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TUNES OF GLORY (director: Ronald Neame; screenwriter: James Kennaway/based on the novel by James Kennaway; cinematographer: Arthur Ibbetson; editor: Anne V. Coates; music: Malcolm Arnold; cast: Alec Guinness (Maj. Jock Sinclair), John Mills (Lt. Col. Basil Barrow), Dennis Price (Maj. Charles Scott), Kay Walsh (Mary Titterington), John Fraser (Cpl. Piper Ian Fraser), Susannah York (Morag Sinclair), Dennis Price (Major Charlie Scott), Alan Cuthbertson (Captain Eric Simpson), Percy Herbert (RSM Riddick), Gordon Jackson (Capt. Jimmy Cairns, M.C., Battalion Adjutant), Duncan Macrae (Pipe Maj. Duncan MacLean), Paul Whitsun-Jones (Major Dusty Miller), Gerald Harper (Maj. Hugo MacMillan); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Albert Fennell/Colin Lesslie; Criterion; 1960-UK)
“It reverts to sentimentality and never manages to get to anything significant.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Ronald Neame (“Gambit”/”The Horse’s Mouth”/”The Promoter”) directs this insignificant blustery military drama that’s filled with colorful pomp and refreshing bagpipe music. It’s about a conflict in a peacetime Scottish highland battalion when a popular colonel of humble origins loses his temporary command to a martinet disciplinarian from the upper-class. Though well-acted by Alec Guinness (sporting a thick Scottish accent) and the always reliable John Mills, it reverts to sentimentality and never manages to get to anything significant. It’s based on the novel by James Kennaway, who also writes the script. Kennaway based the novel on his experiences serving with the Gordon Highlanders after World War II, the reason the military scenes register so real. It was shot at Shepperton Studios in London, and also includes some footage from Stirling Castle in Argyllshire, Scotland, which was the actual regimental base that Kennaway had written into his story.

There’s a noisy drunken bash thrown by his fellow officers for the hard-drinking working-class military man who had risen from a piper through the ranks to become acting colonel, Jock Sinclair (Alec Guinness), commander of the Scottish regiment. His replacement is a toy soldier, by the book, Oxford grad and former POW, desk jockey and military school lecturer, Lt. Col. Basil Barrow (John Mills). As expected, there’s a clash between the opposites. Things come to a head when Jock, in uniform, strikes Cpl. Piper Ian Fraser (John Fraser) in a pub because he’s secretly there with his overprotected daughter (Susannah York, the 19-year-old in her film debut). Though the piper refuses to press charges, the high-strung new colonel insists in sending the matter to brigade as a court martial rather than handling it in the battalion as suggested by his practical-minded adjutant, Capt. Jimmy Cairns (Gordon Jackson).

Kay Walsh plays Mary, an actress the single parent Jock is seeing. Dennis Price plays Jock’s once loyal friend, Major Scott, who turns against him by telling Barrow to go ahead with the court martial and also tries to win the affection of Mary.

The title is derived from the military airs and marches played on bagpipes as the funeral arrangements are made in the climactic scene for one of the officers who cracks up and commits suicide in the bleak wintry setting of the barracks when things don’t go his way. The surviving officer also suffers a mental breakdown, as he’s haunted by his rival’s ghost and in the end is taken away by his men as a raving lunatic basket case. Malcolm Arnold (composed the score for The Bridge on the River Kwai) composed the evocative bagpipe music that plays throughout the film. Though the well-executed film gives one a fine John Ford-like look at military life behind the scenes, it never touched my heart nor did the tragedy speak to anything of great social consequences.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”