Karl Wareham has reviewed the Region 2 release of The Amazing Mr Blunden.
This film is a bit of an oddity in this day and age. They certainly don’t make them like this anymore, and they certainly should. It’s an adaptation of Antonia Barbar’s ‘The Ghosts’, and deals with two children, Jamie and Lucy, and their relationship with a pair of ghost children they meet when their recently divorced mother is given the chance to look after an old fire ravaged mansion.
The strange thing about this film is its sheer morbidity and the way the humour is intertwined around a fascination with the rituals of death. The Mr. Blunden, of the title, is an elderly solicitor who contacts the children’s mother with the offer of the job of caretaker. He is not all he seems, as is apparent the moment he appears. He is introduced, pushing his way through crowded Victorian streets, which eventually give way to the deserted street upon which the family live. As he approaches the door, we hear children off camera singing a ghostly rhyme that begins “all the little children are born to die.” This is fairly powerful and dark stuff, which younger children might have a problem with.
The bulk of the film is told in flashback, as we hear the tragic tale that the two ghost children have to tell. A pantomime of a tale it is as well, all wicked guardians and bawdy alehouses. And this is probably why the film works so well. There is nothing sugar coated here, and the grim tale is told with conviction and humour. There are numerous sight gags, and much subtlety is employed with play-on-words type humour. For example, we are told in a serious sounding voiceover that a character met his new wife at the ballet, where she was a ballerina, while the viewer is shown the revelries of a chorus line in a bawdy, back street theatre where the character in question is shown lecherously pursuing one of the dancers. It’s great stuff, make no mistake, and there are belly laughs to be had throughout the film. The direction is very theatrical and there are times when you feel you are actually watching a pantomime, especially at the end, where the cast reappears to bid you farewell.
Diana Dors excels as the evil guardian of the children, Mrs. Wickens, a proper pantomime villain if ever there was one, and unrecognizable under the ‘wench’ make-up she wears. The children’s performance, however, stands out as none of them come across as annoying brats, and actually play their parts extremely well. Marc Granger, in particular, as Georgie, the ghostly child has a wicked line delivery and sense of pacing. In one scene, during the testing of a potion, they decide to test it on Mrs. Wickens. “Well”, says Georgie, “it was either test it on her or test it on the cat. And the cat has done no harm to anyone.”
The plot, though strong, feels a bit clunky towards the end. And the final twist seems to defy all logic to force a happy ending. It does entertain, though, and is certainly original. There does seem to be a rather large flaw in the ending, but you’ll probably work that out for yourself, and don’t let it put you off; its still well worth a watch or two.
My only hesitation in recommending this film is that it is unclear who the audience for it would be today. If you have fond memories of it, from when it was on BBC2 every Christmas, then by all means, buy it for yourself. It’s dated fairly well, but children raised on more standard Disney type fair may have problems with some of the imagery and humour. A great family film, though, perfect for those winter Sunday afternoons.
Adequate picture quality. Nothing outstanding, and not surprising, really, taking into account the age of the film and the probable source materials. It is fairly clean and there’s no sign of any damage, but contrast levels are quite low, and there is a fair amount of grain throughout.
A 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is included, and for once, is worth employing as the rears are used to great effect during some of the more atmospheric moments. It did sound a little odd at times, with dialogue sometimes sounding tinny and forced. Not often, though, and Anchor Bay are to be commended for their efforts with this one. There is also the original mono mix for the purists.
A fairly slim selection of extras, consisting of:
An interview with Lionel Jeffries, a sixteen minute slot from Parkinson which is quite funny and well worth watching.
Fairly depressing reading as you realize that most of the people you have been watching are now dead.
A good film, highly recommended. A Busty, Bawdy, lewd and crude pantomime that mixes death with laughs and might, just, bring a tear to the eye at the end. Slim extras, but the interview is entertaining and it’s commendable of Anchor Bay to include this at all.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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