Java Head/Tiger Bay (UK - DVD R2)
Marcus may very well be all Ealing'd out after three of their classics in a week....
The Ealing Studio releases continue and this time with an Anna May Wong double bill, Java Head and Tiger Bay.
Java Head (1927 – 79 mins)
The first of the double bill tells the tale of Java Head, a sailing line company based out of Bristol, England. The owner of the company’s son Gerrit (Alan Roscoe) spends a prolonged time at sea and when he arrives back with Taou Yuen (Anna May Wong) his Chinese bride, the family and indeed the town are in uproar.
This first film treads the line between feeling surprisingly modern and exactly as old as it is. The controversial marriage is something that still pulls in movie audiences today and doesn’t seem all that differently handled in modern cinema, including secret loves, underhand racist opinions and family members doing their best to maintain the goodness of the family name. However some of the heavy handed dialogue pinpointing the differences between Chinese women and English wives as well as the philosophy of marriage and love feels forced a lot of the time. There are a handful of good performances in amongst all of the well spoken dialogue but really the story doesn’t really amount to much in my opinion and other than the well-constructed ending with the two loves of Gerrit’s life facing off and a pretty dark turn of events I have to say I was pretty underwhelmed.
Tiger Bay (1937 – 65 mins)
Tiger Bay has a much broader feel to it and tells the story of Englishman Michael (Victor Garland) venturing into Tiger Bay to experience its delights. There he gets involved with club owner Lui Chang (Anna May Wong) and her involvement with the criminal underworld as they try to muscle in on her establishment. Again the story here doesn’t feel as old as it is and goes to show a good story works no matter the era but again it’s the acting and the simple and straight forward dialogue that lets a lot of the more dramatic and even the threatening scenes down.
Out of the two films, I’d say Tiger Bay was the better choice , if only for some of the more enjoyable characters filing out the story but even despite it’s very short runtime my attention wavered in many of its more repetitive elements.
The transfers for Java Head and Tiger Bay are almost identical even despite having ten years between their original releases. Both movies have a layer of grain that is much like watching a film through gauze and it’s hard to forget just how old the films are. There’s also a distinct flicker to many of the scenes and the frame wobbles from time to time as well. That said the both images aren’t soft enough to call them failures. The transfers still manages to present detail well enough, with Tiger Bay’s slightly darker blacks offering up a bit of a sharper image.
Textures and costume patterns just about hold up, again with Tiger Bay doing a slightly better job but honestly that’s the only highlight here as everything else is what you’d except from old black and whites.
The mono track for both films is simply dialogue for the most part. The musical pieces are harsh and shrieky and other than the constant hiss (especially on Java Head), there’s nothing else filling out the track most of the time. Tiger Bay as a bigger feeling track, mainly in its ‘busy’ street scenes (that consist of about ten people arguing most of the time) but out of the two films Tiger Bay suffers from a more scratchy feel to the dialogue so it's not all good news. Once again, the audio here is unavoidable; both films are from an era that sounded like this so what we get is sort of what you’d expect.
Two movies yet no extras. Not cool.
I was pleasantly surprised with the last Ealing release I watched ( Halfway House) but this double bill was probably a little too much to sustain my wide eyed intrigue of cinema’s past, especially all within one week’s viewing. I have no idea of either of these films' significance in the Ealing history, or indeed Anna May Wong’s stardom but neither the films nor her performances struck me as all that memorable, so maybe it had more to do with a Chinese actress starring in what I can only guess were controversial roles at the time. The discs are both pretty much what you'd expect A/V wise and with no extras there's very little to tempt non fans towards a purchase.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable for all
Release Date: 20th June 2011
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono English
Easter Egg: No
Director: George Melford, J. Elder Wills
Cast: Anna May Wong
Length: 144 minutes
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