On Approval

On Approval – classic Brit comedy comes to Blu-ray

There was a time when British comedy didn't mean Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Coupling or any of the other classic "britcoms" North Americans have come to know and love over the decades.

In fact, British cinema has a long and laugh-worthy history of films (of admittedly varying laugh-inducement), one of which has recently appeared on Blu-ray.

"On Approval" may not be as well known outside Britain as some of the famous Ealing movies, but it's the type of intelligently-written and well acted comedy that's definitely a nice diversion in the home theater.

It's also one of the few movies from the era directed by its star – in this case Clive Brook, who apparently owned the rights to the play on which the film is based and who kind of fell into the director's chair after the film's original boss was fired for bringing a less jocular focus to the characters than Brook though was warranted.

It worked, too. Brook did a nice job, indeed, crafting what isn't a laugh a minute yukfest but which is instead a smart, funny and – for the time – undoubtedly a tad outrageous film dealing with what could be seen as extreme immorality in the 1940's, though the situation presented wouldn't even raise an eyebrow today.

Based on the play by Frederick Lonsdale, On Approval is an entertaining ensemble piece starring Brook, Beatrice Lillie, Roland Culver, and Googie Withers. Brook plays the 10th Duke of Bristol who, despite his title, is flat broke and forced to rent out his estate for a big bash.

George (the Duke) has an equally broke buddy, Richard (Culver), who's the potential marriage partner of the wealthy Maria Wislack (Lillie). Meanwhile, Helen - a rich American (played very well by the attractive Ms. Withers) - has her sights set on George, who as the movie opens appears to not even notice that Googie's making googie eyes at him.

The controversial bit comes when Maria, in order to see if Richard is marriage material, proposes that the two of them go away for a month together in a Scottish mansion – he's "On Approval," as it were. Richard agrees, visions of rampant sex undoubtedly going through his head – though as it turns out Maria has figured out how to get Richard to be around without having to "put out," as it were.

Complicating things, George and Helen tag along to make the duo a foursome. And if you think three's a crowd…

As might be expected, the Scottish mansion's staff is less than happy being faced with running the place while what they see as rampant immorality unfolds before them. So they bolt, leaving the quartet alone to their own particular devices. War ensues.

We're not going to ruin the movie by giving you any more info than that because you really should see it unfold without spoilers – and even though it's a tad predictable, it's still very entertaining.

All four leads turn in excellent performances – there are times you want to slap each of them, at different times and for different reasons – and Withers brings a lovely sexuality to what is in fact a pretty asexual film.

The Blu-ray displays the odd scratch or other damage, but on the whole they don't distract from what is a pretty darn good image. The black and white, 1.33:1 picture offers very good detail, and the black levels are nice and deep.  

Audio, which is monaural, is nonetheless presented in a lossless PCM uncompressed 2.0 channel track, and it actually sounds pretty darn good as well. Dialogue, the most important part of a film such as this, is always clear, and the other sounds, whether the musical score or effects, come through very nicely, too.

Obviously, this won't be considered a reference quality Blu-ray for either its audio or video, but for a move that's nearly 70 years old it looks and sounds surprisingly good.

You even get some decent extras. First up is a commentary track by Jeffrey Vance, a film historian who gives you an interesting and entertaining look at the film, including comparing scenes with their stage versions.

There's also a rather engaging interview with Googie Withers, who remembers fondly – and well, considering her age at the time of the interview – the experience and expounds nicely on her experiences and her co-stars and crew members. Most of what she has to say is complimentary.

Inception Media has also included a still gallery of shots from the British Institute Film Collection  and there's also a nice, albeit short, essay inside the box by film critic Scott Eyman.

If you're expecting a laugh a second yukfest from "On Approval," you're bound to be disappointed, but if you're looking for a smart and funny "drawing room-type" of comedy in the grand British tradition, you owe it to yourself to spend the 80 minutes in the home theater required for this movie to unfold.  

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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