Early Michael Powell

Prior to his long and creatively rich collaboration with Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell cut his teeth directing a long string of quota films for several British firms, and while some of his early work from the early thirties has been available for some time in Britain, very few ever made it to North America.

Years ago, my friend's sister was studying physio-therapy in Britain, and before she left, I'd give her a list of new films released on VHS PAL that were wholly unavailable in Canada. That included the long versions of Le Grand Bleu, Betty Blue, and Bitter Moon, not to mention a trio of Free Cinema shorts, Roger Corman's The Intruder, and widescreen editions of Witchfinder General, Tora! Tora ! Tora!, and The Omega Man - all prior to their variable releases on laserdisc here.

Among the best gems were Powell and Pressburger's WWII propaganda film The Silver Fleet, and Red Ensign, one of several quota films Powell directed in 1934. With the release of MPI's Classic British Thrillers, Red Ensign finally makes its Region 1 debut, alongside Powell's The Phantom Light (1935).

MPI's DVD compresses the two Powells with a James Mason British noir, The Upturned Glass (1947), and while only the third film is truly a thriller, it's still a fun collection of B-flicks, ideal for late night viewing. There's been little publicity heralding the Powells, so we're starting our review of the MPI disc with Red Ensign and The Phantom Light. (Next week we'll have The Upturned Glass paired with Bigger Than Life, another film starring and produced by Mason.)

Coming next: Paul Jones on film – The Committee (from MVD Visual) and Peter Watkins’ Privilege (from Project X / New Yorker Films), plus more soundtracks.

And imminent: Masters of Horror Season 2, presented by Anchor Bay/Starz in a life-sized skull!


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