THE AMAZING MR BLUNDEN

Director:  Lionel Jeffries

Starring:  Laurence Naismith, James Villiers, Diana Dors, Lynn Frederick

Lionel Jeffries' much-loved ghost story The Amazing Mr Blunden, about a pair of Victorian children who travel back to 1818 in an attempt to prevent the murder of two similar children, is a firm favourite amongst those of a certain generation, who were either captivated by the film on its original theatrical run back in 1972, or were subsequently bewitched by its magic from regular airings on television. The film was adapted from Antonia Barber's novel The Ghosts (ironically, one of the lesser known works from the author of The Mousehole Cat and the popular Dancing Shoes series of ballet stories). It was made during a particularly fertile period for the British film industry, and, even though Hammer was beginning its inevitable spiral towards obsolescence, many other independent British studios were creating films with macabre and paranormal subject matter. 

The disc is nicely presented, with animated menus and such, and there's obviously been some genuine effort put into things like the biographies (for Jeffries and the key cast members). There's also a stills gallery, containing about two dozen images. 

The disc also includes a worthwhile interview with Lionel Jeffries, from the Parkinson show, which dates from around 1980 (Dennis Potter's Cream in My Coffee is given as his most recent project). He doesn't mention The Amazing Mr Blunden at all (or The Railway Children for that matter, the film that established his career as a director, and earned him the chance to direct The Amazing Mr Blunden). Jeffries is a fine raconteur and thoroughly engaging. Most amusingly, he talks about going bald at an early age (while he was in the army, in Burma), and how bald actors are treated in Hollywood. The clip has been quite brutally truncated at the beginning and end - perhaps to eliminate the need to clear the rights to the walk-on music? - but Anchor Bay deserve a lot of credit for including it. 

It's now twenty odd years since that edition of Parkinson, and Jeffries is now in his late seventies, but it's a shame that the disc does not have a commentary track (he seems perfectly willing to talk about the film, judging from a recent interview in Shivers magazine).

The film is presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 ratio. The film looks far too dark, with little subtlety in the shadows. Since much of the movie takes place in gloomy interiors, this quickly becomes quite tiresome. Well-lit exterior shots look much better, and demonstrate that the film does have good colour balance (although it seems rather smeary, suggesting a transfer from an NTSC source). There are other apparent deficiencies: the opening credits captions demonstrate some blooming, although their intensity isn't replicated later in the film, so this isn't a continual annoyance. There are signs of digital noise reduction, which, combined with the constant film weave and jitter, has resulted some unpleasant artefacts (occasionally objects will appear to gently float as if separated from their backgrounds). The print is relatively clean, although there are flecks of dirt and other minor impairments. 

The disc offers a choice of "Stereo" or "Optional 5.1 Surround Sound" (whatever the hell that is!) The "Stereo" track (2.0 at 192kbps) appears to be simple mono. This track is entirely serviceable, although there are regular reminders of its age (bursts of hiss accompany some of the dialogue, and some distortion is evident at demanding moments). The 5.1 audio (at 448kbps) adds airiness at the expense of clarity and stable imaging, and sounds over-processed (it adds sibilance and often sounds out of phase). Less discerning listeners may prefer its expansiveness, but I soon tired of it, and reverted to the mono track. 

The Amazing Mr Blunden is a fine children's ghost story in the tradition of Lucy M. Boston's The Children of Green Knowe series and Philippa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden. The film has good production values, and is well-served by a fine cast (including some great British character actors, like Graham Crowden and Erik Chitty). The film may seem rather sedate and mundane to today's generation of children, but the disc provides a timely reminder - if one were needed - that there were some terrific British supernatural stories decades before Harry Potter became ubiquitous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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