Arriving late one night at a village near Canterbury are an English sergeant (Dennis Price), and American one (Sgt. John Sweet) and a landgirl (Sheila Sim). As they leave the train station, Sim is set upon by a mysterious figure who dumps glue all over her hair. The trio become amateur detectives, determined to unmask the “glue man” and their suspicion first falls on Eric Porter, the local magistrate who is consumed by an enormous love for the countryside.
The film was made in 1944… and so it should come as no surprise that it is, when one gets right down to it, a piece of “Why We Fight” propaganda. But it is a very artfully constructed, sly one, and a film of enormous, almost heatbreaking charm. It is whimsical and nostalgic, and though the shadow of war falls over many scenes (most notably at the climax in bomb-ravaged but resilient Canterbury), it doesn’t affect the deep sweetness of the film (if anything, it contributes to it).
The sound is the original mono – there are no remixes here, no tampering with the source material. The mono is clean and crisp, and there is absolutely no background static. Distortion is held to an absolute minimum. The dialogue is always perfectly clear. All in all, as fine-sounding as a 60+-year-old film can sound.
A sense of what the film might have looked like prior to restoration can be had from watching the “Pilgrim’s Return” feature, in which some clips from the film are looking very rough indeed. This makes one rather more forgiving of the flaws that are apparent in the transfer. These are a degree of grain, and some damage. The latter, taking the form of speckling and the occasional guitar string, is generally slight, though it is quite noticeable in some shots. The black-and-white tones are excellent, however, with no harshness, and the blacks themselves are well nigh perfect. The image is perfectly sharp.
As one would expect from Criterion, the extras are substantial in number and in kind. The commentary track, by film historian Ian Christie, is in-depth, insightful, and very helpful in contextualizing the film. Disc 1 also includes the prologue and epilogue that were shot for the truncated, re-edited American release of the film. Though interesting for historical reasons, we can be grateful that they are NOT included in the film itself. Disc 2 has a new interview with Sim, and shot around the same time, “A Pilgrim’s Return,” which interviews Sweet as he returns to Canterbury for the first time since the movie was made. “A Canterbury Trail” is a short featurette showing the locations used in the film (which has, as we see here, led to pilgrimmages of its own). Then there are two pieces called “Listen to Britain.” The first is a documentary from 1942, showing the sights and sounds of the British landscapes of that time. The other is a 2001 video-installation piece inspired by the earlier work, and incorporating elements of A Canterbury Tale. These features are accompanied by helpful introductory material. Finally, there is a booklet featuring some extensive essays, including one by Sweet.
A very sweet film backed by a very deep collection of extras. A real winner.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Excerpts from the American Version
- Interview with Sheila Sim
- “A Pilgrim’s Return” Documentary
- “A Canterbury Trail” Documentary
- “Listen to Britain” Vintage Documentary
- “Listen to Britain” Video Installation