On Approval is an adaptation of Frederick Lonsdale’s popular play by Clive Brook, the sole directorial effort for a star actor better known for his lead roles. First released in 1944, the British comedy was a widely acclaimed classic of its era, if not well known today. Time magazine called it one of the ten-best films of 1944. The impeccable comedic cast of the time, featuring stalwarts such as Googie Withers and Beatrice Lillie in the lead female roles, deliver a witty film laced with sharp-tongued jabs between the sexes.

Firmly planted in the cinematic British mold of high society comedies, On Approval is a depiction of the battle between the sexes and the changing nature of courtship in its day, set amongst the gentry of the 1890s. It stars Clive Brook as an aging, upper class rogue named George, the 10th Duke of Bristol, in a search for a wealthy woman to settle down with and marry. Both George and his friend, Richard (Roland Culver), pursue the two wealthy women in a joint effort due to their troubled finances.

Maria Wislack (Beatrice Lillie) is a wealthy British heiress that Richard has his eye on and through a series of machinations by George, she invites Richard out to her own Scottish island for a trial marriage of one month. George finagles his way into this trip, hoping to entice the wealthy and much younger American lady, Helen (Googie Withers), into a marriage with him.

What quickly develops on the island trip is an ever-growing animosity between George and the ladies, a hopeless cad that isn’t subtle in his ambitions to marry the prosperous and beautiful Helen. On Approval’s humor comes mostly in the form of dry exchanges between the two ladies and two gentlemen, in the best manner of British comedy. Each side of the gender divide throws insults back and forth. As the story unfolds, it looks less and less likely anyone will get married among the pairs.

On Approval still has something to provide for modern audiences today as a type of romantic comedy rarely seen in recent memory. The humorous lines by George and Maria are delivered with adroit timing, as each begins to insult each other more and more over the month-long period. It is the type of easy interplay between characters that has grown increasingly rare in today’s cinema. Anyone interested in sharp dialogue and a look at the changing mores of society will find much to enjoy about On Approval.

Movie ★★★★☆

Looking on @ 34:34

Featuring a newer transfer struck from a safety negative by the British Film Institute, On Approval on this disc likely looks as nice as it can for a 1944 release in 1080P resolution. The 79-minute main feature has been encoded in AVC, at an average bitrate of 27.00 Mbps. On Approval arrives on Blu-ray in its correct square aspect ratio, 1.33:1. Most accustomed to watching films of this era on home video will know what to expect in terms of visual quality. On Approval has not received the royal treatment of a more well-known movie like The Wizard of the Oz, but nevertheless looks better than before.

The black-and-white cinematography holds up as well as one can imagine, at least for the primary setting of the film in the Scottish estate maintained by Maria Wislack. The opening prologue set in the 1940s is more erratic and uneven in video quality, almost reverting back to a movie from the Silent Era. Overall detail and resolution are somewhat disappointing in the transfer, though the various scratches and debris on the print are not that intrusive to the viewing experience. The Blu-ray is not the sharpest film in black-and-white but neither could it be characterized as soft.

On Approval’s contrast is more stable than other Blu-ray transfers of its era’s movies that are sourced from public domain prints. Black levels have moderate depth and there is only a minor hint of crushing in the darkest scenes. The transfer has not been ruined by sharpening or obvious filtering, as the image is free of ringing. The grain structure is nicely reproduced by the excellent video encode, in an artifact-free presentation.

Considering the previous option for this film was a 1999 DVD from Image that has long been out of print, it is safe to say that On Approval looks better than ever on home video. For a smaller distributor, Inception Media Group has given the film a very strong presentation given the condition of existing elements for the British comedy. The transfer’s modest improvements in clarity and resolution are enough to recommend this Blu-ray.

Video ★★★☆☆

The original mono soundtrack is included on this Blu-ray as a 2.0 PCM soundtrack, at 24-bit / 48 kHz. Given its vintage origins, the soundtrack provides a reasonable listening experience. The dialogue is clear while the score itself is reproduced without much distortion, though the limited fidelity reveals a tinny quality to the instrumental music. A hint of analog noise accompanies the soundtrack, though it largely becomes unnoticeable as a viewer becomes absorbed watching the movie. It is an eminently suitable presentation of an audio source with inherently dated sound.

Unfortunately no subtitles of any kind are included for On Approval or its special features.

Audio ★★★☆☆

Inception Media Group has dug up a handful of special features for On Approval’s arrival on Blu-ray, which is more than enough for an almost forgotten British film from 1944.

Audio Commentary – Film historian Jeffrey Vance, a specialist in comedies, details at length every aspect of On Approval’s cast and crew. The commentary is an exhaustive description of the film’s background and tries to give modern viewers some context for most scenes. Jeffery Vance knows this movie inside and out, revealing his knowledge of the movie in a free-flowing manner that almost moves too quickly.

Googie Withers Remembers “On Approval” (16:56 in upscaled 1080P) – Possibly the youngest member of the cast or crew at the time of production, she dishes out gossip about her experiences and the cast in an interview that appears to have been given sometime this century before her passing in 2011. She is quite frank with her opinions and holds nothing back in reminiscing about her experience in filming the movie, including criticisms of Clive Brook.

Still Gallery: From the British Film Institute Collection (09:21 in 1080P) – A series of still B&W images from the movie, including a few from the set itself, that advance every ten seconds.

Insert/Booklet – Included inside the Blu-ray case is a rarity these days for home media releases, a short booklet featuring still photographs and complete liner notes by a film critic, Scott Eyman. The lucid notes greatly help place the film into a better context for modern viewers.

Extras★★★★★

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


3 thoughts on "On Approval Review"

  1. usacomp2k3 says:

    Technically, 1.33 isn’t square, since a square requires equal sides.

    1. Christopher Zabel says:

      In discussing film ratios, it is accepted industry nomenclature to apply the term “square” to the 1.33:1 and 1.37:1 aspect ratios, to differentiate them from the much wider aspect ratios such as 1.85:1. The 1.375:1 aspect ratio is commonly referred to as the Academy ratio, since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences standardized it in 1932. You are correct in that the term doesn’t make sense from a mathematical perspective.

  2. Phantom Stranger says:

    On Approval can be purchased directly from the label:

    http://b2mp.net/products/on-approval/

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