While our two-month season demonstrates that there was so much more in the Ealing Studios recipe book than its justly celebrated comedies, the Mediatheque serves up some truly exotic Ealing fare. The 30-odd documentary and propaganda shorts released by the studio between 1939 and 1946 are barely known; several titles in our collection have lain unseen for decades, and many others are missing altogether.
Ealing’s first foray into this territory came even before war was declared. Happy Family (1939) was a rousing call to ordinary citizens to prepare for the impending conflict, featuring John Mills. Mills turned up again in All Hands (1940), one of a trio of films made to illustrate the Ministry of nformation’s ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ message.
With the arrival of the great Alberto Cavalcanti from the GPO Film Unit, Ealing adopted documentary as a key part of its strategy. Cavalcanti’s new unit turned out comic instructionals, recruitment and campaign films, satire and ‘story’ documentaries, serving as a training ground for Ealing directors and technicians. Gradually, a documentary sensibility seeped into the studio’s features, bringing greater realism and a ‘people’s war’ flavour that led Ealing in a new direction.
Five to try
Now You’re Talking (1940)
Never trust a stranger offering mild and bitter. Blabbermouthed van driver Alf puts more than lives at risk in this cautionary tale on a ‘careless talk’ theme.
Go to Blazes (1942)
Clueless know-it-all Will Hay demonstrates how not to put out incendiary bombs in an entertaining instructional film. A young Thora Hird plays his more diligent daughter.
Did You Ever See a Dream Talking? (1943)
Spendthrift Claude Hulbert gets a lesson from his good angel in this enjoyably daft promotional film for War Savings Bonds.
The Sky’s the Limit (1943)
John Mills heads up a stirring recreation of a daring bombing raid to rival the more famous Target for Tonight, in this short film made for the RAF’s ‘Wings for Victory’ campaign.
Return of the Vikings (1944)
A Norwegian whaleboat captain does his bit for the Allied cause in this fine example of Ealing’s distinctive take on the ‘story documentary’.