Local Hero (1983)


(director/writer: Bill Forsyth; cinematographer: Chris Menges; editor: Michael Bradsell; music: Mark Knopfler; cast: Burt Lancaster (Felix Happer), Peter Riegert (Mac MacIntyreMaclntyre), Fulton Mackay (Ben), Peter Capaldi (Danny Oldsen), Jenny Seagrove (Marina), Denis Lawson (Urquhart), Christopher Rozkcki (Victor), Jennifer Black (Stella), Rikki Fulton (Geddes), John Gordon Sinclair (Ricky); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: David Puttnam; Warner Brothers; 1983-UK)
“A heartwarming and whimsical comedy of manners.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A heartwarming and whimsical comedy of manners from Scottish writer/director Forsyth (Gregory’s Girl), who brings back to the British cinema this Ealing genre the Brits are really good at making–which gleefully reminds me of Michael Powell’s beautifully lyrical romance, comedy, suspense and supernatural 1945 I Know Where I Am Going.

Burt Lancaster as Felix Happer is the wealthy Texas eccentric who prefers looking out for a possible comet he can discover so it can be named after him, in his own planetarium atop his company’s skyscraper, than following the daily rigors of the oil business–where he’s the powerful chairman of the board of Knox Oil & Gas. In the company’s quest for more oil, his research team informs him of the black gold located in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland. The company uses its wealth to try and buy up an idyllic quaint fishing village of Ferness to build there its oil refinery, as the locals are seduced by the possibilities of instant wealth. The contrasts between the American and Scottish cultures bring about the background for the snappy humor to be grounded in.

Happer’s main man to close the deal is a young ambitious executive, Mac Maclntyre (Peter Riegert), hand-picked by the boss because of his Scottish sounding name. But the only thing Scottish about Mac is his name, as his Hungarian immigrant parents changed the name to what they assumed would be an American one. Mac’s contact in Scotland is Danny Oldsen (Peter Capaldi), his Scotsman company counterpart there to facilitate matters. Their job is to smooth things over before the deal is consummated and sign the deal as quickly as possible before anything goes wrong–which prompts them to keep looking at their expensive watches, which the locals notice and choose to ignore how out of tune with their beautiful naturals surroundings are these city slickers. The men are warmly received on their arrival and are surprised that the locals are really happy to sell to outsiders.

But a problem crops up when Ben Knox (Fulton Mackay), an old timer living in a beach shack on land owned by his family for centuries, refuses to sell and thereby irritates the locals. Ben reasons: “Who’d look after the beach then? It would go to pieces in a short manner of time.” The deal stalls so that Happer himself travels to Ferness to take over the negotiations as the urban corporates, Mac and Danny, have become seduced by the charms of the slow life in the Scottish town and begin to take a new look at what they hold dear–even getting rid of their watches. The meeting of Ben and Happer is a marvel in personal interactions, depicting the love of nature that these two opposites have in common that unites them as human beings.

Forsyth’s directing is impeccable as all the characters are fully developed with no villains or heroes, just in an easy going way of drawing out their peculiarities and graces. It’s all done with great concern for dignity, but it nevertheless gets across its point about how greed kills without hitting you over the head with a message. The acting is superb. Riegert gives a delightful performance as the yuppie who becomes overnight a real person, while Lancaster is outrageously good as the unpredictable eccentric authority figure.

This is a brilliant off-the-wall comedy.