Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the next installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. Every day Monday-Friday I’ll be reviewing a film I haven’t seen before. Each film will be connected in some way to the film before it, be it by actor, director, writer, etc. It’s a great time to be a film explorer, with TCM’s amazing programming, Netflix Watch Instant’s large library and studios starting up boutique burn-on-demand DVD services for their more obscure vault titles. So, I’m going exploring and I hope you guys will join me on my cinematic expedition.]
Today we take a look at Alec Guinness in Ronald Neame’s Tunes of Glory, but first is our Buster Keaton short, The Boat, which can be found in Kino’s fantastic Buster Keaton Shorts Collection!
The Boat is one of Buster’s sillier shorts and thank God for that. I love it when he goes full out crazy and full out crazy he definitely goes here. In the short, Buster is a husband and a father who just wants to treat his family to a nice trip and everything goes wrong. Think of it as the prototype for the Vacation movies.
It all starts when he finishes building his boat and in the process of getting it to the docks he somehow manages to destroy both his house and his car. Things don’t get much better when he gets the damn thing in the water, all the while juggling two children who keep nearly getting run over by the boat as it rolls down into the water.
But that’s nothing compared to the shit that goes down once it gets out on the water. Keaton quite brilliantly runs through every possible physical gag that can be done above decks, including controlling a collapsible mast system so the boat can sail under low bridges, and just when you think he’s done everything that can be done he goes below decks where things get even nuttier as the family tries to enjoy a meal as the boat rocks crazily back and forth.
I just love that he commits to the ridiculous so hardcore. There’s a moment when he stupidly decides to hang a picture below decks and the nail, of course, punches a hole in the boat and water comes pouring in. What does he use to plug up the hole? A pancake. He plugs up a hole he made with a nail by NAILING a pancake over it. And it works.
This one is full of awesome stuff and has to be seen to be believed. Also, notice the name of his boat in that first picture. That comes into play later in the short in a back and forth that would have been famous had Abbott and Costello done it a decade later.
Awesome short, but now’s time to say goodbye to Buster and hello to Obi-Wan.
Cinema can be like a relationship. There are times when you don’t connect with a film and it bores the shit out of you and you know it’s the film’s fault for not working, so that just pisses you off even more. Then there are times when you don’t connect with a film, but you don’t have that extreme reaction because you know under different circumstances you’d be enraptured. Sometimes it is your fault that it doesn’t work out.
That latter feeling describes my thoughts on Tunes of Glory. I just wasn’t in the mood to watch that particular movie at the time I watched it. You may have noticed that AICN has been flush with stories lately. I have a bit more responsibility around here than I have had before and all of the editors have been kicking it into overdrive to get AICN back into fighting shape… It’s been exhausting, but rewarding, so I’m in no way complaining, but at the end of a particularly long and stressful day I sat down to watch this flick and my mood wasn’t right.
I’m still going to review it, but go into this knowing that I suspect had I been in the right mood this flick would have won me over much earlier than it did. And it did win me over… eventually.
At its core, Tunes of Glory is about a battle of wills between two senior officers in a Scottish Highland regiment, one a fiery warrior and the other a stiff, proper untested in battle CO.
Alec Guinness plays the fiery one, Major Jock Sinclair and John Mills is the new CO that takes his place. The way these two are pitted against each other is Shakespearean its the slow build. Mills shows up a night early, when Guinness and his troops are having a big old party and dancing themselves a merry fool to the sound of bag pipes playing.
Mills doesn’t hold it against them, though, and seems like a good enough guy, but as he says… he’s not on call yet and when he goes on duty the next morning he starts to change things up. It’s a loose unit, celebrating the end of a war, but Mills feels an obligation to keep the unit in tip top shape.
For him, it’s about earning his place as colonel of the unit. His father and grandfather both had that duty and since he was taken as a POW early in the war he didn’t earn his spot through being a powerful soldier, but by enduring the tortures of the prison camp.
You’d think that would mean more, but in the eyes of the regiment he’s inherited his position instead of earned it. Perhaps it’s because of the early resistance or perhaps it’s because he doesn’t believe he earned his rank either, but whatever the reason Mills comes in with an iron fist.
What’s interesting is that he doesn’t start with a stranglehold, but the more Guinness rebels against him the tighter his grip is and the stricter he becomes.
There are a couple of B story threads involving Guinness’ daughter (played in an early screen appearance by Susannah York, aka Christopher Reeve Superman’s mama) falling in love with a young piper and Guinness’ own fling with a local… well, loose woman, but the real meat and potatoes of this is the mental games fought by Mills and Guinness.
The build is so slow and the first few rounds of these two men sparring were so low key that I had trouble keeping my attention focused on the screen. Like I said above, I wasn’t in the mood. I typically like slow burns, but this one took a damn long time to get up to the good stuff… however when it does boy howdy does it get good.
There’s some subtle politics at play and when one character gets the upper hand over the other… well, it begins a tailspin that ends in tragedy.
Guinness in particular is great here. Not that Alec Guinness being good in a movie should be a surprise, but he gets to play with a lot of juicy character moments. He runs the gamut. Sly, sneaky, pissed, desperate, scared, ruthless, giddy and more than slightly cracked by the time the story wraps up.
Mills’ Lt. Col. Barrow is a more restrained character, so he doesn’t have as wide a range, but he manages to be sympathetic despite his strict nature. In a weird way it’s this quality, this empathetic heart the character has, that puts him in the worst position in this story, which makes the final act really hit home.
The last act pulled me in despite me feeling cold towards the first two acts, so that should say something to how good it is. The dramatics at work and how certain characters react to the tragic events that take place are unconventional to say the least and made for a fascinating character study.
Final Thoughts: I’ll likely have to give this one another spin in the future, when I know what they’re building to and can offer it a little more patience than I was able to on this viewing, but I can say that despite the first two acts failing to draw me in the acting was never anything but spectacular and the finale made it more than worth it to stick with it. Long live Alec Guinness!
Upcoming A Movie A Day Titles:
HITLER: THE LAST 10 DAYS (1973)
YOUNG WINSTON (1972)
A REFLECTION OF FEAR (1973)
THE MAN IN THE GLASS BOOTH (1975)
Join us again on Monday as we follow Alec Guinness as he trades his kilt for a swastika in Hitler: The Last 10 Days! See you then.
Previous A Movie A Day (2013) Titles: