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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New interview about the film with NoŽl Coward scholar Barry Day
  • A Profile of "In Which We Server," a short documentary from 2000 on the making of the film
  • Audio recording of a 1969 conversation between actor Richard Attenborough and Coward at London's National Film Theatre
  • Trailer

In Which We Serve

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: David Lean, Noel Coward
Starring: Noel Coward, John Mills, Bernard Miles, Celia Johnson, Kay Walsh, Joyce Carey, Richard Attenborough
1942 | 114 Minutes | Licensor: ITV Global Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $99.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #604
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: March 27, 2012
Review Date: March 26, 2012

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SYNOPSIS

In the midst of World War II, the renowned playwright NoŽl Coward engaged a young film editor named David Lean to help him realize his vision for an action drama about a group of Royal Navy sailors (roles that would be filled by Coward himself, Bernard Miles, and John Mills, among others) fighting the Germans in the Mediterranean. Coward and Lean ended up codirecting the large-scale project-an impressive undertaking, especially considering that neither of them had directed for the big screen before (this would be Coward's only such credit). Cutting between a major naval battle and flashbacks to the men's lives before they left home, In Which We Serve (an Oscar nominee for best picture) was a major breakthrough for both filmmakers and a sensitive and stirring piece of propaganda.

Forum members rate this film 7.3/10

 

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PICTURE

Criterion has put together a 4-disc box set representing the collaborative work of playwright NoŽl Coward and director David Lean, calling it David Lean Directs NoŽl Coward. The first film in the set, In Which We Serve, is presented here on a dual-layer disc in a new 1080p/24hz transfer in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1.

In association with ITV Studios Global Entertainment and StudioCanal the BFI conducted a vigorous restoration of Leanís first ten films, with funding from the David Lean Foundation. These restorations were used for all of the transfers in this set and were supplied to Criterion by ITV. All of them look exceptional.

In Which We Serve, the oldest film in the set, is especially impressive. Not counting instances where rather rough stock footage was used there are barely in flaws to speak of in the source materials, limited to a few minor blemishes, and the level of detail is undeniably astounding. Film grain is present and perfectly rendered without an instance where it comes off pixilated or noisy. Contrast looks great with excellent gray levels, nice clean blacks, and strong whites that never bloom. I also couldnít detect any sort of artifact during its running time.

For all its worth this may be one of the cleanest, most filmic presentations Iíve seen on Blu-ray. Itís a stunning looking presentation and everyone involved in its restoration and its transfer should be proud of what theyíve done here. Itís simply beautiful, and Iím happy to say that the other films in the set are just about all like this.

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The lossless linear PCM 1.0 mono track doesnít deliver as well as the visual presentation but itís more than acceptable. I heard a faint bit of noise in the background but its otherwise clean, presenting intelligible dialogue. It can be a bit flat, though, and music is a bit edgy, but this has more to do with the materials I feel rather than the actual transfer.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Each disc in the set contains its own set of supplements, with a few focusing specifically on the film contained on the disc. This review only concentrates on the supplements included on the disc of In Which We Serve.

Each disc includes an interview with Coward scholar Barry Day. The 16-minute one included here has Day talk a little about Cowardís early career and the path that led him to write and direct (more-or-less) In Which We Serve, the eventual involvement of Lean, and then of course the casting (which included Coward in the key role.) Day defends the film as well, agreeing that it is a wartime piece of propaganda but that it still holds up well and presents themes that are still true today. Day is a bit dry I must admit but I enjoyed this interview and the others found across the box set.

A Profile of ďIn Which We ServeĒ is a 24-minute documentary about the film, one that I assume was made for a previous DVD release. It gathers many surviving members at the time for interviews (the doc was made in 2000) and includes actor John Mills, director of photography Ronald Neame, and producer Anthony Havelock-Allan, amongst others. It again goes over the early development of the film, but gets into more detail about how Lean came to be involved. It does sound as though Coward was to be the sole director on the film but after becoming overwhelmed by the technical side of things he brought on Lean (then an editor) to help, with Lean agreeing only if he got a co-director credit (which he did.) Apparently Coward let Lean take over completely part way through. It looks at the actors that appeared in the film (with Celia Johnsonís daughter, Lucy Fleming, reading writings by her mother about the film) and then gets into the technical aspects of the film from how they were able to simulate bullets hitting the water without hurting to the sets and models for the ship. Though ultimately nothing more than a talking-heads piece I found it an interesting making-of.

The next feature is audio-only but is possibly the strongest feature on here: Coward and Attenborough at the NFT is a 65-minute piece featuring Attenborough interviewing the playwright on December 14th, 1969. Itís a mix of Attenborough asking Coward questions while audience members shout out their own questions from time-to-time. Unfortunately audience questions are hard to hear so you have to piece together what the question was based on Cowardís answer or a comment made by Attenborough. Overall Coward ends up covering his work in general, with some special attention paid to In Which We Serve and how he came up with the story. He also talks about his various plays and what would have been recent BBC productions of his work. And he also covers random subjects like why he has a Swiss residence. Coward of course makes for a wonderful interview subject and Attenborough manages to keep it entertaining and quick as host, making this a fairly breezy interview to get through. The piece plays over a photo of Attenborough in the film.

The disc then concludes with a theatrical trailer. The set also comes with a booklet with a number of essays, including one by Terrence Rafferty on In Which We Serve.

As a whole the set has a number of intriguing supplements but on its own In Which We Serve comes with its own engaging supplements, and possibly the best one to be found in the set, the Coward interview.

(As a note, the film was released on Laserdisc by Criterion but it contained no special features.)

7/10

CLOSING

Criterionís David Lean Directs NoŽl Coward box set is a wonderful release but the disc for In Which We Serve would make for an exceptional release on its own. It packs an amazing high-definition transfer, especially when one considers the age of the film, and a number of fascinating supplements on the film and Coward.


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