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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I happened to read the short novel by Kennaway before seeing its
movie-version "Tunes of Glory". The novel is good, but, quite
uncommonly, the film is much better, which is mainly due to the
stunning excellence of acting. For instance, reading the book I wasn't
quite convinced by the final mental collapse of Jock Sinclair: with his
beyond-any-possible-praise performance, Alec Guinness made me wholly
understand the deep inner sufferings of the outwardly friendly, tough,
rash Scottish officer.
The story is very simple, few things happens. The film is almost entirely located in the barracks of a Highlanders regiment. Here we find a (somewhat conventional) clash between the lower-class major Jock Sinclair and the upper-class colonel Barrow (John Mills), who suddenly replaces Jock in the command of the regiment. Jock has started as a simple piper, and has gained his grades on the battle-field during World War II. We gather that he is a natural born soldier-hero, with the typical virtues but also with the defects of natural born heroes, for instance a certain lack of intelligence and sensitiveness. For Jock the war was just a stimulating, if tough, adventure, where he had the opportunity to test his courage and honor. Barrow comes from the Military Academy, and has much more education, manners, and, perhaps, intelligence than Jock. And, by sure, he wholly and bravely accomplished his duties during the war, but we see that, differently from the light-hearted Jock, the horrors of the war have left deep traces in his mind, which increased his natural excitability to a breaking-point. He deeply feels the grief of being looked at as an intruder by the tight community of the other officers.
In the movie we find many subtleties on military life. The attachment to the Highlanders tradition is symbolized by the officers' use of calling each other by first name and of drinking whisky: in this sense, important is the scene when a false friend refuses Jock's offer of a glass of whisky, and takes gin, instead. We realize that this impoliteness is not a trifle as it may seem.
John Mills is superb in his design of Barrow, and he's only surpassed by Guinness. But the whole cast is fantastic. How good is the "average" British actor is always amazing for me.
Alec Guinness for me is the greatest actor of all times. He doesn't act: he IS Jock Sinclair, as he was the myriad of other characters he BECAME during his glorious career. He is so good that, after all, I think that he was underrated, despite his fame. Rest in peace, great Sir Alec, and thank you for all.
A final remark. I read somewhere that many British critics and directors, not least Alfred Hitchcock, have considered "Tunes of Glory" the best movie ever made. Indeed, even an Italian as myself can feel that this magnificent film touches some profound chords of the British soul.
A clash of wills and personalities between two men, one a psychologically
scarred idealist, the other driven by ego and his own needs to the point of
cruelty, is examined in the peacetime military drama, `Tunes of Glory,'
directed by Ronald Neame and starring Alec Guinness and John Mills. Major
Jock Sinclair (Guinness) is the acting Colonel of a Scottish regiment, but
as the story begins he has been notified that he has been passed over for
promotion and his replacement, Lieutenant Colonel Basil Barrow (Mills) is en
route to take command. Sinclair is a soldier's soldier, a man's man loved
and respected (with some qualifications) by his men. He has clawed his way
up through the ranks, was once a piper (he would've been happy as a Pipe
Major, in fact, but Hitler-- as he says at one point-- `Changed all that'),
and feels strongly that he should have been made Colonel of the regiment.
Barrow, on the other hand, is an aristocrat and a third generation officer
of this particular regiment. He suffers, however, from his experience in a
prisoner-of-war camp, and has never fully recovered, the impact of which is
succinctly expressed when he tells his Captain that he never really came
back. From the beginning, it's an almost impossible situation, and from the
moment Barrows arrives the atmosphere is thick with tension as he and
Sinclair square off in a contest from which it is readily evident that
neither will emerge unscathed in one way or another .
Working from a tight, intelligent screenplay by James Kennaway (adapted from his own novel), Neame delivers a taut, insightful character driven drama that explores the diversity of human nature, and illustrates the good and evil contained within us all and the traits which ultimately determine which will be the prevalent manifestation of the individual personality. Through the device of placing the protagonist and the antagonist-- each the antithesis of the other-- in a no-win situation, the film examines motivations, actions and reactions that can lead the story in any number of directions, none of which are positive, but all of which are logical and which finally leads to a conclusion that is extremely powerful, incisive and totally believable.
As Jock Sinclair, you see Alec Guinness in a role quite unlike anything else he's ever done; it was, in fact, his own personal favorite of all of his cinematic creations. Sinclair is a man who is course and rough-hewn, an egoist who, when the personal need arises, will wantonly subject those around him to psychological cruelty in order to elevate himself and his position and to assuage his own ego. At mess, for example, he derides a young officer for not smoking his cigarette like a man; he orders every `man' to drink whiskey, implying that to do otherwise constitutes an assessment of an individual's masculinity. Boisterous bravura and ribald behavior are his tools of navigation through life, coupled with an attitude of doing things his way or the wrong way. And Guinness plays it to the hilts. Beginning with his whole perspective and attitude, he IS Sinclair, while physically he embodies and expresses exactly who this man is and what he stands for. At times, his eyes fairly bulge with an enthusiasm that suggests a lasciviousness underlying the cruelty; when he walks he strides purposefully, and carries himself in such a way that when he enters a room he veritably fills it and makes his presence felt so that the very air seems oppressed by him. It's a performance that, even in a strong year of Oscar contenders (Trevor Howard, Lancaster, Lemmon, Olivier and Tracy were all up for Best Actor-- Lancaster won) he deserved to be among them. In this film Guinness is quite simply unforgettable in one of his most powerful roles.
John Mills, as well, delivers a superb, introspective performance as Barrow, capturing the way in which this man must live so inwardly to survive, and conveying how difficult it is for him to continue on while attempting to live up to his heritage and the expectations of a position to which he is clearly unfit in his current mental state. In Barrow we see reflected the prevailing attitude of the times that `might makes right,' and that anything less is akin to unacceptable negligence, that same military mind-set that put Jake Holman at odds with the world in `The Sand Pebbles,' and led to the unfortunate incident depicted so eloquently in `A Few Good Men.' It's an excellent, understated, sensitive performance by Mills, who plays brilliantly off of Guinness's brutishness.
The film also boasts a number of excellent supporting performances, especially Dennis Price, as Major Charlie Scott, whose stoic assessment of himself as well as the situation at hand serves as the film's conscience; Gordon Jackson as the sympathetic Captain Jimmy Cairns; and Duncan Macrae in a memorable turn as Pipe Major Duncan MacLean.
Also included in this outstanding supporting cast are Kay Walsh (Mary), John Fraser (Ian), Susannah York (In her film debut as Morag Sinclair), Percy Herbert (Riddick), Allan Cuthbertson (Eric) and Angus Lennie (Orderly). A powerful film that so successfully demonstrates the devastating effects of dysfunctional human relationships and conveys the need to look beyond ourselves, `Tunes of Glory' presents a story to which everyone will be able to relate because the theme is applicable to any setting involving human interactions. A thoroughly involving film featuring a number of memorable performances (especially by Guinness) that will give you reason to take pause and reflect, and hopefully add some perspective to a world too often mired in unnecessary turmoil. I rate this one 10/10.
I finally had the chance to see this film in its entirety on Bravo a few days ago. Ronald Neame was not a director of the first rank, and he probably wasnt even a director of the second, but this is NOT a directors picture. It is a picture carried by superb acting and a brilliant script.I am now convinced that Guinness was one of the greatest screen actors that ever lived-if not the greatest.. This performance surpasses even his Colonel Nicholson in Bridge on the River Kwai, or his magnificent performances in the Ealing comedies. His boorish, arrogant, but oddly touching and vulnerable Jock Sinclair is a full length portrait worthy of Rembrandt-or Dostoevsky.John Mills, as the "by the book " colonel, whose aloof exterior hides enormous psychic scars, is almost equally good.Dennis Price, as a friend who turns his back on Sinclair, and the superb Gordon Jackson ( he was a great actor long, long before Upstairs Downstairs)as a restrained, sensitive officer who tries ineffectually to help both antagonists, are almost equally good. All of the other performances are very fine.The films beautifully written, sometimes funny, usually achingly sad script is a profound meditation on honor, tradition, repression and class conflict. Guinnesses soliloquy at the end is one of the most heart-breaking moments in all of film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The central character in this film is not so much the character played
by Alec Guiness but the character played by John Mills.
Col Barrow has been a prisoner of war. While a prisoner, the only thing that kept him going was The Regiment. He has idealised the regiment, and when he is finally made Colonel-in-chief, he is finally coming home. But what does he find? Lax discipline, a whisky culture, wild dancing. He sets about doing something about it. But, despite his rank, the status quo gets the better of him, and he ends up shooting himself.
Like the outsider, Barrow, sees things in the regiment that those in the regiment do not, so the Scot in exile sees things about Scotland that those who live there do not. He sees people dancing and hooting to Scotland the Brave, something that a German or an American would never do while Deutschlandlied or The Star Spangled Banner plays. He sees Harry Lauder or Rab C Nesbitt, popular in Scotland, but abroad ruining Scottish dignity. He might return to Scotland and try to do something about it, but is spat out by Scotland as Col Barrow is spat out by the Regiment.
You see, Col Basil Barrow does not have a Scottish name. He does not have a Scottish accent. He has an aversion to the national drink. And yet he is the only true Scotsman. And that is the thread that runs through the entire film.
Beautifully written, beautifully acted. A British, nay, a Scottish classic.
These are just a few notes on one of my favorite films, "Tunes of Glory,"
which I recently watched again in its new Criterion DVD release. The plot
is well-described by many posters below, so I won't bother with
The more I watch this film, the more I appreciate the wealth of detailed characterization it contains. On Barrow's first meeting with the officers of the regiment, as he is introduced to the rotund Major "Dusty" Miller, note John Mills' quick downward glance of disapproval at the Major's corpulent gut. In the following scene, where Jock Sinclair offers Barrow a whiskey, Barrow courteously replies that whiskey does not agree with him, to Jock's dismay. We later learn that Barrow is emotionally unstable, has problems controlling his rage, and that his family life has broken up. Could alcoholism be an issue, explaining his aversion to whiskey? While Guinness and Mills are justly praised, I find the performance by Dennis Price as Major Charlie Scott to be very interesting as well. Bringing to mind Ralph Richardson, he exudes an oily, genteel but detached sort of upper-crust English manner that Colonel Sinclair gleefully mocks ("old boy, old boy, old boy"). When RSM Riddick (Percy Herbert, distractingly bringing to mind Michael Palin in appearance and exaggerated military manner) tries to officially express the doubts of those in his own strata in the military hierarchy about the prosecution of Jock Sinclair, Barrow's first reaction is curiously bemused and sarcastic ("you astonish me"). Barrow subsequently snaps into martinet mode and brusquely dismisses Riddick's petition. His initial bemusement, though, is telling in that his instinct is not to take this man, from a lower level of the social and military hierarchy, seriously at all, treating him almost as an unruly child who needs be put in his place. Having seen power struggles, personality clashes, and class divisions like this in my work experience, I see that this all rings true. As foreign, exotic, and strange as the setting, characters, and language are to an American like me, the themes of this story are so universal that they can be immediately appreciated by almost anyone who's experienced life to some degree.
As for the language, it's a delight to finally have a DVD with English subtitles to clarify some of the spoken lines. The picture, by the way, is excellent on the new DVD, except for the intermittent appearance of a dark streak down the right side of the screen near the end of the film. I would have thought this could be fixed with digital restoration, but the cost of that might have been prohibitive, and though a little distracting, it really doesn't spoil my enjoyment. I think it's fitting that there are no negative reviews here thus far.
It is hard to say anything new about this marvelous film - possibly the
last great film Alec Guiness had the starring role in (although some
STAR WAR fans may disagree with that assessment). Guiness as Major Jock
Sinclair is a man's man, and the popular head of a Scottish army
regiment. Since the war ended he has been in charge of it, and there
have been no complaints. But one day he learns that the Army brass have
decided to appoint John Mills (Lt. Col. Basil Barrow) as the Regiment's
Guiness is not a coward - he has fought his way up the ranks on the battlefields of Europe, and the others in the regiment know this. But Mills is an unknown quantity. He is aloof, and he is English. Nobody can tell whether or not he has any inner reserves of strength or what was once called "moxie" to win their respect. So soon Mills finds that while his commands are heard, the men are still basically looking to Guiness for real leadership.
It becomes a quiet but steady battle between the two men to see who is the real head of the regiment. Even when, due to personal problems, Guiness is arrested for drunkenness, Mills keeps fumbling his attempts to put him under control. Part of the problem is psychological - Mills has had a very rough time during the war. He was tortured badly by the Nazis in one of their camps. He has been just beginning to pull himself together. The lack of respect he is being shown is not helping.
The characterizations in the film are wonderful, in particular Dennis Price. Mills had been the star of GREAT EXPECTATIONS in the late 1940s, with Guiness in support. Price had been the actual star, as the scheming Louis D'Ascoyne - Mazzini, in KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, again opposite Guiness. Here Price is Major Charles "Scotty" Scott, who has usually been Guiness's closest friend, but has stumbled. In typical Price double-dealing, he has made a play for Kay Walsh, Guiness's girlfriend, and has not been totally rejected (when Guiness learns of this he goes into his bender, which leads to his arrest). Price however is more complex than one would initially believe. He, of all the regiment officers, does not go to Guiness to double-check the orders of Mills. Price feels that Mills, as commanding officer, needs no double-checking. The others are there to obey him.
But then Mills decides to be nice to that drunken scamp Guiness - and Guiness and his friends sees this as weakness, not kindness. Mills finds that the last shreds of his rank's dignity are gone...especially after he and Price have some quiet words while Price is playing billiards. Basically Price tells Mills that it is impossible now to have any respect for the Lt. Col. And this leads to the final double tragedy at the end.
Dennis Price (from what I have read on this board) had many family and financial problems, and emotional problems that led to an alcoholism that smashed his career. But his performance as "Scotty", relatively short in comparison to Guiness and Mills in this film, was a quietly effective and superb one. One only wishes his personal demons could have been controlled, so that he could have given us more performances as this one.
Such a fitting picture was Tunes of Glory, that Sir Alec Guinness himself declared it in his autobiography one of his favorite roles. The mood of the film was perfectly captured by a cast of outstanding British character actors, led most ably by Gordon Jackson, in the world of post wartime Britain. The barricks/castle backdrop is itself a character in the film. However, its indeed an actor's film. Guinness's soliloquy at the end of the movie is worth the "price of admission" and should be mandatory for any would-be actor to view prior to entering the trade. Guinness is matched scene for scene with John Mills portrayal of Col Barrows. Movies such as this and Carol Reed's "The Third Man" with Orson Wells was the backbone of two decades of outstanding British cinema. This movie joined an impressive list of movies to be ignored by Academy of Motion Pictures and the Oscar. If nothing else the soundtrack is a bagpipe lover's dream. In a personal aside (chance for name dropping) I had the opportunity to met Gregory Peck once, and he in a brief moment he was asked about great performances in great roles, and without hesitation chose Guinness's Colonel Sinclair as one of his top three comtemporary performances (first of course was his Attackus Finch in "To Kill A Mockingbird". High praise indeed.
You will never know whether you should love or hate the two lead male actors this this movie. Just when you find yourself hating the Guiness character, you will be pulled in the opposite direction, and find yourself feeling sad for him. Same for everyone really in this story which is what makes it so engaging. The rich and privileged John Mills is easy to hate as he didn't have to work hard to get where he is. But that very stigma is what hurts him, as he is never really given a chance to be seen as anything more than a privileged fool, so then you pity him. Guiness plays a character who worked very hard for everything he has, and is to be admired until you realize he doesn't give any room for kindness, or compassion, and then you pity him too, but for different reasons. I saw this movie at 3:00 am on a work night, and couldn't move from the screen, despite my early day at work. I was pulled into this story that seemed too familar to me as we are all guilty of either judgement. Brilliant.
One of the marks of a truly great actor is the ability to do both comedy and
heavy roles. To contrast Guinness's portrayal here of Jock Sinclair with,
say, his Professor Marcus in 'The Ladykillers' is to become aware of the
protean range of his talent. (One cannot imagine, for instance, John Wayne
doing comedy.) To my mind Alex Guinness is the premier actor of the century;
his performances have immeasurably enriched my inner life.
I am not as enamored of "Tunes of Glory" as I am of, say, "Bridge on the River Kwai," but it is without question a powerful movie. The conflict between Sinclair and Barrow is palpable; I think, in particular, of Mill's violently trembling rage during the dancing scene, and Guinness's dismissive ridicule of Barrow's deepest confidences ("toy soldiers!") during his attempt to con him into clemency. Sinclair's grief-stricken collapse at the end is truly an unforgettable scene and a tribute to Guinness's power.
I consider "Tunes of Glory to be one of the best movies made of it's type. The acting of Alec Guinness and John Mills was of the highest standard, with a great supporting cast. The Scottish accents were excellent and the setting at Stirling castle in Scotland gave the film real authenticity. Although the film was made in 1960 I still consider it to be one of the best movies I have ever seen. Of course I could be a wee bit prejudiced here as I hail from Scotland, although exiled here in Melbourne, Australia these last 34 years. This movie hardly ever appears on television, however if you haven't seen it and get the opportunity, please take it. You won't be disappointed.
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