Classic British children’s ghost story The Amazing Mr. Blunden (1972) gets a long-overdue upgrade to Blu-ray, courtesy of Second Sight Films. RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES takes a look.
I concur with that assertion. For those of a certain age (this writer included), The Amazing Mr. Blunden was as much a part of Christmas and holiday television schedules as other British evergreens like Digby: The Biggest Dog In The World (1973) and Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland (1972), alongside an earlier film from director Lionel Jeffries, The Railway Children (1970).
Its standing as one of the best children’s films of its period is without doubt, but it’s perhaps less celebrated as an important British horror film. I recall seeing it described in one television listings magazine many years ago as “like a Hammer horror tale for kids” – that may have been meant as a compliment, or a quick descriptive shorthand, but it is far from accurate.
It does share a certain look and feel with other period horrors of the time, but stylistically has more in common with a very British brand of costume drama prevalent at the time – it’s not a big jump from the kind of Dickensian adaptations that both the BBC and ITV were producing then, with a variety of grotesques portrayed by top-notch supporting players.
Offsetting this, the young leads are left to carry much of the drama, and do so admirably. So many child parts have been blighted over the years by irritating brats with stage-school affectations, but Lionel Jeffries seems to have had a knack for getting naturalistic performances from his younger players.
For all that, there is a genuine eeriness which permeates the film. It’s never jump-out scary, but has just enough spookiness to make the very-young get a non-threatening chill up the spine.
It’s also striking how the fiery climax of the film just wouldn’t work as well today – the practical effects employed with burning jets of gas may not pass muster in today’s safety-conscious climate, but it’s difficult to imagine CGI effects having anywhere near as much of an audience impact.
EXTRAS: Audio commentary with actors Madeline Smith, Rosalyn Landor and Stuart Lock, all of whom appear to be having a great time sharing their memories (moderated by Kim Newman).
Interviews with Madeline Smith and Rosalyn Landor – in their individual featurettes, both recall the production of the film, and reflect fondly on their experiences working with Lionel Jeffries.
Interview with Mark Gatiss – his reminiscences of seeing the film as a child will have many a viewer of a similar age nodding in agreement.
Q&A at the BFI from 2014 with Smith, Landor and Lock
WHAT’S MISSING FROM THE PREVIOUS RELEASE?: The Anchor Bay DVD release featured a photo gallery, plus an archive interview with Lionel Jeffries from 1980 for the BBC Parkinson show. Whilst not directly tied to the film, it was an interesting chat with the real character who made it. It’s worth holding on to for that if nothing else.
HOW DOES IT LOOK?: Even allowing for the constraints of the DVD format, the film transfer on the earlier release always left a lot to be desired – murky, fuzzy and with the image ever-so-slightly stretched. There was also a considerable amount of print damage on display. The Amazing Mr. Blunden always deserved better.
Thankfully, the Second Sight release blows it out of the water. The brand new scan and restoration addresses these anomalies, and deftly walks a fine line between cleaning up the source material but retaining the natural quirks commensurate with its age and format. A nice level of film grain is retained, whilst allowing the muted colour scheme (plenty of browns, greys and greens) and sterling work by cinematographer Gerry Fisher and art director Wilfred Shingleton to shine.
ANY NEGATIVES?: None that I can see.
SHOULD I GET THIS?: Indeed. Is there a better Christmas present for a Brit-horror fan to give themselves than a classic ghost story they can actually sit down and enjoy with the kids? If there are no kids to enjoy it with, you’ll soon return to childhood yourself once you settle down and watch The Amazing Mr. Blunden, but it’s also impressive at this distance how much the film has to say to an adult audience about the way in which children can be so easily mistreated.
The Second Sight Films release of The Amazing Mr. Blunden gets a solid thumbs-up from here – A masterclass in spooky storytelling for the young and the young-at-heart, it has never looked better.