The Ealing Comedies at the Park Ridge Public Library

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Our tenth program at the Park Ridge Public Library Classic Film Series has been abbreviated due to expected library renovations in 2018, but the shortened season presents us with an opportunity to visit an area of film history we might not otherwise have explored. This spring, we’ll be leaving the confines of Hollywood cinema and journeying across the pond to England. We’ll be examining the golden age of British comedy through the films of Ealing Studios. Ealing was a small but stable movie studio that operated out of West London. Despite being modest in size– certainly by comparison to the major studios of Hollywood– the effect Ealing had on world cinema is far-reaching. Though they made films of all genres, we will be showcasing the comedies from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s. The humor in these films ranges from the subtle and delicate to the downright bizarre. The centerpiece, Kind Hearts and Coronets (March 22), is a black comedy that deals with a member of a titled family who murders his way up the line of succession to become a duke. A couple titles in the series are lesser-known and are in need of rediscovery in this country. The series opens with Whisky Galore! (March 1), a film about a small Scottish community desperate to retrieve a load of alcohol on a stranded ship.

The peak years of Ealing were from 1947 to 1957. At this time, an idealism blossomed in the wake of World War II; filmmakers were optimistic in bringing new life to the British film industry. The films, which were produced by Sir Michael Balcon, often vividly depict post-war London and offer, in some cases, a type of idealized Britishness. Underneath the genteel surface, however, there was a fair share of satire and social comment to be found. This is evident in films like The Man in the White Suit, in which an inventor of an everlasting fabric is confronted by both labor and capitalists. The Ealing universe typically showed the triumph of the underdog with stories that were predominantly character-driven. The films have a distinct tone that makes them unique. These movies are engaging, witty, and evocative of time and place.

Valerie Hobson & Dennis Price, Kind Hearts and Coronets
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The Ealing Studios had an abundance of talent both in front of and behind the camera. Several of the films in our program were shot by the brilliant cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, who later worked on three of the Indiana Jones films. New audiences will discover many gifted English performers, including Joan Greenwood (who stars in three of the films), Valerie Hobson, Dennis Price, Stanley Holloway, and many others. A more recognizable star, however, is comedy genius Peter Sellers, who made his only Ealing appearance in the heist film The Ladykillers.

However, there is one actor who is most associated with Ealing at this period: Sir Alec Guinness. Best known to our generation as Obi-Wan Kenobi from the original Star Wars films, Guinness was the exact type of actor the studio liked to employ, often excelling in films with ensemble casts. He was one of the most diversified and distinguished actors in the business. Guinness appears in five of the six films, memorably portraying an inventor in The Man in the White Suit, a timid bank clerk in The Lavender Hill Mob, and the rather creepy “Professor” in The Ladykillers. In Kind Hearts and Coronets, he played eight characters of a doomed family!

Though decidedly English in tone and manner, the Ealing comedies are nonetheless universaI in their appeal. Their influence cannot be underestimated. Any quirky British comedy made today featuring an ensemble cast is often compared to these classics of seventy years ago.

Each presentation in our series will begin at 7 PM with an introduction by program host Matthew C. Hoffman.

Alec Guinness, The Ladykillers
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Full Schedule:

March 1: Whisky Galore! (1949)
March 7: A Run For Your Money (1949) ***Wed. night screening***
March 22: Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
March 29: The Man in the White Suit (1951)
April 5: The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
April 12: The Ladykillers (1955)

NOTE: All film screenings at the Park Ridge Public Library are free– no registration required. Doors open at 6:30 PM.