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The Amazing Mr Blunden (1972)

To a certain demographic type, Mr Blunden was the kind of film which had a profound effect on their childhood. A lot of middle-class kids grew up with Mr Blunden and his ilk (Candleshoe, One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing, anything else from the Bumper Book Of 70s Family Films) - it seemed that every Easter holiday (not Christmas, that would be too appropriate) it was trotted out by BBC1 as part of their morning schedule, and it was some kind of unwritten rule that these kids had to watch it, along with eating their tea at the table, writing in to Jim’ll Fix It and taking their books to school in a satchel, not a sports bag (cheers, mum).

I know that I always watched it. Before I knew about Diana Dors’ barnstorming performance in From Beyond The Grave, before I knew how alluring Maddie Smith was in The Vampire Lovers, before, even, I knew how good Lynn Frederick looked in the shower (Schizo, you perverts), I regularly watched and re-watched this little Gothic romance. Yes, before I was a fan of British horror films, I was a fan of Mr Blunden.

The film has its detractors, sure - it’s an unashamedly middle-class yarn aimed at the kind of kids whose parents wouldn’t let them watch ITV at all. Or to be more precise, poncey milksop kids like this reviewer. Which rules out much of the under 16s market - mainly all the cool kids who were busy smoking, drinking illicit cans of Watney’s Red Barrel and hanging around the park while I was at home watching Blakes 7 and playing with my Action Men.

But if you were one of those cool kids, put that Embassy Filter down and give Mr Blunden a try, now that you’re older (and probably fatter). Because if you’re reading this, you must love these films. And if you can get past the plummy RADA accents and the lack of nudity/blood/anything remotely frightening, you’ll find a film which, while it stretches the definition of what might be called a “horror film”, is certainly a delight from beginning to end (you might even get a lump in your throat, although of course you won’t admit it).

And all that’s not to say that there aren’t some lovely Hammeresque™ bits in Blunden, in fact, during the opening credits you might be under the mistaken belief that you’ve shoved your copy of Hands Of The Ripper into the DVD player by mistake.

Well, Oliver!, at least…

For our story begins in the familiar Victorian Streets Of Olde Londone Towne. Fog shrouds, snow cascades, men sell fish and children sing about the poor infant mortality rate (“all the little children, they are born to die”). Enter top-hatted, fuzzy-jowelled Mr Blunden (Laurence Naismith), who pops into the home of recently-widowed Mrs Allen (Dorothy Alison) to offer her a job. A caretaker’s job, which is proving difficult to fill due to the property in question’s “remoteness”.

Mrs Allen is struggling to cope, as she has three children to look after - teenage Lucy (a very young, soon-to-be Mrs Sellers, Lynne Frederick), slightly younger James (Garry Miller) and baby Benjamin - all fresh out of the Jenny Agutter Academy For Performing In Turn Of The Century Period Dramas.

Lucy and James immediately take a shine to the charming old chap, who takes them on one side and confides: “Do you think you’d be afraid if you saw… a ghost? These ghosts would appear to you very much as ordinary people… children like you, or an old man, such as myself…”

Mrs Allen decides to take the job, despite finding out from the old man’s colleagues that the man she and the children recognise in a painting as Blunden has been dead for a hundred years. On arrival at the run-down property, Lucy’s resolve has cracked somewhat: “Please let us be happy here… and don’t let there be any ghosts…”

“You can be a ghost, but you don’t have to be dead”

The next day, in glorious sunshine (this is a very sunny film), Lucy and James decide to explore the manor house, but immediately start to hear ghostly voices. The day after that, they see a pair of children appear in the garden and walk towards them. “At last! Someone with sense!” one of the “ghosts” remarks, the other adding: “You can be a ghost, but you don’t have to be dead”.

The ghostly pair - a girl slightly younger than Lucy, called Sarah (Rosalyn Landor, who’d later go on to appear in a Hammer House Of Horror), and a young boy called Georgie (Marc Granger) - then tell their story (in flashback). They lived an idyllic life in the house with their parents until they were orphaned in 1818. Their Uncle Bertie (the marvellously foppish James “Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb” Villiers) became their guardian, and moved in with his new wife Arabella (Maddie “Vampire Lovers” Smith, playing up to her porcelain doll looks) and her parents - Mr and Mrs Wickens. Mrs Wickens (Diana Dors, in one of the “wewy wewy gweatest” performances of her career) is a huge, terrifying, lazy woman, and her husband Wiiiiiiiickens (David Lodge) is a punch-drunk, monosyllabic alcoholic.

The Wickenses all think they’ve married into money, but Bertie reveals that he’s actually “hopelessly embarrassed financially” because it is Georgie who inherits all the family money, when he comes of age. Bertie has already pawned off most of the stuff in the house…

Mrs Wickens then hatches a diabolical plan, to murder Georgie and Sarah so that Bertie and Arabella get the cash. Or, to put it her way: “Thir’ee tharsand parnds if ‘e snuffs it!”

Luckily, the kids hear her plans. Unluckily, Uncle Bertie’s not interested in their claims, dismissing them as the work of overactive imaginations. And even more unluckily, when they get a message to the family solicitor, one less-than-amazing Mr Blunden, his reply is: “They must not run away, Mrs Wickens… lock them up!”

Helped by some ghostly writing directing them to the library, Sarah and Georgie find a “charm to move the wheel of time” in an old spell book (“Someone is trying to tell us how to escape,” says Sarah breathlessly, “Not to another place, but to another time!”), and after testing it on Mrs Wickens (“I’m not giving it to her because I think it is poison,” says Georgie, “I’m just making sure it isn’t! Why are you pulling that face? It’s either Mrs Wickens or the cat, and the cat never did anyone any harm!”).

This brings us up-to-date. Sarah and Georgie aren’t ghosts, they’ve simply travelled forward in time to find someone to help them, and they’re asking Lucy and James to travel back to help defeat the evil Wickenses. But there’s no time to spare - after the “ghosts” have faded away, the children find Sarah and Georgie’s joint gravestone - the pair are dead, and they died a hundred years ago - tomorrow. A helpful gravedigger explains that they died in a fire, along with the young gardener, Tom, who tried to save them. Blunden arrived “too late, too late”.

With the potion made and the pair ready to try and avert the already happened catastrophe in a kind of Railway Children versus The Terminator kind of way, Blunden arrives, telling them: “I have suffered for a hundred years… tormented by my own conscience. It seemed more like a thousand years…” But he promises he’ll do all he can to protect them on their mission.

Once back in Sarah and Georgie’s time, Lucy and James quickly discover that most of the adults can’t see them (cue much hilarity with floating candelabras), apart from the childlike Arabella, who can see them as ghosts, and the race is on to a fantastically exciting climax with a real lump-in-the-throat ending. “We three kings of orient are, my dears…”

The Amazing Mr Blunden is very sentimental and more than a bit soppy, but sometimes that’s what you need from a film. It’s an utterly charming slice of hokum, buoyed up by some wonderful performances (step forward Dors: “Wiiiiickens!”; and Smith: “I’m a naughty girl, you’re a naughty boy…”) and if you haven’t been hopelessly caught up in the sheer ridiculous joy of it all by the end, you must have a heart of stone. Remember, this was filmed at a time of great fruitfulness within the British horror industry - Hammer were still riding high on their 60s successes, and 72-73 were amazing years for genre films in this country, so it classes automatically as a film from the golden age of British horror…

When you’ve depressed yourself completely with one Pete Walker film too many, The Amazing Mr Blunden is the perfect antidote.

Updated: February 10, 2010

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The Amazing Mr Blunden 1972

The Amazing Mr Blunden 1972

 

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