The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection, Volume 2 [2 DVDs]: Midshipman Easy (1935) / Brief Ecstasy (1937) / The Big Blockade (1942) / The Four Just Men (1939)

The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection, Volume 2 [2 DVDs]: Midshipman Easy (1935) / Brief Ecstasy (1937) / The Big Blockade (1942) / The Four Just Men (1939)



This second quartet of Ealing rarities is as good as the first. This time there are two from the ‘classic’ period (1938 onward) under Michael Balcon, and two from the earlier period under Basil Dean. Again, there are striking continuities. Midshipman Easy in 1935 already has the final credit that came to seem so typical of Balcon in its proud patriotism: ‘a British picture made and recorded at Ealing’. One of several individuals who span both periods is cinematographer Ronald Neame, later best known as director of The Poseidon Adventure in Hollywood: he photographed Brief Ecstasy in 1937, and then The Four Just Men for Balcon in 1939.

Brief Ecstasy in itself would justify this set of releases. Graham Greene, then film critic of the weekly Spectator, raved about it, and he was right: no British film has a more stunning opening 10 minutes. Meeting in a coffee bar, Hugh Williams and Linden Travers fall in love as dramatically as Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson do in 1945 in the station buffet of its near-namesake Brief Encounter (which Neame co-wrote and co-produced), and they too are torn between passion and fidelity. Brief Ecstasy has a French director in Edmond Greville, and a lot more passion. 

Greene also championed Midshipman Easy, the first film by his own future collaborator Carol Reed, whose subsequent Penny Paradise was part of the initial package of Ealing Rarities. That film had a future TV star in Betty Driver of Coronation Street, and this has in the title role the teenage Hughie Green, later to be an ingratiating ITV quizmaster. A vigorous naval adventure story, it has a something in common with the child-centred early ‘Ealing comedy’ of 1947, Hue and Cry

Those two early films may be the great discoveries, but the other pair are far from negligible. Their interest lies in the purposeful way they respond to political and military events. The Four Just Men updates a familiar Edgar Wallace story into a fast-moving thriller with a strong anti-appeasement message. The Big Blockade experiments boldly by mixing drama with documentary, real-life political figures with a wide range of actors, to play out episodes in the early-war campaigns by the Ministry of Economic Warfare. Like the other films in the package, only more so, it presents us with an archive of classic British players – from Will Hay and Bernard Miles to Robert Morley and Michael Redgrave. All men, but the other films have some strong women as well. 

Charles Barr


A global byword for cinematic quality of a quintessentially British nature, Ealing Studios made more than 150 films over a three-decade period. A cherished and significant part of British film history, only selected films from both the Ealing and Associated Talking Pictures strands have previously been made available on home-video format – with some remaining unseen since their original theatrical release.

The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection redresses this imbalance. Featuring new transfers from the best available elements, in their correct aspect ratio, this multi-volume collection showcases a range of scarce films from both Basil Dean’s and Michael Balcon’s tenure as studio head, making them available once more to the general public.

In the 1790s, a group of young midshipmen set sail for the first time – little realising they are embarking on an adventure that will see them battling pirates and smugglers.
Black and White / 73 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English

A remarkable story of love lost and found, as a young couple are separated by circumstance, and plunged into emotional turmoil by a reunion...
Black and White / 66 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English

John Mills and Will Hay star in a wartime propaganda docu-drama showing the effects of the Allied blockade of Nazi Germany.
Black and White / 71 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English

The Four Just Men unearth two vital clues which point towards a dastardly plan to bring down the whole of the British Empire! 
Black and White / 81 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English

[] Image gallery for all four films
[] Original pressbooks and flyers for Midshipman EasyThe Big Blockade and The Four Just Men (PDFs)

UK Region 2 PAL Double-DVD set, Network/StudioCanal 2013

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