Classic British Thrillers – DVD Review

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In order to have a true appreciation for the films that are released today, one must journey back in time and experience how they all came about. Perhaps the only unique qualities of films in the present time are the advancements in technology allowing for computer generated imagery or big time explosions taking up half the screen. When it comes to storylines, acting, or ideas for the films to start with; well then you need to get into the cinematic fault and watch those that made it all happen. The only problem is that you’re either going to love them or hate them because some of those exposed to only today’s cinema is spoiled rotten.

The Phantom Light

There have been a recent streak of ships being lost on the rocks near the North Stack lighthouse. Sam Higgins has been given the position of new keeper and must report to the lighthouse hoping to turn that trend around. Higgins keeps his post but soon starts going through some unexpected situations. A woman, among numerous others, show up stating they need to get to the lighthouse. Higgins isn’t quite sure what to make of all this, but learns some information that may start to clear up the confusion. He finds out that all the past keepers before him have either plunged to their death or gone completely insane. The mysterious and unexplained light that appears and lures passing ships to their demise must be a big part of that, and it soon reveals itself to cause trouble for all involved.

The Phantom Light‘s premise is quite simple. A light is appearing for no rhyme or reason and leading the ships in the night to their ultimate crash into the rocks. Higgins must determine what is causing this, but he is soon distracted by the multitude of people that appear to have some connection to the lighthouse. There is a lot of mystery in this film that makes for some extremely tense moments as you try to figure out exactly what the hell is going on. Making matters worse for everyone involved, but better for those watching the film, are the confined spaces in the lighthouse. It sort of reminded me of the film Clue in a way. When all the characters were in one of the rooms; they were so crowded with each other and one of them was the murderer. You never knew what could happen. The same holds true here as everyone is together in one small area, but they know someone near them is up to something.

Red Ensign

The British shipbuilding industry is going down the tubes and nothing seems like it can stop the downfall into oblivion. In steps a young shipbuilder by the name of David Barr who has a grand idea for a new type of vessel that could get the industry back into prominence once again. The people rally behind him and enemies look to steal his designs so they can be the ones in the forefront of everything. Little do they know that Barr holds secrets of his own no-one must find out.

I found it hard to really get much out of this film because honestly, it bored me to tears. There wasn’t much in the way of storyline other then Barr trying to get the shipbuilding industry back into gear while hiding some secrets he wanted no-one to find out. Not much in the way of real intrigue there or even a small dose of thriller. Red Ensign is overly dull and just never did much to keep my interest. Even the slightest bit of suspense would have been welcome and probably made the film at least one hundred times more enjoyable.

The Upturned Glass

Michael Joyce is a neurosurgeon that uses his spare time in giving lectures to medical colleges so that they may partake in his vast knowledge. Joyce likes to go back to particular cases throughout his career in order to get across the message that anything can happen in his line of work. The film starts out with one of his lectures and goes back in time to a case where a man committed a murder in order to uphold justice. The murderer knew exactly what he was doing and drew out the crime to every last detail before following through with what he believed to be validated. As Joyce recollects the account; many secrets are revealed including some of his own.

The Upturned Glass may have actually confused me more the first time through, but watching it a second time helped me understand completely. Films that require me to have multiple viewings in order to “get them,” are some of the best productions in my opinion. The film has many little twists and turns which could be considered Alfred Hitchcock in nature with a small does of Quentin Tarentino thrown in. Of course that couldn’t possibly be, but it shows a film that was way before its time back in 1947 and delivers some great mystery and suspenseful scenes.

The films are shown in 1.33:1 Full Screen format and they look good, but then again they really don’t. While the black and white transfer is easy to watch, there is a lot of grain and flickering that was quite bothersome at times. Get ready for some cigarette burns among other noticeable things.

The films are heard in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Sound and they sound alright, but there is some background buzzing noise on all three.


The final score for the films would be much higher if it wasn’t for the awful Red Ensign thrown into the mix. Not only was the film not enjoyable, but it really doesn’t seem to fit the bill of “thrillers” that The Phantom Light and The Upturned Glass carry so well. Those two films provide tension, mystery, suspense, and give the great “who-dunnit” feel that makes you want to keep watching as if you’re playing a game. Red Ensign just falls flat and takes the wind right out of your sails. My advice to you would be to watch Phantom and Upturned Glass first so you won’t be taken down a road of discontent with Ensign and give up before checking them out. No special features are included at all and considering how old these films are, I’m not genuinely surprised. Maybe some news footage of their releases or something or an interview with anyone still around would have been nice, but oh well. Check this collection out, but be prepared to only pay for two films here and not three.


MPI Home Video presents Classic British Thrillers. Directed by: Michael Powell (The Phantom Light and Red Ensign); Lawrence Huntingdon (The Upturned Glass).

Starring: Binnie Hale, Gordon Harker, Ian Hunter (The Phantom Light); Leslie Banks, Carol Goodner, Frank Vosper (Red Ensign); James Mason, Rosamund John, Pamela Kellino (The Upturned Glass).

Running time: 210 minutes. Rating: Unrated. Released on DVD: July 29, 2008. Available at

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