The Battle of the Sexes [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (19th April 2020).
The Film

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the BFI were unable to provide review discs, so instead this review comes from the digital files of the film and extras provided by the BFI.

"The Battle of the Sexes" (1960)

Following the death of the elderly owner, a Scottish tweed weaving company in Edinburgh is inherited by the owner's son Robert MacPherson (played by Robert Morley) who has little to no experience in the field. On the night train to Edinburgh, he encounters Angela Barrows (played by Constance Cummings), an American business consultant who offers her hand at looking at his workplace to improve efficiency. Her arrival to the workplace shocks her with how archaic the accounting system is with piles of files everywhere and the mannequins covered with extremely outdated fashion. The elderly accounting staff only know one way to do their work, and the quiet head accountant Mr. Martin (played by Peter Sellers) becomes frustrated with the decision of MacPherson to hire her. This means an overhaul of the business with intercom systems, adding machines and a streamlined system for mass production rather than what the company had for many years prior. Not only is the American woman transforming the company to something unrecognizable, but it also starts to change the mild mannered Martin into a jealousy driven madman.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Ealing Studios made a string of well loved and remembered comedy films, such as "Passport to Pimlico", "Whisky Galore", "The Ladykillers" and many more. Following the sale of the studio to the BBC, many of the staff went their separate ways and their style of dark and wacky comedy would be resurrected with individual film productions, and one of the closest to the post-Ealing time period was "The Battle of the Sexes" which could easily be mistaken for an Ealing Studios comedy if one didn't see the opening credits. Based loosely on the short story "The Catbird Seat" by James Thurber, the American setting was changed to Scotland at a tweed company, but the basic premise of the accountant Mr. Martin and his troubles with the newly hired Mrs. Barrows was kept intact. Considering this was a short story, there was a lot that had to be padded out in the screen version, adapted by former Ealing producer and writer Monja Danischewsky. From the initial meeting between MacPherson and Barrows, the various steps of checking out the business process and the upgrades made to the workplace are given significant time for the feature film.

The strong point of the film is the work of the chameleon-like presence of Peter Sellers, who was 35 but playing a man more than a generation older than his actual age through makeup and body language. With the aid of white hair, a moustache and spectacles, along with a slightly frail sounding voice with a Scottish accent, Sellers is in essence a straight man in a comedy for a change. To say, most of the characters are seemingly straight. There are few oddball characters, such as Donald Pleasence who only makes a brief appearance at the beginning. Mrs. Barrows is played by Cummings with a strong sense of work ethic and modernity, with her looks as well as her focus on finding all the flaws and their solutions. The is also a straight character pointing out the absurdities of the incredibly old school methods to the confusion of the staff. Morley's character of MacPherson is not exactly a bumbling fool, but one that is unaware of all the issues with business and is partially smitten by Barrows.

While there have been many comedies about a woman entering the workplace causing questionable actions by the insecure men, from "Nine to Five" (1980) to "Anchorman" (2004), there have been a wild variety of works made on the subject, showing the absurdity of sexist attitudes with comedic moments throughout. But not any of them go into plots of attempted murder. A scene that can be seen as very divisive is where Martin hatches a plan to kill off Barrows in her flat, which becomes a slapstick classic with its choreography and timing. Sellers of course does an amazing job in the scene with Cummings and later with Morley entering, but it certainly feels like a little too extreme for the character to be doing as the light talking elderly Scotsman would do such a thing after more than an hour of small frustrations. While there are a lot of fun and wacky moments, the sequence seems like it was lifted from a different production instead. Granted the sexist attitude and many of the happenings are quite dated in "The Battle of the Sexes" when seeing it six decades after the film was released. But note that gender inequality in the world and the workplace is still a commonplace in much of the world including supposed first world countries.

Directed by Ealing Studios veteran Charles Crichton, the film became the first production of Bryanston Films and was released on February 25, 1960 in the United Kingdom and two months later in the United States. While it was no awards winner, it certainly has lived on with the excellent cast and on video over the years. The film was first released on Blu-ray in the United States by Kino Lorber in 2016, and now it has finally made it onto Blu-ray in the UK from the BFI.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray / region 2 PAL DVD set

Video

The BFI presents the film in the original theatrical 1.66:1 aspect ratio. According to the press release the picture is in 1080p and should use the AVC MPEG-4 codec as it is their standard. The HD master was supplied to the BFI by Screenbound Pictures. Framed properly, it has been cleaned with very little marks of damage in the picture, though white levels did seem a little bright. Note that the image was compressed and may not reflect the image seen on the retail disc.

The film's runtime is 84:00 on the Blu-ray.

Audio

English LPCM 2.0 mono
The audio spec is taken from the press release. The sound was very clear with little issues to speak of. Dialogue was well balanced with the music and effects, and there were no serious issues such as dropout or hiss in the audio. Fidelity was sometimes an issue due to the source material, and due to the compressed digital file heard for the review. Note that this may not reflect the sound heard on the retail disc.

The press release states there are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature, but they were not accessible on the digital file version and cannot be commented upon.

Extras

This is a dual format set with the Blu-ray having the film and extras, and repeated in standard definition PAL on the DVD. The following extras are included. Note that specifics on the codec, audio channels, etc. were not available for the review.


Images of Edinburgh in Archive Film (31:19)
- Funeral Procession in Edinburgh (1901)
- Circus Procession in Edinburgh (1901)
- Royal Scots Regiment at Edinburgh Castle (1901)
- Edinburgh (1934)
- The Royal Mile, Edinburgh (1943)

A trip to Edinburgh in the first half of the twentieth century is seen with these documentary shorts. The first three shorts are some of the earliest if not the earliest moving images of the city captured. The 1934 ten minute documentary simply titled "Edinburgh" is a silent short featuring the streets, the trams, and many popular attractions of the city. The silent shorts have musical accompaniment. The 1943 short "The Royal Mile, Edinburgh" is the only one with recorded sound, featuring Edinburgh Castle, the Scottish War Memorial, The Royal Mile, and other historical landmarks with narration of each.
in 1.33:1, silent for the first four shorts, in English for "The Royal Mile, Edinburgh"

"Woolly Wonders" documentary shorts
- "The Western Isles" (1942) (14:14)
- "Border Weave" (1942) (14:35)

Two Technicolor shorts photographed by master cinematographer Jack Cardiff are presented here, featuring traditional Scottish techniques of making woollen cloth. The first is a dramatic short of about a family and a journey of a stranded soldier taking place in on the northwest Scottish island of Harris during WWII. The dialogue is in English and partially in Scottish Gaelic. The second short is a documentary an travelogue featuring the weaving process more thoroughly.
in 1.33:1, in English/Scottish Gaelic for "The Western Isles", in English for "Border Wave"

"Hancock’s Hard Boiled Eggs" 1966 adverts (9:50)
A series of eleven commercials starring Tony Hancock is presented here oddly, as Hancock was not part of the main feature, nor were eggs particularly part of the film either.
in 1.33:1, in English

"A Ghost of a Chance" 1968 film (48:25)
"A Ghost of a Chance" is a Children's Film Foundation feature about a group of kids wanting to preserve a neighborhood historical mansion from demolition, and they are able to get help from the two ghosts that inhabit the location, played by Graham Stark and Jimmy Edwards. A comical short with many sight gags and even a great chase sequence, it is a welcome extra, though an odd inclusion since it doesn't have much if any connection to the main feature.
in 1.33:1, in English

Image Gallery (9:03)
A series of posters and stills from the production in an automated slideshow. There is music accompaniment with ‘Soft Focus Bossa’ by Paul Mottram, ‘Club Bossa’ by Barrie Gledden, and ‘Elevator’ by David O’Brien. While the tracks are nice to have, it is slightly odd having Brazilian inspired music to accompany stills from film based in Edinburgh.
in 1.33:1


Booklet
A 28 page booklet is included in the first pressing. The first essay is "The Complete Man: Peter Sellers and the Battle of the Sexes" by the BFI's Vic Pratt focusing on Sellers and where he was in his career as well as information on the film itself. Next are biographies on Charles Crichton, Constance Cummings, Robert Morley, and James Thurber by writer Kieron McCormack. There are also full cast and crew credits, special features information, transfer information, acknowledgements, and stills included.


The US Blu-ray from Kino Lorber had no extras on it making the UK release the clear winner in presentation.

Overall

"The Battle of the Sexes" is a silly yet straightforward old fashioned Ealing-esque comedy, and though the near final sequence is a little odd in tone in comparison to the rest of the film, it was keeping with the orignal short story, and has a wonderful performance by Peter Sellers.

As stated before, review discs could not be provided for the review, and if there are any discrepancies between the digital files reviewed and the final retail discs, the information will be updated. The video and audio marks have been left blank below, due to not being able to assess the final product.

The Film: B- Extras: B- Overall: B-

 


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