Went the Day Well? Blu-ray Review
Optimum present this release in its original 1.33:1 aspect, and they bring it to Blu-ray via AVC.
Digitally restored, Went the Day Well? looks quite splendid. Damage is light and easily overlooked. A few pops and speckles don't add up to much, but there are a couple of frame-jumps that are noticeable, albeit slight. The black and white imagery is often very clear and sharp. Grain is certainly retained and looks natural, so if DNR has been applied (and it surely must have been to some degree) it has been done respectfully and not robbed the film of its texture. Contrasts is fine, with only the minor fluctuations of age to detract from a very stable and visually interesting image. There is some day-for-night shooting, but also some very obvious nocturnal lensing as well, and all of this comes over well with pretty deep and reliable black levels. The night-time escape attempt from the church is conducted during a rainstorm. The glistening mud of the graveyard and the forked lightning that we see in the top left corner of the frame are quite brilliantly presented, as are the sudden screen-flares as lightning fills the shot and scorches the image a vivid bright white. Shadow definition is detailed and evocative. Nothing is crushed within the darker elements, which is definitely a bonus when it comes to the dramatic set-piece as George and the poacher escape and evade the Jerries in the rain-lashed woods during the night.
Close-ups are textured and revealing. Deeper shots of the village streets and the houses, or out across the fields and the grounds of the manor are also excellently rendered. Figures moving about on the skyline or creeping through the trees are clearly and smartly drawn within the frame. One or two shots seems a little softer than others but, on the whole, the image remains clean and vivid. The likes of the windmill and the manor house, or the gravestones and the church spire have no unsightly edge enhancement. And I didn't notice any aliasing or compression errors.
A very good transfer from Optimum that looks faithful and detailed.
Went The Day Well? comes with a LPCM 2-channel mono audio track that is, quite frankly, stunning.
Given its age and limitations, this is rich and detailed and offers what much surely be the best presentation of the film's soundtrack yet. You can have lots of fun detecting the little Germanic traits in the English accents as the Nazis arrive in Bramley End, and also enjoy the switch from silver-spooned manners to strict, clipped and clichéd Nazi-speak. Naturally there is some of that age-related “containment” to the voices but, really speaking, there is little in the way of that usual “tinniness” to the dialogue. Listen out for the slight echo that we can hear from voices down in the crypt of the church, too. Nicely realised. Depth is above average, as are the dynamics of the track. There is plenty of shooting from a variety of weapons. Tommy-guns belch and roar. Lee Enfields bark and boom. Grenades have a realistically downplayed impact, without any of the sort of elaborate effects that subsequent war films would layer over the top to make them sound more exciting. The shattering of window-frames by gunfire is actually very crisp and clear and resounding. When Tom recoils from LT. Jung's pistol-shots, the splintering is very well rendered with some severe clout.
The rainstorm that the escapees use for cover comes across with definite presence. I was actually surprised at just how vital and realistic it sounded. The rainfall is fine and detailed, and the rumbling thunder has plenty of weight and movement within the mix. The screaming of the British troops when they finally come charging in does sound a little bit muted, but then the mix seems to deliberately lower effects that are happening in the wider open spaces, diffusing them with distance. With this in mind, I have to doff my cap once again to how much attention was being paid to the construction of the original sound design.
This is a great track that delivers more than you might expect, but it is in the subtleties that the real rewards are to be found.
Optimum provide two supplements for this release.
The first is a fourteen minute audio essay culled from BBC Radio 3 that Simon Heffer delivers regarding the conditions and the trends of the British Cinema of the 1940s. He is very high-brow but he nails the devastating effects of the violence and the shocking threat of invasion that made Cavalcanti's film so powerful. He puts all of this into perspective and delivers a fine dissection of how Ealing Studios fought the war of hearts and minds.
The other extra comes in the form of a 22-minute short from Cavalcanti called Yellow Caesar, which is an Ealing documentary charting the rise of Mussolini to dictatorship. With extensive newsreel footage, this propaganda is brilliantly and amusingly narrated to both belittle the jumped-up thug and warn us all about his fascist lust for destruction. Naturally very much a product of its time, this is great stuff and surprisingly witty.
An astounding film.
Went The Day Well? totally belies that pleasant-sounding title and pulverises the myth of quaint English village life with an iron fist. And a hatchet, a stiletto-blade, a Tommy-gun and a hand-grenade.
Made during a very difficult time, this must have been both a tonic and a grim warning to audiences. But it would have strengthened resolve and shown how even the commoner just going about his or her business in the pleasant tranquillity of the countryside can suddenly be faced with the inexplicable and the deadly … and how such situations could be reversed with a bit of guts. Ealing paved the way for later war films to depict the savagery and heroism of conflict, but this early production definitely holds a unique place in the annals of British Cinema. Clichés were probably created here, yet the film still feels dynamic and fresh and original. Bookended by a quaint epitaph that coyly encloses the plot as being something special to the village of Bramley End, the film also gains something of a fairytale essence, adding to its considerable charm still further.
Now lovingly restored and available on Blu-ray with a terrific transfer, this is extremely well worth picking up. For some it will be something new and surprising in a genre that has literally been done to death. For others it will be a time-capsule to a mindset that wasn't just evoking proud memories of a war just gone by … but was actually enduring its dreadful threat with every fibre of its existence. That the war was still raging when the film was made, and would be for another three years only makes the drama more compelling and more convincing.
Exciting and thought-provoking, Alberto Cavalcanti's propagandist adventures is a true classic, and this release comes very highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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