Classic British Train Humor

Originally released in 1953 as Ealing Studios’ first Technicolor comedy and one of the first British comedies in color, The Titfield Thunderbolt is emblematic of that period’s filmmaking with British faces like Stanley Holloway and George Relph.

Directed by Charles Crichton (A Fish Called Wanda) and written by Academy Award winner T.E.B. Clarke (The Lavender Hill Mob), the quaint comedy concerns a small rural village coming together to save their local railways line. Combining the charm of rural England and the nostalgic romance of riding locomotives, The Titfield Thunderbolt celebrates the foibles of its colorful characters without demeaning them.

When British Railways announces the closure of the local rail line, it sends the local residents into a tizzy. Fearing their small village will be left behind, a group of amateurs headed by a clergyman decide they can operate their own train. Finding funding with a wealthy local interested more in the liquor licensing possibilities, this bumbling group will end up in direct conflict with operators of the bus service.

…warm, inviting British cinema recalling an earlier way of rural life from before the war

In over their heads, the group’s comedy of errors running a train produces laughs and a few great moments of laughter. The Titfield Thunderbolt doesn’t overstay its welcome or drag out its punchlines, primarily relying on an ensemble British cast that nicely fits together. It is warm, inviting British cinema recalling an earlier way of rural life from before the war, filled with optimism and hope.

A few sharp jokes take a stab at nationalization of the railways and union labor, but the focus here is mainly on the challenges faced by the community from changing technology. It is also a love letter to riding the rails and the pleasure of enjoying that once-prominent mode of transportation.

The Titfield Thunderbolt represents a simpler era of British filmmaking and comedy, put together by accomplished filmmakers and a talented cast. The real star is the thrilling railway footage using a repainted vintage locomotive known as the Lion. Ealing Studios’ comedy is aimed squarely at train fans.

Video

First restored by Pinewood Studios back in the early 2010s and released by StudioCanal in the UK with a modern color correction, Film Movement puts out Ealing Studios’ first Technicolor comedy from 1953 in excellent video quality.

The Titfield Thunderbolt is presented in its original 1.37 aspect ratio. The film-like 2K transfer isn’t pin-sharp but delivers satisfactory color saturation. It is a step down in pure video quality from Hollywood’s Technicolor productions of the era but holds its own in most regards.

Taken from stable elements which have been manually cleaned of scratches and dirt, the 1080P video produces excellent definition and textural detail. Clarity remains consistently above average from the well-lit Technicolor cinematography. The main feature runs 84 minutes, encoded in high-bitrate AVC on a BD-50. Like most Film Movement releases, the AVC encode is superb with complete transparency to the source’s grain structure. A hint of sharpening and a few registration errors creep into the transfer.

Audio

The original monaural recording is presented in passable 2.0 PCM. The score by Georges Auric receives better treatment than the quieter scenes as background noise reveals the source’s sonic limitations. Some passages are patchy with limited dynamics and audible artifacts. Dialogue is mostly intelligible. Expect limited fidelity and less-than-pristine recording quality.

No subtitles are included.

Extras

Film Movement basically ports over everything from the Region B release, adding a handsome 12-page booklet with a new essay by film scholar Ronald Bergan. The Blu-ray is locked to Region A, arriving in Film Movement’s traditional clear BD case.

“Making the Titfield Thunderbolt” Featurette (09:15 in HD) – Writer Charles Barr, first assistant director David Peers and others discuss Ealing Studios’ work on the project in this fine making-of featurette.

“The Lion Locomotive” Featurette (05:38 in SD) – Discusses the history of the Lion, now restored at a museum in Liverpool.

Locations Featurette (02:34 in SD)

Home Movie Footage from Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (10:48 in SD) – The cinematographer’s personal 16mm footage on location from his time shooting the movie, as an audio interview from 2012 plays over the silent footage.

Douglas Slocombe on Charles Crichton audio interview (04:21) – From a 2012 recording.

Theatrical Trailer (02:39 in HD)

Archival Stills Gallery (01:25 in SD) – Various posters and production stills.

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

The Titfield Thunderbolt
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  • Extras
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Ealing Studios’ first Technicolor comedy celebrates riding the rails with classic British humor and a gaggle of colorful characters.

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