Screen Icons: The Richard Attenborough Collection DVD Review

RASISquareWhat a cracking little collection this is: five post-war films – two apiece from British Lion and Ealing Studios – celebrating some of Dickie Attenborough’s finest hours as an actor, toplined by Carol Reed’s classic British gangster flick Brighton Rock (1947) – due for a remake in 2010 – and filled out by some lesser known gems. Intriguingly, moral ambiguity is the unifying theme, as Attenborough proves his acting chops as, variously, a grotty hoodlum, a reluctant Dunkirk participant, a small-time smuggler, a troubled tenant, and a strike-breaking factory worker. DVD debut The Ship That Died of Shame (1955), directed by Ealing stalwart Basil Dearden, sees Attenborough as an ex-Navy man who’s out of his depth in a smuggling ring which spirals out of control when their latest cargo turns out to be a child murderer. Dunkirk (1958) takes a worm’s eye view of the 1940 evacuation of British troops from France, with twin story strands following Attenborough as a factory owner who finds his wartime calling, while lead John Mills is on fine form as a hapless corporal leading his troops to the evacuation point through hostile territory. The collection’s second DVD premiere, from the same year, is The Man Upstairs, an uneven but engaging morality play which puts Attenborough in a supporting role as an unhinged scientist whose nervous breakdown alternately evokes the displeasure and sympathy of the tenants of a London apartment building. Attenborough is most impressive, however, in his BAFTA-nominated role as a factory worker who incurs the wrath of his colleagues when he refuses to join an unofficial strike, in The Angry Silence (1960). Brighton Rock aside, this collection also serves as a welcome reminder of Bernard ‘M’ Lee’s versatility as an actor: he arguably outshines Attenborough in four of the five films presented here.

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