Pastor Hall - Pastor Hall( Blu Ray) [Powerhouse - 2022]
Pastor Hall is a WWII drama from the early 1940s. It is based on the true-life story of pastor Martin Niemöller- who was sent to Dachau concentration camp after criticising the Nazi party. The film builds from a comfy village drama, into a troubling and at times moving and powerful indictment of what the Nazis did to the normal people of Germany. Here from Powerhouse films is a new Blu-ray of the film- with a new 4k scan of the picture, and both new & archive extras.
Released in the year 1940 Pastor Hall (aka Sublime Sacrifice) was a British production. It was directed by Bray, Berkshire-born Roy Boulting. Between the 1930s and mid-1980, he had thirty-three credits to his name- twenty-four of these were feature-lengths. With these going from mystery thriller regard trying to bury some in a trunk Design For Murder (1939), lighthouse set psychological fantasy Thunder Rock (1942), sabotage thriller High Treason (1951), Colonial comedy Man In A Crooked Hat (1959),
slow-burn psychological thriller Twisted Nerve (1968), and comedy-drama regarding a down-on-his-luck inventor The Last Word (1979).
Pastor Hall is meant to be set in a small German village, and it’s fair to say that most of the actors here have very pronounced, often upper-class English accents. So when the film starts, you will wonder if you're watching the right film- but do bear with it, as the accent issues soon dies back, and you're left with a building and powerful wartime drama.
The film opens in a fairly twee and quaint village drama setting, as we see the middle-aged Pastor Hall (Wilford Lawson) going about his daily life. It’s clear he’s an important/much-loved priest who all of the village use for both advice and emotional support. At around twenty minutes into the film up pops Fritz Gerte (Marius Goring) a stern, neatly brill creamed backed haired, and coldly focused Nazi capt, who tells the pastor he’s here to shake up the village, making sure it follows the party line.
The changes in the village start fairly soon- with the pastor being told to adapt his teaching to villages children, and anti-semitic posters going up/ with Jewish residents' homes being vandalised. As things go on a son of
the village is gunned down for being a traitor, and a fourteen-year-old girl comes back from work camp pregnant- with the camps head saying this is what is expected of German women. The pastor's flock starts to drift, and neighbours now doubt neighbours. This all causes waves of anger/ upset in the normally laid-back pastor, and he decides in his next Sunday sermon to condemn the Nazi’s.
This decision suddenly turns the film, as it shifts from a building tension drama to a decidedly bleak and troubling concentration camp drama- as the Pastor is arrested, and then sent to the camp. For a film from the 1940s, this part of the film is decidedly grim, at times quite intense/ nasty- we have bloodless gun downs, bleak and brutal muddy run-around, the sound of distant torture, and towards the latter part of the film a tied down whipping.
Cast wise Lawson effectively switches from being a laid-back and kind priest, onto a rowed-up antagonist, to a broken and worn-down shadow of his former self. Goring portrayal of a stern and focused Nazi is well-realized, and as the film goes on, we get hints at his more human side. Notable supporting cast wise we have Seymore Hicks as jovial and large-moustached General von Grotjahn, who is a long-term friend of the pastor. And Nova Pilbeam plays the pastor's daughter Christine.
On the whole Pastor Hall is a compelling, and at points emotionally affecting war drama. Yes, the very English-sounding cast does initially throw things a little, but it’s worth looking past this and you’ll find a most powerful and thoughtful film, which looks at faith, hope, and the evil men do.
Moving onto this region free Blu Ray- and the 4k print looks good, with the black and white stock looking very clear and crisp throughout. On the extras side we get the following new things Faith Beyond Borders (15.04) this finds Matthew Hockenos, author of Then They Came for Me: Martin Niemöller, the Pastor Who Defied the Nazis- talking about the real Lutheran pastor the film was roughly based on. Niemöller was not a village pastor, but a key figure in going against the German Christian movement who believed in an Aryan Jesus- in the end, his campaigning led him going to prison for eight years- but he was never forced to work, and a few other key plot points in the film didn't happen. Next, we have The Cutting Class (13.54) which finds former BBFC examiner Richard Falcon talking about the film's censorship, and other films that were cut/ banned outright by the BBFC in the 1930s due to their anti-Nazi standing. Both of these featurettes are most interesting, and very much well worth a play.
On the archive side of things, we have a 1980 audio-only interview with director Roy Boulting, this runs an hour and six minutes. Niemöller Speaks in Hamburg- from 1946, - a three-minute extract from the Welt in Film newsreel, featuring footage of Niemöller’s speech about post-war German guilt. The Dawn Guard from 1941, a seven-minute short directed by Boulting, starring Pastor Hall actors Percy Walsh and Bernard Miles as members of the Home Guard. Minefield!- from 1944 a fifteen-minute documentary short produced by Boulting for the Army Film Unit. The disc is finished off with a promotion and publicity gallery.
The finished release comes with a thirty-six-page inlay booklet- this takes in a new essay by Fiona Kelly, archival news articles, a look at the lost Eleanor Roosevelt prologue, contemporary reviews, and full film credits.
It is great to see Pastor Hall getting this Powerhouse release- as it’s an important and impactful WWII drama. With the Blu ray presenting a good new print of the film, and a nice selection of both new and archive extras. Roger Batty