The Amazing Mr. Blunden Review
Camden Town, London, 1918. Lucy (Lynne Frederick) and Jamie Allen (Garry Miller) live with their widowed mother (Dorothy Allison). One day, an old man, Mr Blunden (Laurence Naismith), claiming to be from the family's solictors, calls by and offers them a place as housekeepers of a derelict mansion in the countryside. Playing in the grounds, Lucy and Jamie meet two other children, Sara (Rosalyn Landor) and Georgie Latimer (Marc Granger). But Sara and Georgie are ghosts, of a brother and sister who died in the mansion a hundred years before. Soon Lucy and Jamie are drawn into an attempt to go back in time and to right a wrong...
Lionel Jeffries had a long career as an actor, his film roles beginning with an uncredited part as “Bald RADA student” in Hitchcock's Stage Fright in 1950, when he was twenty-four. By the turn of the 1970s, he was a well-established character actor, especially in comedies. However, at that time, censorship was breaking down and the films which were making waves were those which were challenging taboos and otherwise pushing the envelope of acceptable content on screen...and which needless to say were suitable for adults only. Jeffries felt that there was a place for a film that was suitable for children and with appeal to the whole family, well made and old-fashioned in a good way, conservative with a lower-case C, harking back to a kinder, gentler era. So he sat in the director's chair and set out to make just such a film.
In that he succeeded. His directorial debut was his 1970 adaptation of E. Nesbit's novel The Railway Children, which became an instant family favourite, its reputation cemented by countless television showings. The Amazing Mr. Blunden, made two years later, adapted from Antonia Barber's novel The Ghosts, has tended to exist in its predecessor's shadow, but it is its equal. The Railway Children was a realistic historical/period piece (within a particular social stratum, of course), so Blunden's use of fantasy in two historical settings – complements it nicely.
While Blunden contains ghosts, it's not a “ghost story” as such, but a timeslip fantasy. With a storyline involving the righting of a past wrong, its impulse is to console rather than scare or unsettle, and that's why this story sits quite comfortably within the bounds of its U certificate. I used the word “old-fashioned” above, and that's appropriate: you could quite easily see this film being made ten or twenty years before it was, with almost nothing changed, except that it being the early 70s and not the 60s or 50s, Blunden is in colour rather than black and white. I'm in no doubt that Jeffries as a first- and second-time director had a lot of assistance from his DPs, and Gerry Fisher's camerawork is a highlight of Blunden much as Arthur Ibbetson's was in The Railway Children. There's something quite theatrical about this film, with its two periods being creations of production design and rather rosily nostalgic than realistic (but then this isn't that type of film) and which could have been more distinguished from each other,. It's also there in some of the acting. Diana Dors, under heavy makeup, makes a fine pantomime villain. In the supporting cast you'll find such familiar names as Madeline Smith (normally seen at that time adding sex appeal to horror movies), Graham Crowden, Reg Lye and a young-looking Paul Eddington as a vicar. At the end of the film, Jeffries has his principal cast take a curtain call, as it were, waving to the audience and saying goodbye.
Despite the film's title and Laurence Naismith's prominent billing, this film belongs to the children. After the opening sequence, Blunden takes a back seat for a third of the running time, while we get up to speed with the nineteenth-century back story. Of the four children, the boys did not sustain acting careers. Marc Grainger's only other credit is an episode of Follyfoot from the same year, while this is Garry Miller's last film in a career of three years. (The IMDB lists a TV film from 1985, but that may be another actor of the same name.) Rosalyn Landor, who debuted in the definitely not family-friendly The Devil Rides Out at age ten, is acting to this day. However, the best-known name in the young cast is that of Lynne Frederick, though that is because of her later marriages to Peter Sellers and David Frost, and her death at age thirty-nine from alcoholism. This was Laurence Naismith's final cinema role, though he continued to act on television for another ten years and he died in 1992.
Lionel Jeffries made three more films as a director in the 70s. The odd one out is his next, Baxter!. It was not a success (and is anomalous for this director in its being given a BBFC AA certificate, restricting it to the over-fourteens) and has not seen the light of day on VHS or DVD. The only UK TV showing I can trace was on the Bravo channel in 1994. Needless to say, I have not seen it. Jeffries's last two films as director were for younger children: a big-screen outing for the popular book, television and pop-music franchise of litter-picking creatures from Wimbledon, Wombling Free and a part-animated adaptation of Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies. He continued to act until 2001 and died in 2010 at the age of eighty-three.
The Amazing Mr. Blunden is released by Second Sight on a single-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only.
A previous UK release from Anchor Bay was reviewed on this site ten years ago this month by Karl Wareham here. That disc has extras, notably an appearance by Jeffries on Parkinson, which have not been carried over to this new edition.
The DVD is anamorphically enhanced in a ratio of 1.78:1. 1.75:1 or 1,85:1 would be plausible ratios for a British film of this vintage – the IMDB says the latter – but whether the transfer is slightly opened up or slightly cropped, there are no real issues here worth worrying about. The transfer looks fine: any softness seems intentional, due to Gerry Fisher's use of filters, colours seem true (skin tones with that slight salmon cast that you see in many films of this era) and blacks and shadow detail what it should be.
The soundtrack is the original mono, with dialogue, sound effects and Elmer Bernstein's music score well balanced. English subtitles are available for the hard of hearing.
As mentioned above, there are no extras, not even a trailer.
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