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VINE VOICEon 16 March 2007
As fine a collection of British movies as you'll find, here are all the great classics from the Archers - no, not the Ambridge mob but the matchless directing/writing team of Powell and Pressburger. A round dozen films, each of them a gem of the skill and craft of film-making, each of them distinctive and exceptional in its look, its content and its style.

What was it that made Powell and Pressburger so special? It would be easy to dismiss films like A Canterbury Tale or I Know Where I'm Going as dated sentimental tosh. Yet they are both anything but - moving, involving, strong on characterisation, visually stunning and evoking an intense sense of place (Rural Kent in the former, the Western Isles in the latter). 49th Parallel? Just blatant propaganda! But then there are those stunning Canadian landscapes, the moving characterisations superbly acted by Anton Walbrook, Leslie Howard and, at the other extreme, Eric Portman. Are Ill Met by Moonlight and Battle of the River Plate just a couple more British War Movies, typical of their period? No, both take a different slant on their reality-based material. In Plate, for example, the big battle scene is over before 2/3 of the film is done and yet the potentially anticlimactic scenes in Montevideo harbour and the final scuttling of the pocket battleship are just as exciting, just as fulfilling an ending as any shoot-`em-up finale. What's Black Narcissus but a high-camp melodrama about nuns going potty with sexual frustration in the Himalayas? No, as a study of women isolated by climate, culture and celibacy as well as topography, it's masterly. (OK, Kathleen Byron in scarlet dress, a slash of lipstick across her mouth and rolling eyes is a bit OTT - but I wouldn't swap her for the world.)

Are these, then just comfortably and quintessentially British films? The truth is that there is much that is technically groundbreaking about their work. Kubrick's famous time-travelling jumpcut from bone to spaceship in 2001 was there a quarter of a century earlier in the cut from hawk to Spitfire in A Canterbury Tale. The integration of music and dance with narrative in The Red Shoes paved the way for much of Gene Kelly's best work, not least an American in Paris. Long before the days of CGI Powell and his technical team were conjuring magic on celluloid. Think of A Matter of Life and Death with its endless stairway to heaven or the amphitheatre court which is actually the Andromeda nebula - as well as all the tricks with colour, with freeze-frames and so on. The Himalayas of Black Narcissus are a glorious tribute to the masters of glass-painting and backdrops, to the imagination of set designers, to the physical skills of cameramen working with false-perspectives where an inch or two wrong on the camera can ruin the illusion - all shot on the soundstages of Pinewood!

They also brought out the best in their actors. One of Niven's finest pieces of acting (at least before Separate Tables) in Matter of Life and Death: the endearingly human Roger Livesey in I Know Where I'm Going, Matter of Life and Death, but most of all as the wonderfully real, deep, touching Candy in Colonel Blimp. Anton Walbrook, too, touchingly proud then frail in that film as well as the strong Amish leader of 49th Parallel and the driven impresario in The Red Shoes. Eric Portman, so capable of conveying the ambiguities of Colpeper as well as the certainties of a Nazi U-boat captain. Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller, Deborah Kerr, Peter Finch, Marius Goring, Raymond Massey and so many others produced some of their best work under Powell's demanding direction.

No wonder the likes of Scorsese, de Palma and the rest rate Powell & Pressburger so highly and learnt so much from them. These elusive, tantalising, moving, talented men are worthy testimony to British movie-making at its best. My only gripe is that there wasn't room for The Small Back Room and especially Peeping Tom in this collection.
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on 14 February 2009
If you look through listings when any of these films are shown on TV you will see five stars more often than not. In this box are eleven critically-acclaimed masterpieces from the greatest production/direction/writing team in the history of cinema. There is more wit, intelligence and visual & verbal inventiveness in five minutes of one of these films than in an entire year of CGI blockbusters from the Hollywood Hype Machine.
Please don't be put off if the only P & P film you have seen is "The Red Shoes". As special as this film undoubtedly is, it is also a rather dated melodrama that has tended to deflect attention from many finer films by this team. To give just one example: Imagine you are a film maker in the middle of a major European war. You set yourself the task of exploring the questions: "What does it mean to be "British"? What exactly are we fighting to preserve? How is it different for each of us? How important is it?" P & P approach this in an oblique and personal way that you just couldn't anticipate. I could watch "A Canterbury Tale" every day for a week and still feel that I had not exhausted its funny, touching intricacies or its evocation of an era.
One or two "obvious" choices are not included and there are some that are not quite up to the stratospheric standard of the greatest. Nevertheless, the films chosen are all very fine and at least six of them are unequivocal masterpieces. I would rather see a second rate film from Michael Powell than a first rate film from almost any film-maker working today. Not only that, but the price for which this set is being offered on Amazon is astonishing.
To make a more complete collection, I would add "One of Our Aircraft is Missing", "The Small Back Room" and "The Edge of the World".

A few individual comments:
49th Parallel - As a wartime propaganda piece it ought to be outdated but remains a marvellously watchable thriller as Eric Portman and his fellow Nazis, survivors of a torpedoed U-boat, try to make their way out of Canada and into (at that time) neutral USA. Eric Portman has the unenviable job of making the "evil Nazi" a credible character and does so with great skill. There are some surprisingly awful performances as well as some wonderful ones. Anton Walbrook, as a Hutterite farmer, has the difficult task of delivering the only overt ideological attack on the Nazis and manages to do it with total conviction but most of the message is slipped in elliptically around the story. We also get a fine musical score by RVW and atmospheric black & white filming. (The set-bound interiors sometimes sticking out like sore thumbs alongside lovely location shooting).
A Canterbury Tale - I'd forgotten the awful performance by the American airman that nearly scuppers the film for me. He's particularly unfortunate because those around him (Portman, Price and virtually all the major and minor characters) are so good. Even the small boys act him off the screen. What were they thinking of? Even so, this is a film that transcends one minor irritation. A very fine, low contrast B&W print with good sound. This is a very special film and I found myself moved to tears at the end.
A Matter of Life and Death. Famous for it's high concept and the meticulous attention given to the medical details. The technicolor Earth sections tend to bleed a little when panning and there are some odd artefacts in the B&W "Heaven" section at the end. Even so, the overall visual imagination here is very special and the three main leads give perfectly judged and very affecting performances.
I Know Where I'm Going - A touching romance filmed in fine B&W that evokes the Scottish landscape and the character of its people in a marvellous way. There's a sharpness to its wit and a message that still seems remarkably modern. I love this film and challenge anyone not to be affected by its tone and a great and satisfying ending that feels really earned.
Black Narcissus - A wonderful technicolor print and the perfect demonstration of the brilliant skills of the great Jack Cardiff (Cinematographer). What a terrific film. All the cast are very good but Kathleen Byron's role could so easily have been ridiculous or unbelievable. Instead, it's terrifying because of her stunning performance and the wonderful writing in the earlier scenes that lays the groundwork with perfect pacing and tension. The whole cast is stellar (even the normally-dreadful acting of Sabu seems to fit).
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp - One of the greatest films made in England; this picaresque, rambling, philosophically subtle film has the best perfomances of their lives from Livesey and Walbrook. Deborah Kerr is also suberb as the three women in Blimp's life. Deftly differentiating them without overdoing the contrasts. All of this glows within Jack Cardiff's superb technicolor filming.
The Tales of Hoffman - A complete unknown to me before buying the box and a revelation. No real attempt is made to synchronise voices and actors but the story is illuminated with visual tableaux of striking boldness and the colourful, stylish presentation is arresting. Musically, with Sir Thomas Beecham at the helm, the standard is as high as you could wish. Moira Shearer gives a tour-de-force as Olympia. Probably the most brilliant dancing I've seen on film and, having only seen The Red Shoes previously, a great discovery. A fine colour print.
The Red Shoes - I have a slight problem with this one because I think that it has worn less well than some other P&P films and is dragged up regularly as if it was the only worthwhile picture that the pair made. I find Walbrook and Goring rather unconvincing here but Shearer is marvellous as both actress and dancer. I have to admit that the film looks fantastic and the long dance sequence remains a cinematic landmark. Another fine colour print.
Ill Met by Moonlight - The sort of early WWII story trotted out on daytime television that you would probably ignore. This would be a mistake. A cracking script and performances, especially from Dirk Bogarde, are married to a real tension and a tone that will seem startlingly modern to many unfamiliar with the film. It's worn remarkably well. The location B&W filming is atmospheric and the true story is told with great style.
Battle of the River Plate - Another one of those remarkable wartime stories that P&P seemed able to imbue with a self-deprecating (and very British) wit. Fantastic performances from a large cast of some of our greatest actors. The script sticks pretty closely to the facts and is surprising if you are unfamiliar with the details. Can anyone tell me of a better wartime Naval story?
They're a Weird Mob - Absurd that Michael Powell had to withdraw to Australia to continue making films after the critical opprobrium heaped on to "Peeping Tom". (In what way was "Peeping Tom" more shocking or tasteless than "Psycho"?) In truth, this film is more of an extended Soap and rather lightweight. Even so, it's examination of the classic "fish out of water" foreigner in a strange new country has an easy going charm and a light touch. The eccentric Italian visitor is taken to the heart of the locals and proves to be a fine chap indeed but the tone is sufficiently sharp to puncture accusations of sentimentality and is played with skill by a fine cast. Rather sweet but not too sickly.
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on 19 February 2009
First came across Powell & Pressburger films when I watched 'A Matter of Life & Death' and I only watched it because I am a fan of David Niven. I loved everything about the film not just Niven and started to look for more 'A Canterbury Tale' was the next one I tracked down, again absolutely brilliant. I bought this collection because it contained their better known absolute classics as well as a few I'd not seen or heard of. If you like black & white movies which are quirky,intelligent,entertaining, beautifully filmed and acted you'll love these.
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on 24 July 2007
This is the cheaper and smaller of two Powell and Pressburger box sets. P & P together produced some of the best films ever made in Britain. The set has 9 disks and contains masterpieces such as I Know Where I'm Going, Colonel Blimp, A Canterbury Tale, The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death but leaves out Black Narcissus and Tales of Hoffman. The quality of the transfers on to DVD seems good but extras are minimal.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 September 2013
Eleven films for £17 (at time of writing...). If none of these are crap, it's worth the money; if two of them are worth 5*, it'll be worth the money, even if the rest are fairly humdrum. As it happens, you do have a couple of 5* films in this collection, A Matter of Life & Death, and Colonel Blimp. That they both feature Roger Livesey is entirely coincidental. The Red Shoes is strange but good, A Canterbury Tale is rather charming & good, as is I Know Where I'm Going (Roger Livesey again!). They're A Weird Mob is decidedly quirky, but also rather fun. So far that's 2 5* & 4 4*; are you still wondering why I think you should buy this?

Of the remaining 5 in the set, River Plate is solid, if also rather stolid, 49th Parallel is the afore-mentioned humdrum, Ill Met is neither outstanding nor awful, and Black Narcissus is a little like Red Shoes in that it's odd, albeit not quite as good. The only one in the collection that I'd rate less than 3* is Tales of Hoffman, and that's only because it's an "art" film, rather than a story film; it's dance, using two of the principles from Red Shoes, and it's not my cup of tea. Eleven films for £17 (at the time of writing); 2 5's, 4 4's, 4 3's & 1 depends-on-what-you-like, for less than £2 a time? How can you not buy this!
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on 2 April 2010
I carefully read some of Amazons extensive reviews of Powell and Pressburgers body of work having come across their film "I know where I'm going" while channel hopping. Although the film was well under way and i had no idea at the time who had made it i was drawn with increasing involvement as a film of great originality unfolded.

This is a collection that is a must for anyone remotely interested in Cinema.
This by the way is from someone who never goes to the cinema and rarely watches films.

A Cantebury Tale although considered one of their most problematical films and a critical and commercial failure at the time, is an intriquing film containing significant sections of drama documentary style and as such is a revalation of the british countryside and rural way of life.

A stunning bargain.
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VINE VOICEon 1 April 2010
I have to confess that I have only seen most of the films. I really have to put them in any category as they stand in one of their own. This is one of those time that you really want the set and do not care if the cost more or less as a set.

Emeric Pressburger was born on 05 December 1902, Miskolc, Austria-Hungary (now Hungary.) He was Educated at the Universities of Prague and Stuttgart.

Michael Latham Powell was born 30 September 1905, Bekesbourne, Kent, England, UK. He was educated at Kings School, Canterbury & Dulwich College.

Be sure to read my individual reviews for the various movies. My personal favorite is "I Know Where I'm Going!"

Be sure to add "The Edge of the World" (1938) Director: Michael Powell to this collection. There are good movies but this set is the core.

You need multi-region PAL/NTSC DVD player they are quite inexpensive nowadays and can expand your movie world. I am holding out for a time on the multi-region Blu-ray players for a little while.
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on 10 April 2011
A very nice compilation of some of P & P's best work. There a few I have not watched but the quality is excellent and the videos themselves very watchable. Myself, I don't care bo-diddly-damn about the film-making aspects. Very good entertainment and, yes, I'll say it: They don't make 'em like this anymore.
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This is an excellent set of virtually all the movies made by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. (As far as I am aware only their `One of Our Aircraft Is Missing' and `Gone to Earth' are omitted from this set.) Despite only one of the eleven films in my opinion meriting five stars in itself (`A Canterbury Tale'), the set as a whole is more than a sum of its parts, and that is why I award it five stars, despite the lack of decent extras: more about the extras later. The one film that fails to make its mark - and the only one of the set that solely involved Michael Powell - is `They're a Weird Mob'. The film is OK, but is clearly the odd man out, dating as it does to 1966 and being set in contemporary Australia.

Powell's and Pressburger's achievements are here seen in their clever concepts, their use of colour, their delight in fantastical and intriguing scenery, and a serious commitment to art direction. Imaginative editing is also one of their fortes, such as the transfer in `A Canterbury Tale' from the flying hawk of the medieval pilgrims on their way to Canterbury to the spitfire of World War II. Later, a pilgrim's horse becomes a tank.

According to Ian Christie in the documentary about `The Red Shoes', what links their movies together is that, "All have myth or legend at their core." But that can be said about any film - or any book for that matter. Arguably all their joint films are distinctly English, despite the wide-range of times, places, and genres they cover. They are of their time, of course, but some travel well through to today; some not so well, especially the half-film/half-propaganda pieces, such as `49th Parallel' and some non-PC references about the natives in `Black Narcissus'. The scenery and effects are a little dodgy compared to what we are used to on the big screen now, but they were great for their time, and some are quite impressive even today, such as some of the naval shots in `The Battle of the River Plate'.

One benefit of this set is that it has introduced me to the work of the Austrian-born actor Anton Wallbrook, as well as confirming what a fine actor Eric Portman proved to be. One downside is that some of the films are shown in 4:3 format when they were originally released for a wider screen. The paltry extras comprise (i) a twenty-four-minute profile of `The Red Shoes', produced in 2000; (ii) another such documentary on `The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp'; (iii) `The Ballet of the Red Shoes', the equivalent of the original storyboards of the ballet sequence; (iv) various galleries; and (v) various biographies.
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on 25 February 2011
The whole set is a brilliant collection of classic films, a must for lovers of old movies. Powell and pressburger are icons of wartime movies.
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