The Chalk Garden
Ronald Neame (The Odessa File) directs this stately adaptation of Enid Bagnold’s play which tells of a haughty matriarch (Edith Evans, The Whisperers) who employs a governess (Deborah Kerr, The Innocents) with a shadowy past to take care of her troubled teenage granddaughter (Hayley Mills, Take a Girl Like You, Endless Night), and her neglected garden. John Mills (Town on Trial, The Wrong Box) plays the butler who develops a soft spot for the governess, and navigates the fraught interpersonal relationships of the house. A hit with audiences upon its original release, The Chalk Garden benefits from a nuanced screenplay by the great John Michael Hayes (Rear Window) and tasteful photography by Arthur Ibbetson (Where Eagles Dare, Fanatic).
Ronald Neame’s The Chalk Garden receives a new Blu-ray edition from Indicator, presenting the film on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The film has been given a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. The disc is locked to region B.
Indicator is clearly working with an older master, more than likely one made for DVD or television broadcasts, and it’s quite rough around the edges. To its credit the restoration work has been generally good. There are flickers, pulses and colour fluctuations present, but they are mild and not too distracting, colour separation also not being an issue. There are also a few specs scattered about as well, but they’re few and far between.
Unfortunately the master itself is laced with artifacts. Grain is there, and this aids in the level of detail (which looks good) but it does have a sharpened, noisy sort of look to it, and it rarely looks natural. The picture is also laced with shimmering and aliasing effects, which get especially bad during a scene where Deborah Kerr’s and Hayley Mills’ characters are playing tennis: a chain-link fence in the background causes all sorts of glitches as it moves about in the background. Edge-enhancement also rears its head in places.
Colours look fine and the film has a decent Technicolor look, while black levels are strong enough if a bit heavy. Shadow detail isn’t too bad. In all it has its strong aspects, but the artifacts that are present end up nullifying most of them.
The film comes with a single-channel lossless PCM soundtrack. It’s generally clean and it manages to have a bit of a punch behind it, particularly in Malcolm Arnold’s score. There is an edginess there when things reach for certain heights, but it’s minor.
Indicator’s edition for the film (competing with Kino’s own North American edition and Imprint’s Australian one) includes a few exclusive features. Film historian Josephine Botting pops up in a couple of them, including a 10-minute interview featuring her going over author and playwright Enid Bagnold’s life and work, from her novels like National Velvet through to her play The Chalk Garden. She also shows up with fellow historian Lucy Bolton in an exclusive audio commentary, the two sharing their personal thoughts on the film, which includes how it relates to the original play, noting some of the differences (Mills character is more important in the film version), while also going over the themes from the play. They also cover the performers and their respective performances, talk about their careers around this time, and then talk a little about Neame and his work. The track is ultimately fine when all is said and done but I can’t muster much more about it than that.
The disc also offers another alternate track to play over the film (not counting an isolated score track, which is exactly that), this time an archival discussion featuring director Ronald Neame, recorded with Ray Fowler in 1991 for the British Entertainment History Project. The discussion goes all the way back to his early days and how his parents' careers led to him getting into the film business, eventually as a cinematographer and then as a director. He talks about working with the likes of David Lean and Alfred Hitchcock and keeping up on the technical aspects of his lively-hood, before sharing how he almost bombed his directorial career after being pretty much fired off of what would have been his first film, an adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Passionate Friends. He was ultimately replaced by Lean and then given a producer credit. From there he was able to move on and was able to get work on other projects as director (obviously) and its from here in the interview where he walks us through his films, shares stories around some of them (including the valuable advice he received from Alec Guiness), before getting to The Chalk Garden, which he thinks could have been a better film (interestingly he thinks the music does more harm than good).
The last little bit rushes through some of his later work (maybe edited down for this release?) but it’s a great little retrospective on his work. His comments around Arnold’s score lead nicely into another feature on here, a 21-minute interview with David Huckvale on the film’s score. Seeming to be very excited to be a participant he first talks about composer Malcolm Arnold’s early life before talking about the compositions in the film's score. He explains how each one sets the tone of a scene or a character while playing samples from them on his piano. Where Neame may not have been fond of it Huckvale seems to take great joy in analyzing the music and going through its strengths.
Indicator then includes a short 7-minute interview with Maurice Landsberger, the assistant production accountant on the film, who shares a few stories around the production and the hotel they stayed at during filming (with John Mills’ whole family there). The disc also features 1-minute’s worth of 8mm home movie footage shot by John Mills during production, showing his family and crew down by the beach during filming of one scene. The disc then closes with the film’s original trailer and an image gallery featuring production photos, lobby cards, and posters. The release also comes with a booklet but at this moment I do not have a copy of it.
In all the features are a bit of a mixed bag, all okay in the end, with the Neame and Huckvale ones being the strongest.
Though the presentation has its strong aspects the master used is laced with artifacts that impact the final image. A couple of features stand out but I can’t say there is much here I would label as "must watch."