The Titfield Thunderbolt
The Titfield Thunderbolt – 1953 | 84 mins | Comedy | Colour
Charles Crichton, of Hue and Cry and The Lavender Hill Mob, collaborated again with Tibby Clarke for The Titfield Thunderbolt, released in 1953. Its theme was the defiance by a group of villagers of the faceless bureaucrats bent on closing down their local railway line. The comedy drew on the English fondness for trains, as well as the commonplace Ealing assumption that small equals beautiful, big equals bad. But there is something that does not quite ring true. The argument for retaining the line seems to be merely for the sake of quaintness and tradition. It was, after all, a few years before the Beeching revolution would have wiped out all such branch lines anyway. (In fact, the line on which filming took place, near the village of Limpley Stoke, a few miles from Bath did disappear as a result of one of British Rail’s rationalisation programmes.) While it is an amusing idea to bring in Godfrey Tearle as a railway-mad bishop, have the entire village appear to steal a locomotive from a museum in order that their sabotaged train can run, and evict the local poacher from his ex-railway carriage home for improvised rolling stock, there is something rather forced about the comedy.
Douglas Slocombe‘s photography was, however, very evocative of West Country England and used TechniColour for the first time for an Ealing comedy. A clue to the film’s overall failure to make the same kind of impact as its predecessors is contained in a location report by Hugh Samson in Picturegoer: ‘Odd point about this railway location: not a single railway enthusiast to be found in the whole crew. T.E.B. ‘Tibby’ Clarke, writer of the script, loathes trains. Producer Michael Truman can’t get out of them quick enough. And director Crichton – well, you won’t find him taking engine numbers at Paddington Station.’ Perhaps that was it, there was insufficient love of the subject.
Extract© George Perry: Forever Ealiing.