The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection, Volume 5 [2 DVDs]: The Ware Case (1938) / The Shiralee (1957) / The House of the Spaniard (1936) / The Beloved Vagabond (1936)

The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection, Volume 5 [2 DVDs]: The Ware Case (1938) / The Shiralee (1957) / The House of the Spaniard (1936) / The Beloved Vagabond (1936)



Like earlier sets in this series, this contains one surprise that in itself makes the set worth acquiring: another long-buried film whose emergence helps to complicate the familiar narratives about the studio and its output over three decades. After Penny Paradise (volume one, 1938), Brief Ecstasy (volume two, 1937), and The Loves of Joanna Godden (volume four, 1947) comes The Shiralee from 1957. 

Ealing by then had moved out of its own long-term base into the studios of MGM-British, in a doomed bid to survive in a changing industry and a changing Britain. Most of the handful of films they made there, including Davy from volume four, have a tired feeling to them, but The Shiralee, set and mostly shot in Australia, is an exception. Interior studio scenes are neatly enough integrated, but the main attraction is the outback: this is a road movie about an already old-fashioned ‘swagman’, moving restlessly from place to place along with his young daughter. Both of them are refreshingly Australian. The father is Peter Finch, then on the brink of international stardom; as the daughter, Dana Wilson is miles away from the stage-school norm for child actors. Moving between the outback and brief scenes in Sydney, and centred on the classic conflict between wandering and settling, this is like a Western intelligently reworked for Australia. Though Ealing itself soon ceased operating, The Shiralee can be honoured both for itself and for the way it points ahead to the explosion of the country‘s own film industry. 

The Shiralee is nicely balanced by The Ware Case, from the other end of Balcon’s time at Ealing: it was the second film he produced there after taking over from Basil Dean in 1938. Based on a West End stage hit of 1917, already twice filmed as a silent, it is here updated with, for instance, a passing reference to a speech by Neville Chamberlain. And in fact, like The Four Just Men from a few months later (see volume two), though less explicitly, it works as a document of its time about the arrogant decadence of the country’s ruling class, embodied in the figure of Sir Hubert Ware, on trial for murder. The Agatha Christie-like plot mechanism works smoothly enough, thanks to the professionalism of men like cameraman Ronald Neame and director Robert Stevenson, who preceded him to Hollywood; among a solid cast, Jane Baxter gives poignant depth to the figure of the long-suffering wife.

In comparison, the two pre-1938 films in this set of four are lightweight, but worth having. Both are curious international packages, in casting and locations alike: The House of the Spaniard moves between Merseyside and Spain, and Beloved Vagabond between London and France. The stars of the former, Brigitte Horney from Germany and the very English Peter Haddon, lack charisma and are long forgotten, and director Reginald Denham was always more at home in theatre; the most striking credit is the editing one for Thorold Dickinson, a real film man about to move into direction. Soon after this he went to Spain to make pro-Republican shorts, very different from the strangely vague engagement with the Civil War context in House of the Spaniard itself. Beloved Vagabond is stronger in every way, teaming Maurice Chevalier with the young Margaret Lockwood under the direction of Curtis Bernhardt from Germany (and, later, Hollywood). Like The Shiralee, it is a form of road movie, with Chevalier leaving London for the life of a wandering minstrel in France; like The Ware Case, it gives a grim picture of the British upper class, whose clutches the couple escape in an enjoyably upbeat ending. Soon after, Bernhardt made a French version of the film, using Chevalier and a few of the British supporting players, but sadly not Lockwood: it survives, so with luck a future extended DVD edition can give us the chance to compare the two. 

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.

Spendthrift Sir Hubert enjoyed living the life of a lord – it was, after all, the only one for which he was fitted. But he ignored the entreaties of his desperate wife at his peril!
Black and White / 73 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English

A swagman (Peter Finch) looking for work in 1940s Australia suddenly finds himself carrying an extra burden – a ‘shiralee’ – in the form of his five-year-old daughter.
Black and White / 94 mins / 1.66:1 / Mono / English

A man ignores a warning to stay away from a sinister house on marshland near Liverpool; when someone drowns close by, he finds the evidence doesn’t add up…
Black and White / 67 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English

Maurice Chevalier stars as a poor aspiring architect who signs an agreement not to see his fiancée for two years, in order to save her father from financial ruin.
Black and White / 73 mins / 1.33:1 / Mono / English

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

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