DVD review: 'David Lean Directs Noel Coward' offers interview with Ronald Neame

Noel Coward was the great renaissance man of British culture, so it's not surprising to see him listed in the opening credits of the 1942 “In Which We Serve” as producer, star, composer and director. But, not really comfortable with cinema, he hired editor David Lean — director-to-be of “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Dr. Zhivago” and others — to co-direct (with second billing, of course). Over the next few years, they collaborated on three more projects — “This Happy Breed,” “Blithe Spirit” and (most famously) “Brief Encounter” — with Lean taking over fully as director.

Criterion has packaged the four films together on Blu-ray and DVD. All were newly transferred from recent British Film Institute restorations. The black and white of “In Which We Serve” almost achieves the texture of an original print; “Brief Encounter,” also in black and white, looks clean but a little less impressive. The other two films are in Technicolor: “This Happy Breed” looks stunning, even though its use of Technicolor is more realistic — less garish and creamy — than was standard at the time; “Blithe Spirit” comes closer to the familiar Technicolor look.

Each disc has an informative 10- to 20-minute interview with Coward biographer Barry Day, as well as at least one other extra. “Brief Encounter” benefits from a fine commentary track by scholar Bruce Eder. But the best supplement is on “This Happy Breed” — a 45-minute interview with Ronald Neame, cinematographer on all four films and later a notable director as well (“The Horse's Mouth,” “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”). Shot in 2010, it shows Neame, who was 99, altogether cogent and entertaining; he died later that year.

"David Lean Directs Noel Coward" (Blu-ray, 4 discs, $99.95; DVD, 4 discs, $79.95)

ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on “FilmWeek” on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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