New from Studiocanal, under their Vintage Classic imprint, comes a Blu-ray release of the 1957 Compton Bennett B Movie, The Flying Scot. Released in the United States under its alternative title of The Mailbag Robbery, it tells the tale of the attempted execution of a robbery on a never-officially-named-within-the-film train from Scotland to London. The locomotive is carrying a consignment of withdrawn banknotes that are being taken back to the capital city to be destroyed.
On the train are Ronnie and Jackie (Lee Patterson and Kay Callard) posing as a married couple in order to be able to section off a carriage for themselves, ensuring privacy. They are working with Phil (Alan Gifford), an older man who will help them drill into the next carriage to access the envelopes of money. Phil’s efficiency is being challenged by suffering from a severe ulcer, that a fellow passenger postulates may have burst. A fourth member of the crew is waiting at a predetermined part of the route, under a bridge, ready to collect the money, which will be thrown out of the window of the train for him to gather, allowing the three criminals on the train to disembark in London without carrying anything incriminating.
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After seeing the passengers join the train, followed by a short flashback to our team planning the job from sunnier climes, we see events unfold, with the various passengers on the train inadvertently putting the job at risk. For example, there is a nosy young boy (whose father is played by the great James Mason), continually trying to get into the marital carriage, and reporting back to his parents on what he thinks may be going on. There is Kerry Jordan’s drunk male character, who starts the journey drunk and not in control of his actions, and, after sobering up, promises his partner that he will stop (the implication being that he is heading to London for treatment on his alcoholism) but spends the rest of the running time fighting his urges, when it is clear that if he drinks he will likely roam the train in an uncontrolled manner. There is the train’s security guard, who will have to interact with the carriage at points without his suspicions being aroused, and there is Phil’s ulcer slowing him down. On top of this, Ronnie’s planning leaves something to be desired at times.
When we think of ‘B Movies’ in modern parlance, we tend to think of genre actioners, often with little in the way of social themes or grand ideas. It is worth here stating the obvious, the term comes from the days, pre-mass market adoption of television, where families would go to the movies for a full evening (possibly where the term ‘going to the movies’ originates) and see two pictures: the ‘A’ film supported by a preceding, shorter, and cheaper ‘B’ film. The Flying Scot is very much from this era. It was made for £18,000 and shot in a mere three weeks. The four leads are all given American accents (despite only one of them hailing from the United States) in order to give British audiences a feeling of some glamour. Paddington station stands in for both Scotland and London’s King’s Cross stations, and the running time of the movie is under 70 minutes.
This reminds us that the B Movie was never something meant to stand alone. This is the feeling when watching this: ‘Is that it?’. It feels like a warm-up for a longer, more lavish feature to follow. That said, it is a reasonably tightly plotted, well enough acted little story which, for some reason comes with a pre-feature warning that it contains outdated attitudes (probably James Mason spanking his son, as that is the only obvious candidate for an ‘outdated attitude’). It shows its lack of budget, with very few sets, and very static camera set-ups. Presented with a decently restored picture, and a stereo soundtrack that features some very ‘Carry On’ style music from its composer, Stanley Black, it is… fine.
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The bonus features are an alternate opening sequence – merely 78 seconds revealing a title card for the American release – and a non-interactive still gallery running to 46-seconds. The main two extras are interviews. First is a near-17-minutes talk with Steve Chibnall, Professor of British Cinema, titled ‘The Flying Scot and the history of the British B-movie’. The second is around 13 minutes with writer and journalist Barry Forshaw, who, we are told, has written about British crime films. These are worth dealing with together, as they are both very standard examples of the talking head interviews seen on such legacy releases, and they cover the same ground without covering the same facts. Both contextualise the B Movie, much as summarised above, talk about the film itself, and look at the career of Compton Bennett (best known for 1950’s King Solomon’s Mines).
Such releases as this must always be applauded, as they keep older, less enduring films alive, restore visuals and audio, and provide just enough in the way of trivia and context to pique the interest of film fans to find out more about the genre. The only issue here is one of knowing for whom this presented. It is a slight, unremarkable film, with slight, unremarkable extras. As such this is for the film student or the genre completist only.
The Flying Scot is out on Blu-ray on 8th August from Studiocanal.