Nova Pilbeam Collectors’ Guide, Part 2

by Brent Reid

Filmography on home video

  • Star of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much and Young and Innocent
  • Made many other fine films with a host of the Master’s regular casts and crews
  • Luckily, most of them have now been issued on home video, mainly in the UK
  • Every official source detailed, along with the inevitable bootlegs to avoid

Part 1: Biography and associated works

Nova Pilbeam, circa 1937

Circa 1937


Little Friend (1934)

Little Friend (1934) US poster

US poster

14-year-old Nova Pilbeam’s screen career hit the ground running in this affecting tug-of-love drama based on Austrian émigré author Ernst Lothar’s Kleine Freundin. Roman einer Zwölfjährigen (Little friend. A twelve-year-old novel, 1931). The 85-minute film is currently unreleased but you can catch the occasional TV airing on both sides of the Atlantic. BFI Archive holdings.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

L-R: Leslie Banks, Nova Pilbeam and Pierre Fresnay in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

L-R: Leslie Banks, Nova and Pierre Fresnay, on the eve of a (snow)storm

This nail-biting (and tooth-pulling!) classic is dealt with separately here:

Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The Man Who Knew Too Much

Tudor Rose (1936)

Tudor Rose aka Destino di sangue (Fate of blood, 1936) Italian poster by Anselmo Ballester

Tudor Rose aka Destino di sangue (Fate of blood) Italian poster by Anselmo Ballester

Nova here movingly essays the role of doomed heroine Lady Jane Grey, the “tudor rose” of the title. She gives a quiet powerhouse of a performance among an exceptional ensemble cast, most notably Sir Cedric Hardwicke foreshadowing his turn as the evil, twisted antagonist of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). If you only see one other film of hers other than her Hitchcocks, perhaps it should be this one. But then, you’d be missing out on her many fine features, including those in which she excels at comedy, so try and catch them all!

  • UK Strawberry Media DVD (2017)

Nova Pilbeam Grows UpThe Observer, 3.5.36

Round the Film Studios (1937)

Alfred Hitchcock and Nova Pilbeam being interviewed by Leslie Mitchell (holding coat) in the gardens of Pinewood Studios on 5 October 1937 for Round the Film Studios BBC short

Director and star of Young and Innocent being interviewed by Leslie Mitchell (holding coat) in the gardens of Pinewood Studios on 5 October 1937; uncropped, here are more.

Three series of 15-minute BBC shorts featuring the cream of British acting and filmmaking talent showcasing their latest projects. Each of the three series focuses on a particular studio: Pinewood, Denham and Elstree. Interviewed during the making of Young and Innocent, this episode, “No. 1: Pinewood, Part 9”, saw Nova joined by Hitchcock. Apparently lost.

Young and Innocent (1937)

Young and Innocent (1937) UK poster

UK poster; note the young star’s very prominent billing

One of Hitch’s very best, you can read all about it here:

Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Young and Innocent

Cheer Boys Cheer (1939)

Cheer Boys Cheer (1939) The Daily Film Renter, July 19, 1939, UK trade ad

The Daily Film Renter, July 19, 1939, UK trade ad

This Ealing comedy, a Romeo and Juliet-esque tale of two warring tribes eventually united by the love of their respective offspring, has just one release to date:

Prison Without Bars (1939)

This 85-minute TV movie is based on the same play as two eponymous UK/French-made multiple-language version films, one of which coincidentally starred Nova’s mum!

Pastor Hall (1940)

Pastor Hall (1940) US insert poster

US insert poster

Nova was famously a strong contender for the lead in Hitchcock’s Rebecca – apparently David O. Selznick himself was keen on her for the part but Hitchcock wasn’t so sure; obviously Joan Fontaine won out. However, Nova’s talent was put to great use elsewhere as while Rebecca was being made she appeared in this criminally underappreciated classic that, though very different, is easily its equal. It’s based on the 1939 play (Internet Archive) by tragic Jewish-German émigré Ernst Toller, his last completed work before his early death that same year. The play in turn was inspired by real-life pacifist preacher Martin Niemöller, known for his much-quoted poem “First they came …” Among a uniformly exceptional cast, Wilfrid Lawson, perhaps best known as Eliza Doolittle’s feckless father in the original screen Pygmalion (1938), gives a powerhouse performance in the title role as he resists the Nazi takeover of his town. Nova plays his brave, clever daughter in one of her finest screen outings. Oh, did I mention it’s from the brilliant Boulting brothers? Absolutely unmissable.

Incredibly, it’s so far only been issued on an Oz region 4, NTSC DVD that though for most will be quite pricey on import, is worth every penny.

July 2022 update: UK-based Powerhouse Films have come to the rescue with the latest entry in their impeccable Indicator range. Their new identical, region A or B-coded BD has the following spec:

  • New restoration from a 4K scan of the nitrate duplicate negative by Powerhouse Films
  • Matthew D Hockenos on Martin Niemöller (2022): the author of Then They Came for Me: Martin Niemöller, the Pastor Who Defied the Nazis (2018) discusses the life and legacy of the German pastor
  • Richard Falcon on Pastor Hall (2022): the ex-BBFC examiner discusses the film’s history with the British Board of Film Censors
  • Newsreel footage (1946): extract from Welt in Film featuring Niemöller speaking about post-war German guilt
  • The Dawn Guard (1941): short film directed by Roy Boulting and starring Pastor Hall actors Percy Walsh and Bernard Miles as members of the Home Guard
  • Minefield! (1944): documentary short film produced by Roy Boulting for the Army Film Unit
  • New and improved subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Original mono audio
  • Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Fiona Kelly, archival articles, new writing on the short films, and film credits
  • Limited edition of 4,000 copies for the UK and US

When the initial run has sold out, it will be reissued in a standard keep case without the booklet.

  • US: Powerhouse BD (2022)
  • US: Powerhouse BD (2022)
  • Australia: Bounty DVD (2013)

Proudly resisting. L-R, Seymour Hicks, Wilfrid Lawson, Brian Worth, Nova Pilbeam and Marius Goring in Pastor Hall (1940).

Proudly resisting. L-R: Seymour Hicks, Wilfrid Lawson, Brian Worth, Nova and Marius Goring.

Spring Meeting (1941)

Clip #2, clip #3

Yay! Other than her Hitchcocks, this is the only outing of Ms Pilbeam’s thus far available in HD, and she expectedly shines in an excellent new transfer that’s virtually spotless aside from the odd and fleeting vertical hairline scratch. Based on the eponymous 1938 play by M.J. Farrell and John Perry, it’s a lighthearted comedy about the love lives of the Furzes, a horseracing-mad Irish family, with Nova as ‘Baby’, its youngest headstrong scion. The Furzes may be landed gentry but that’s no excuse for the array of shaky Irish accents on display throughout. In fact, W.G. Fay is the only cast member actually hailing from the Emerald Isle, while Margaret Rutherford reprises her role from the play’s hit West End run. I find the dodgy accents lend to the comedic charm but if you’re Irish yourself you may find it a bit annoying. After all, such practise – should we call it greening-up? – isn’t even a thing of the past. beats me why they didn’t just transpose the setting to England; most of the action takes place indoors and there’s nothing in the plot tying it specifically to Ireland anyway. All in all though, its gentle charm will easily win you over and lastly, a special mention for Nova’s unfeasibly pneumatic blonde barnet, which deserves an acting credit all of its own!

Banana Ridge (1942)

Nova Pilbeam and Michael Denison in Banana Ridge (1942)

Nova and Michael Denison send sparks flying

Writer-producer-director Walter C. Mycroft, the man chiefly responsible for Spring Meeting, scores another hat trick with this feelgood winner in which Nova’s pneumatic barnet comes close to stealing her every scene! Star Isabel Jeans, also featured in Easy Virtue for Hitchcock and this time plays another woman whose past comes crashing into the present and upsetting the ordered lives of those around her. But this time it’s played strictly for laughs. Jeans also played the seductive female lead in the trio of films starring Ivor Novello as The Rat and had additional supporting roles in Downhill and Suspicion for the Master, just a few highlights of a varied 50-year-plus acting career.

The Next of Kin (1942)

The Next of Kin (1942) US lobby card

US lobby card, complete with a couple who bear no resemblance whatsoever to the actual stars of the film.

Nova’s next starrer started out life as a propaganda short before being expanded by Ealing to a full length commercial feature. The final scene has an appearance from Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne in their Charters and Caldicott guises, albeit unnamed, still riding a wave of popularity precipitated by their memorable turns in Hitch’s The Lady Vanishes. The Next of Kin was also adapted as an hour-long BBC Radio play involving most of the principal cast and crew.

The original 102-minute film version (96min w/4% PAL speed-up) is available on on two identical UK and Australian region 0 DVDs, released in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum. It comes well stacked, as in addition to the main feature it includes three more propaganda films: The New Lot (1943, 42min), What’s the Next Job? (1945, 21min) and Read All About It (1945, 28min).

Meanwhile, the drastically edited US release version (1943, 75min), with added wraparound extracts of a J. Edgar Hoover speech, has been released by Alpha Video in the US. It’s a bootleg though, as according to film historian Nick Cooper, the film is copyright in the UK/EU until the end of 2059, based on its co-writer John Dighton being the last co-creator to die, in 1989. In the US, it was originally registered with the Copyright Office (“Next of kin. © Apr. 26, 1943; L 12020; Universal pictures co., inc., New York. 2284” p. 69), so it should have been renewed in 1971, but there’s nothing listed, nor in 1970 or 1972. That suggests it was in the US public domain between 1971 and the end of 1995, before being restored via the Uruguay Round Agreement Act, as with many of Hitchcock’s British films.

  • UK: DD HE DVD (2005) eBay
  • Australia: Rajan Vision DVD (2005)
  • US: Alpha DVD (2012)

Yellow Canary (1943)

Yellow Canary (1943) US poster

US poster

Nova plays able support in this WWII spy thriller loosely inspired by real-life Nazi sympathiser Unity Mitford. If you’re in the UK and have access to BBC iPlayer, there’s a nice print ‘permanently’ available for free, the only authorised release to date. Note it’s not to be confused with The Yellow Canary, a 1963 US hostage thriller. BFI holdings.

There are various home-made DVD-Rs on eBay, iOffer, etc that are easy to spot but beware the only ‘professional-looking’ disc so far: a poor quality Spanish bootleg DVD-R from Vértice Cine. It’s from a VHS-recorded TV broadcast of the edited US release version, shorn of around 15 of its original 98 minutes. Also avoid the pirate upload for sale on Amazon US and UK, likely from the same source.

Out of Chaos (1944)

Narrator, art documentary (27min); BFI holdings.

Man of Science (1944)

Narrator, (unconfirmed) documentary on Michael Faraday; lost?

This Man is Mine (1946)

Romantic comedy (104min), not to be confused with the 1934 pre-Coder of the same name. BFI holdings.

Green Fingers (1947)

An early drama to address the relative merits of holistic versus orthodox medicine. 81 minutes; BFI holdings.

The Three Weird Sisters (1948)

The Three Weird Sisters (1948) UK poster

UK poster

This dark, gothic melodrama is based on American author Charlotte Armstrong’s 1943 novel The Case of the Weird Sisters and was co-scripted by poet Dylan Thomas. This was Armstrong’s first work of mystery fiction, the genre in which she found the most success, and many of her novels and stories were adapted for other films and TV programmes. She also adapted the works of other writers for the screen, including three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Notably, she also adapted her own 1957 novel Incident at a Corner for perhaps the most celebrated episode of Presents’ sister series Startime (1960), directed by the man himself.

Weird Sisters the film hasn’t been officially released on physical media as yet, although there are various cheap, home-made bootleg DVD-Rs of a zoomed-in, blurry, VHS-recorded TV broadcast, such as that from US pirates Reel Vault. But if you’re in the UK, you can view a very good condition copy for free, courtesy of the BFI:

Counterblast (1948)

Counterblast (1948) US Alpha bootleg DVD

Alpha DVD

Nova again stars alongside Mervyn Johns in this timely piece about germ warfare and a race to get the all-important vaccine. As per The Next of Kin , this film is copyrighted in the UK/EU until the 2042, based on the 1972 death of co-writer Jack Whittingham. Although the full length negative and other early prints are in the BFI Archive, it’s unavailable officially but a poor quality transfer of the US version, edited down to 90 of the original 99 minutes, is on various supposedly-public domain, actually-bootleg discs, eg:

Dressing Up (1948)

28-minute TV programme with Nova, alongside an impressive roster of participants, in one of several vignettes about 100 years of party dresses. Lost?

The Shining Hour (1951)

Sadly likely lost, this 110-minute TV movie is based on the 1934 play by Keith Winter. Though originally set in an Elizabethan farmhouse in Yorkshire, in the wake of its hit Broadway run it was transformed into an altogether glossier 1938 Hollywood movie set in New York and Wisconsin. Directed by Frank Borzage and starring Joan Crawford, Margaret Sullavan, Robert Young (two years after Sabotage) and Melvyn Douglas, the original film’s official releases include a region 0 DVD that’s playable anywhere. Just avoid the cheap bootlegs from Spain (CineClub Channel) and Italy (Golem).


Part 1: Biography and associated works

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Fr. Matthew Hardesty
Fr. Matthew Hardesty
6th July 2022 14:51

Pastor Hall was also released on blu-ray by Indicator: Pastor Hall (US Limited Edition)

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