right thing.

The Titfield Thunderbolt

The film is technically well-made without being spectacular- filmed in colour (the only other colour Ealing I can think of is The Ladykillers) it looks wonderful and has a delightful attention to detail in the witty sight-gags throughout: the Fragile parcel tossed carelessly from the train; the Transport Minister arriving on a folding motorcycle, the antique train smashing through a ‘Guinness For Strength’ poster,  a cowboy film showing in one room of a bar reflects the railway saboteurs plotting in the other bar. 

Hugh Griffith and Stanley Holloway battle it out for the standout performance and it’s just about honours even- they’re both smashing and make the most of the film’s best lines.  The direction is tight- the whole thing wraps in about 80 minutes- making the most of the charming script, resulting in a delightful gem of a film.  7/10


Carry on Up The Khyber (1968)

January 23, 2009

When I was bigging up ‘Carry On Camping‘ recently I said “it is neither the best scripted nor the most inventive of the Carry On series”.  This one might be.  The regulars are given characters which suit them beautifully and the occasional players integrate beautifully- especially Roy Castle (or Roy Fucking Castle as I will always remember him since hearing it on ‘Bottom‘ when I was far more impressionable than I am now) who is a straight-laced foil for the others to bounce off.

The plot, which acts as little more than a device to move from one gag to another, concerns the 3rd Foot in Mouth  regiment in India and their reputation as ‘devils in skirts’- which is debunked when Bernard Bresslaw as Bungdit Din, leader of the Burpahs, steals the woollen underwear that Charles Hawtry wore beneath his kilt.  This causes a battle at the Khyber Pass (a mountain path in Wales in reality) leading the Burpahs to attack the Ambassadorial residence of Lord Sidney Ruff-Diamond, causing the famous closing battle scene.  The puns are delicious and delivered with camp perfection:  When the Fakir fails to entertain Kenneth Williams (the Khasi of Kalabar Rhandi Lal) he commands “Bring on the dancing girls. Get rid of this idiot!” leading to Bernard Bresslaw instructing “Fakir! Off!”; When Roy Castle instructs his men “Fire at will!” Peter Butterworth counters “Poor old Will, why do they always fire at him” and so on.


It’s obvious, cheaply made, unsubtle, childish and camper than a row of tents, but it entertains me immensely. 8/10.

Carry On Camping (1969)

December 28, 2008

It’s almost certain that I’ve seen ‘Carry On Camping’ more often than any other film.  It’s a comedic comfort blanket.  I can recite the dialogue along with the actors with my eyes closed.

Quite why it holds such interest for me I don’t know.  It is neither the best scripted nor the most inventive of the Carry On series.  But it is the funniest.  All of the best Carry On regulars (barring Kenneth Connor and Jack Douglas) are present and in fine form.  The gags are usually on target and often laugh-out-loud funny.  8/10.