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Hand in Hand DVD Review

Hand in Hand (1960) movie poster Hand in Hand

US Theatrical Release: February 7, 1961 / Running Time: 73 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Philip Leacock / Writers: Diana Morgan (screenplay), Leopold Atlas (adaptation), Sidney Harmon (story)

Cast: Loretta Parry (Rachel Mathias), Philip Needs (Michael O'Malley), John Gregson (Father Timothy), Sybil Thorndike (Lady Caroline), Finlay Currie (Mr. Pritchard), Derek Sydney (Rabbi Benjamin), Miriam Karlin (Mrs. Mathias), Arnold Diamond (Mr. Mathias), Kathleen Byron (Mrs. O'Malley), Barry Keegan (Mr. O'Malley), Martin Lawrence (The Cantor), Barbara Hicks (Miss Roberts), Dennis Gilmore (Tom), Peter Pike (Harry), Susan Reid (Priscilla)

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These days, so much of what is released to home video and what I'm able to review is new stuff; new movies and, especially this time of year, new television. That inspired me to leap at the chance to see and write about Hand in Hand, a 1960 movie that I knew nothing about and had never previously heard of. It appears I'm not alone. This little British film has accrued a mere 175 user votes at the Internet Movie Database. To put that in perspective, Inception, released two months ago, has received 191,732 votes (60% of them a perfect 10/10, making it the fourth greatest film of all-time there). To make some sense of that vast gap, I should point out that, Hand in Hand has never been made available on home video. Until now...

Distraught Catholic boy Michael O'Malley (Philip Needs) consults his parish priest Father Timothy (John Gregson), setting up a friendship movie to be told in flashback. Best friends Mike (Philip Needs) and Rachel (Loretta Parry) find the perfect place to play in this abandoned barn they clean up.

This is the story of two seven-year-old schoolmates who become friends. Michael O'Malley (Philip Needs) helps Rachel Mathias (Loretta Parry) escape some boys teasing her. They bond, sharing ownership of Mike's white mouse Hector and turning an abandoned barn into their secret hangout. When the mouse dies of natural causes,
the two consider the creature's religious affiliation for their funeral preparations. Mike assumes that Hector was Catholic like him. Likewise, Rachel considers the mouse Jewish like she and her family.

Rachel's father is offered a new job and proposes to move the family to Marlow, some thirty miles away. Less than thrilled by the prospect of leaving her friend behind, Rachel brings the news to Mike, who decides they ought to become blood brother and sister through a finger-pricking ritual they saw on television. They do so and are closer than ever, but then their religious differences appear to get in the way.

Mike's mother tells him he must never attend Rachel's synagogue, for that would be a serious sin. Word on the playground comes that the Jews killed Jesus. Bothered by this news, Mike and Rachel hatch a plan to test the strength of their blood brotherhood. Each will attend a religious service at the other's place of worship. If God doesn't strike them dead, then nothing can and they'll have nothing to fear (not even fear itself).

The movie misses an opportunity to discourage youthful hitchhiking by making ride-giver Lady Caroline (Sybil Thorndike) a sweet and hospitable woman. Sharing a pew with Mike (Philip Needs), Rachel (Loretta Parry) learns that Catholic mass isn't so bad.

A simple drama that practically defies classification, Hand in Hand doesn't give us a whole lot to deal with.
Even opening, as the film does, with the boy taking blame for the girl's death at his priest, conflict and complication is kept to a minimum. And yet, the film moves us with material so basic, universal, and human. I don't know if religious tolerance has increased or if religion has just become a taboo subject, but we certainly aren't likely to find a movie like this today. Sure, it may seem a bit old-fashioned and quaint, but these are charms, not liabilities.

It's refreshing to see faith and practices discussed with the frankness that only children (and those writing for them) can provide. Enlisting a rabbi and a priest as technical advisors, Hand in Hand delivers its anti-prejudice message with a light hand not often found in movies addressing religion. Naturally, it doesn't advocate one over the other, or even encourage either over nothing. In showing both Jewish and Catholic observances, it foreshadows the conclusion that the two different faiths are founded on similar ideals of love and compassion. You needn't even be a religious person to appreciate this tale of friendship, the way that you typically need to be to enjoy or even know of today's niche faith film market.

Philip Needs and Loretta Parry, the two young stars of Hand in Hand, did not pursue acting careers after this, beyond a few years of guest appearances on 1960s television series. In a way that makes sense, because though their work carries the film far, there isn't a trace of performance from either one of them. You believe they are these kids, enjoying each other's company and not getting caught up in the concerns that trouble adults.

Hand in Hand won a Golden Globe for Best Film Promoting International Understanding, a category retired in 1964 after 19 years in existence. Other winners of that honor include The Diary of Anne Frank, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and the kindred To Kill a Mockingbird. Hand in Hand also earned a Director's Guild of America nomination for Philip Leacock in Outstanding Directorial Achievement. Leacock would follow this movie with a long, full career in American television, producing and directing shows like "Gunsmoke", "Hawaii Five-O", and "The Waltons" prior to his 1990 death.

In honor of Hand in Hand's 50th anniversary, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings the movie to DVD on October 5th.

Hand in Hand DVD cover art - click to buy DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: October 5, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $14.94
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Presented in its original 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio and enhanced for 16:9 displays, black & white Hand in Hand looks great. I noticed a hair at the bottom of one shot and that minor intrusion represents the only shortcoming of any kind that I spotted. The picture offers clarity you wouldn't expect from a 50-year-old film, much less one this small and obscure. While Sony tends to provide some of the best DVD transfers of any studio, that they'd keep the bar as high here truly impresses.

Inspired by the adventurers they watch on television, Mike and Rachel take a dinghy ride, destined for Africa or imminent danger, whatever comes first. Rachel (Loretta Parry) has an evidently upbeat chat with her imaginary sister Miranda-Anne.

The soundtrack, two-channel Dolby Mono, is just fine as well. It needs to be cranked up, but after that's done, the clean, crisp recordings reach you without any distortion or troubling signs of age.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The static, silent main menu gives us a basic reformat of the cover art sans the film's title.

The only listing unrelated to feature playback is "Previews", which holds promos for To Save a Life, "The Pillars of the Earth", Rust, Mrs. Miracle, and Fireproof.

It's unfortunate that even an old trailer couldn't be rustled up, but that this little-known movie is even getting released to DVD at a time when studios have abandoned catalog titles is itself a modern miracle.

A rabbi, a priest, and a boy... it's not the set-up to a joke, but the fairly satisfying end to "Hand in Hand." At Hector the mouse's funeral, Mike supplies the Christian music with excerpts of "Exultate Justi" and "Ave Maria."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Hand in Hand is a sweet little movie you probably haven't heard of but probably would enjoy. With intimacy and honesty, it captures the uninhibited pleasures of childhood friendship in a way that's specific to 1960 England yet also timeless and universal. The long overdue DVD arrives with no bells and whistles but a superb feature presentation and a low list price. It's well worth seeing.

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Reviewed September 24, 2010.



Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1960 Columbia Pictures Corporation and 2010 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.