WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND
Hayley Mills, Alan Bates, Bernard Lee, Norman Bird,
J. Lee Thompson
John Mills, Horst Buchholz, Hayley Mills, Megs Jenkins, Anthony Dawson
Region 2 (UK) DVDs -
Reviewed by Ceri Laing
Carlton are releasing another round of classic British films, and this
time two of them feature Hayley Mills (daughter of John) in starring roles
Ė Tiger Bay and Whistle Down The Wind.
features the story of Gillie (Mills), an orphaned London girl now living
with her aunt in the Cardiff port, who witnesses a rejected Polish sailor,
Magnificent Seven star Buchholz), shoot and kill his girlfriend in the
heat of the moment. Korchinsky quickly hides the gun, but later releases
that it has been stolen by the young girl. He questions her, and the pair
develop a friendship (they are both aliens and alone), and go on the run
together. Superintendent Graham (John Mills) is brought in to investigate
the crime, and find Gillie.
was produced by the Rank Organisation in 1959. It was directed by J. Lee
Thompson (Ice Cold In Alex, North West Frontier, The Guns
of Navarone, Cape Fear), from a script by Shelley Smith and
John Hawkesworth, based on a short story. Hawkesworth, who also acted as
Producer on the film, would go on to write for a range of TV series, as
well as creating and producing The Duchess of Duke Street,
Danger UXB, By The Sword Divided and ITVís Sherlock Holmes
series, starring Jeremy Brett.
This was Hayley Millsí first film role, and she shows a remarkable degree
of talent for some of her age, with no previous feature film experience.
Buchholz and Mills show a real, moving, chemistry in the relationship
their two characters develop, and itís also great to see her working with
her father. The script is well-devised and thought-out, with some nice
little touches. It utilizes the changing multi-cultural face of Britain
(as exemplified by the Cardiff port) during the late 1950s as a backdrop
to the story. The direction, however, is very heavy-handed, meaning the
subtle sequences of the script are lost in over-egged melodrama. This
heavy-handedness is reinforced by the unsubtle score from Laurie Johnson
(known to many as the composer of the themes for the TV series The
Avengers, The New Avengers and The Professionals, as
well as composer for feature films, most notably Dr Strangelove
or How I Learned to
Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
and The First Men in the
Following the success of
Disney put Hayley Mills under contract, recognising her talent. She made
two very successful films in the US, Pollyanna (for which she won
an Academy Award) and The Parent Trap, before returning to Britain
in 1961 to make Whistle Down The Wind.
Whistle Down The Wind
tells the tale of three children, Kathy (Mills), Nan (Diane Holgate) and
Charles (Alan Barnes), who live with their widowed father (Bernard Lee)
and aunt in a isolated farm outside a Lancashire village. The isolation
allows the strong Christian beliefs of the community to have a great
influence on the children. When they discover a man (Bates) in their barn,
because of his appearance, they believe him to be Jesus Christ.
Unbeknownst to them, the man is on the run for a murder heís committed in
Derby. Because he is injured the children decide to protect him and keep
it a secret that he is there, believing that once people find out about
him theyíll only want to crucify him again. But the secret eventually gets
Whistle Down The Wind
was produced by the Allied Film Makers company in 1961. It was directed by
Bryan Forbes (The L-Shaped Room, Sťance on a Wet Afternoonł The
Wrong Box, and The Stepford Wives) and produced by Richard
Attenborough. The script was adapted from a book written by
Mary Hayley Bell,
by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall (who would later write for the
satirical BBC series That Was The Week That Was and adapt the
Worzel Gummidge books for the ITV series).
The script is expertly adapted from the original book, and itís
astonishing to think that this is actor Bryan Forbesí directorial debut,
as his direction is so deft. The early sequences, with the children at
play in the beautiful countryside and thinking theyíve met Christ, and
believing they must help and protect him, are charming and delightful.
There is also a lot of humour in these sequences, mainly centred around
the young Charles. All this is underpinned by gorgeous cinematography (by
Oscar-nominated Arthur Ibbetsen), and a beautifully light score by Malcolm
Arnold (best known for the St. Trinianís films and Bridge on the River
Kwai), which, as well as being playful, adds an ethereal air. These
charming sequences slowly give way to seriousness, as the viewer gradually
learns more about the man, and the police hunt for him gets ever closer.
score is used more sparingly as this seriousness builds, giving the
proceedings a more stark sense of reality, in strong counterpoint to the
early playful scenes.
Whistle Down The Wind
superbly confident debut from Forbes. The three children are a delight to
watch, especially the antics Charles gets up to (Barnes was a real find).
Hayley Millsí performance is more polished, which is to be expected, as
she was older and more experienced. Bernard Lee gives stout performance as
their father. Alan Bates is superb in his first starring role, as his
relationship with the children grows, but especially so when he knows his
time is up, and heís been deeply affected by the love of the children.
Both films feature a wide variety of memorable British actors. In
thereís Kenneth Griffith, George Selway, Marne Maitland,
Yvonne Mitchell, and George Pastell. Doctor Who fans will also be
interested in an early appearance by series regular Peter Halliday,
as a ship hand in the pre-title sequence. Whistle Down The Wind has
Norman Bird (who would go on to star as Mr. Braithwaite in Waterhouse and
Hallís Worzel Gummidge, alongside Tiger Bay's Megs Jenkins,
who played Mrs Braithwaite), Elsie Wagstaff, John Arnatt, Hamilton Dyce,
Ronald Hines, Gerald Sim and a young Roy Holder.
and Whistle Down The Wind are available as two separate releases or
as a box set of both. Carlton presents both black and white films in
16:9-enhanced 1.66:1 ratio. The
films open with a
brand new Carlton International card, followed by The Rank Organisation
gong ident on
and the Allied
Film Makers logo' on Whistle Down The Wind.
prints are good, with only the occasional (very minimal) sparkle, dirt,
drop out and the odd fine scratch. These minor faults are more noticeable
on the slightly-older
The contrast on both films is excellent, showcasing Whistle Down The
Windís beautiful cinematography to great effect.
However, both transfers do exhibit a fair amount of smeariness on quick
movement, and Whistle Down The Wind has an irritating instance of
moirť patterning on the front of a tractor grill.
Bay runs to
102 minutes and has average bit rate of 5.4Mb/s. Whistle Down
The Wind runs to 94 minutes and has an average bit rate of 5.72Mb/s.
The sound is presented in the original mono, presented in 2.0 format at
224kbps, and is fine with all dialogue and music clear and distinct.
The discs feature animated main menu screens, backed with the respective
theme music of each film looped. These offer options to Play the film,
Select a Scene, access the Extras on the
disc, play the Trailer
on the Whistle Down The Wind disc, and change the Set-up (which is
just switching the audio commentary and subtitles on or off) . The
sub-menus feature a still image background with the options overlaid. The
Select a Scene menus on each disc both feature moving sequences from which
to select, with the menu on the Tiger Bay disc backed with
incidental music from the film, and bird song and crows cawing on the
Whistle Down The Wind disc menu. The menus on the Whistle Down The
Wind disc are very effective, utilising images of some the filmís
great cinematography, with the main menu also featuring a montage of the
characters from the film. The menus on
are far less effective, featuring inappropriate use of colour. The main
menu has a horrible mocked-up image into which a montage of sequences from
the film is run - on the whole very unsubtle. As such, the menus are a
good reflection of the films themselves.
Both discs feature English HoH subtitles on the main features, but
unfortunately the supplementary materials are not subtitled.
The films both feature an audio commentary with Hayley Mills, guided by
film historian Robert Ross (who isnít credited on the discs). These were
recorded recently, as the Whistle Down The Wind commentary makes
reference to Alan Batesí death late last year, as well as seemingly
following on from the Tiger Bay one. Both are very informative. The
one discusses such things as the reasons behind Millsí accidental casting
(which lead to the rest of her film and TV career); her initial
experiences of acting and film making; and of working with her father. The
Whistle Down The Wind commentary provides a great deal of
background to the original story the script was adapted from. It was
written by Mary Hayley Bell, Hayley Millsí mother, and the children in the
story were based on the three Mills children. She also discusses working
with Bryan Forbes, as well as with the two other children. Both
commentaries contain interesting nuggets of information, for example,
youngster Alan Barnes was found in a school near where the film was shot,
in Lancashire, and worked only sporadically since Whistle Down The Wind,
but recently appeared in the Richard Curtis comedy Love Actually.
The trailers for both films are included on their respective discs,
16:9-enhanced 1.78:1 ratio, although they do appear cropped compared to
the film images, so may be sourced from 4:3 materials and zoomed for
presentation purposes on the discs. They both near enough tell the whole
story of each film, just stopping sort of the final resolution! The
Tiger Bay trailer runs to three minutes and the Whistle Down The
Wind one is slightly shorter. Both are very battered and worn, with
lots of scratches, dirt, sparkle and dropout. The sound is slightly
disc also features an archive Location Report, centred on German
Buchholz. It features staged sequences of him enjoying the sights and
sounds of the
area, interwoven with behind-the-scenes footage of location filming. It
has a great newsreel-style original commentary tying it all together. This
three-minute piece is presented in black and white 4:3 format, and is from
a good quality print with minor scratches, dirt and sparkle. The
Whistle Down The Wind disc doesnít feature anything else.
Both these films are variations on similar themes. Where Thompsonís
direction in Tiger Bay turns an interesting script into a basic
simplistic affair, Forbesí Whistle Down The Down takes an excellent
script and turns it into a wonderfully effective and moving film.
Whistle Down The Wind comes together under Forbesí direction to make a
truly classic film of British cinema.
The transfers are generally very good, marred only by the smearing
problems, and the occasional print flaw.
The bonus materials on the two discs are quite satisfactory, particularly
which is a relatively unimportant film, now supported by an excellent set
of features. However, I do feel on the whole the Whistle Down The Wind
disc is a bit of a let down, as it should have more bonus material to
support it. Obviously further archive material, such as the Location
Report that appears on the Tiger Bay disc, and similar items on
other British film releases by Carlton, would have been included if it
existed, but when you compare it to the attention lavished taken on
Carltonís forthcoming two-disc release of The Eagle Has Landed,
Whistle Down The Wind is obviously lacking.
are the interviews with Diane Holgate, Alan Barnes, Bryan Forbes or Keith
Waterhouse and Willis Hall? Surely a rudimentary Making ofÖ
featurette could have been put together using their and Hayley Millsí
recollections? Bryan Forbes has contributed commentary tracks to other,
less significant, DVD releases (The Slipper and the Rose and
Eyewitness), so itís a shame he couldnít have recorded a track for
this, his best film.
has been renewed interest in the film following the very successful Andrew
Lloyd Webber musical adaptation of the original book, which was first
staged in 1996. After a successful run in the West End, the musical
version is currently touring the UK, so interest in the film is probably
stronger than ever. A release of such a great British film as Whistle
Down The Wind really deserves more that it gets with this release,
especially as Carlton would have been able to exploit any bonus materials
they created to support the film for years to come. However, the bonus
features that are included in this release are a lot more than some other
companies would include, so Carlton should be commended for making an
effort, by including these, and the ones on the Tiger Bay release.