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.
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 new commander.
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.
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.
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 that.
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.
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.
Alec Guinness is an amazingly under-appreciated actor. While most remembered for his Obi-Wan character, this was one of his least interesting or demanding roles. Few today realize the depth and range of his characterizations as well as the realism that he infused his characters with in his previous films. He was one of the finest British actors and this film is yet another example of his skills.
Guinness plays an angry and blustering Scottish officer who may also be an alcoholic (he at least is a problem drinker and shows many signs of alcoholism). The film begins with this popular officer throwing a farewell party, of sorts, with the men in his command. It seems that Guinness was given temporary command but a replacement (John Mills) is due to arrive shortly--dashing Guinness' hopes for this position becoming permanent.
Because Guinness' character is so very flawed and petty, he does much to try to undermine the new C.O.. In particular, Mills is a "by the book" sort of officer and Guinness ignores changes Mills orders--and by example, derision and a lack of respect for Mills spreads through the ranks. Instead of behaving like officers and gentlemen, the men behave like this is some sort of popularity contest and they show contempt for their new leader. None of this is helped by Guinness' drinking, as it gets him in trouble and creates serious problems for the regiment.
While Mills, as usual, does a great job in the film playing a man who is suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, the film is definitely Guinness'. His boorish character is a great example of him once again immersing himself into a character and the way he responds to the tragedy near the end of the film gives the character great depth and a bit of sympathy--something you needed to make this a stand-out film.
The bottom line is that this film is extremely well-crafted. The acting is universally excellent, the script tense and well-written and the film is great unless you are the type of person who demands lots of action. While a film about the military, this is no action film. Wonderful.
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 Alec 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.
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.
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.
As a very late reviewer I see that very much of what I would have said has already been said so I endorse rather than repeat it. What is surprising is that these lengthy perceptive and very admiring reviews have come not from the film's country of origin but from the USA where it seems to have struck a particular chord. Reviewers have noted Guinness's perhaps finest ever performance as well as, very unusually the fine ensemble playing where script, casting and direction must all have been of similar quality.
I would take issue with the reviewer who said that the Mills character would never have been given command. Clearly he had been highly educated, had a long and distinguished career in a headquarters job following a traumatic time as a POW of the Japanese. He would have at least earned some kind of moral right at the end of his career and in peacetime to be given the job that he believed he really wanted and might have thought to have been among friends. He would most likely have been highly respected owed favours and been able to pull strings. Had Jock Sinclair (Guinness) - unashamedly uneducated, rough and proud to have been educated in Barlinnie jail, Glasgow and deeply popular with his men not been the officer he replaced, most likely Colonel Barrow would have made a success of it. The whole entirely believable tragedy came about through the grotesque mischance that with these so different characters, one had to wrest command - and respect of the men - from the other. Colonel Barrow's fragility was only exposed when he tried to impose his English "civilising" ways on the one person whose whole being rejected them. Bad enough if it had been simply about class, here it was a battle for the Scottish soul. These deeper levels of conflict deriving from earlier historical intra-Scottish battles was suggested by one reviewer. The film tells a story which perhaps could have been set in almost any country with a strong military tradition - France. Germany, Japan etc rather like its near name-sake "Paths of Glory" by Stanley Kubrick set in WW1 France. Here though the central conflict presumably had very deep roots in Scottish ethnic and tribal history of clan wars, of Highlanders vs Lowlanders even of those supposed English-loving "traitors" who "sold" Scotland to "a parcel of rogues" (The English) in 1707. It may well be that for Sinclair, the entirely Anglicised Colonel Barrow (gin-drinking, aloof, distant and without a hint of a Scottish accent) represented exactly that kind of treacherous pseudo-Scot.
One reviewer describes it as "pure John Ford" leaving it unclear if he is suggesting that it was similar or derivative. With art in general, its lower and by definition least original forms ape others. This film does not ape any other - as already said the intensity of the conflict derives not just from class but from old old historical grievances between two intimately close nations. In "Old" Europe grievances and rivalries ran long and deep.
Just a rather sad footnote. One reviewer mentioned similarities to earlier John Ford/John Wayne movies. The entire John Wayne archive is to be seen on a continuously circulating basis on two of Britain's five national television channels State broadcaster the BBC and so-called public service broadcaster Channel 4. Yet in contrast Tunes of Glory has rarely been shown. It reappeared 2 years ago but in a poor quality print on a remote satellite channel which plays mainly public domain material. Many of Britain's fine vigorous quality films of the 1960s have never been shown at all on British television until a few months ago when again a very minor satellite channel started showing them: Otley, The Hireling, The Reckoning and others. I did not see them originally and it was revelation seeing the bold acting and directing talent which existed then and how sad is the current decline into the Lock Stock etc formulaic gangster stuff. Very curious indeed that great British films are not shown on the supposed British public service channels and it is left to small satellite channels Movies4Men and Simply Movies to show them. Very curious indeed. Public service broadcasting not in the service of the public.
I have seen this film dozens of times over the years, and always relish the chance to introduce it to new viewers. People are always impressed by the power of the story, and the brilliance of the acting. It is one of the finest British films ever made, and just a tremendous film, period.
Alec Guinness is astonishing as the rowdy, hard drinking leader of a Scottish Army regiment, a few years after the end of the Second World War. The sophisticated roles he is known for are swept away by his blustering, boorish Colonel Jock Sinclair. He completely inhabits the role from the moment we first see him, at a drunken farewell party, on the evening before the new commanding officer is to arrive and take over. John Mills is equally good as his opposite number, Colonel Basil Barrow, a gentlemanly, reserved type who wants to change the crude manners and uncouth image of the regiment, but is hopelessly outclassed from the beginning by Jock's popularity with the troops. The growing clash of wills between the two leaders becomes more intense, and can only end in the utter defeat of one of them or the other. Colonel Barrow's difficulties in assuming command are made worse by his suffering the after effects of imprisonment in a POW camp, where he was tortured almost to insanity. Thus the stage is set for a disastrous outcome of the power struggle of these two men.
All the supporting performances are excellent, with fine work by Dennis Price as a friend of Jock, whose loyalties are suspect, Gordon Jackson as the adjutant caught in the middle, John Fraser as a young piper in love with Jock's daughter, Susannah York in her film debut, and many other great British character actors. The atmosphere of tradition and Scots pride in the regiment and a vanishing way of life is amazingly real. The look of the barracks in the ancient castle that overlooks the town, the squads of men drilling and exercising in the cold, the pictures and weapons that line the walls, a palpable sense of the heritage of the place and the regiment, are conveyed with total believability.
And above all, the music. From the opening bagpipe tune over the credits, to the parades and gatherings, to the mournful dignity of the pipes at the tragic ending, the music is the very soul of the picture.
I cannot praise this movie enough. It is a masterpiece of acting on the parts of both Mills and Guinness, and a superbly written and directed film that is a moving and unforgettable story.
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.
I recently saw this movie again, several years after having first enjoyed it. And I recall reading a remark in a review of Leonard Maltin's (I enjoy his reviews more than those of any of his peers), but disagree with one of his statements. He said that Guinness and Mills had been cast in roles which seemed more appropriate to the other.
In looking at several of the comments in this site, I haven't seen any which I feel would agree with this opinion, either - despite Mr. Maltin's well-deserved high reputation.
Like others here, I found this to be a superb, outstanding film, one of my all-time favorites. In addition to faultless performances - by the leads, primary supporting actors, and all the remaining cast - the depiction of the stark, gray, spartan setting in Scotland is wholly-realistic as well as captivating.
This film, soon to be 50-years old - now also provides a nostalgic picture of its period, in terms of films of its era, and its contemporary presentation of the post-WW II era.
About as "faultless" and "moving" as any motion picture and story one can name, in whatever setting or of whatever genre.
These lines may contain a spoiler or two. Please excuse me.
This film is very accurate in its portrayal not only of the main characters, Guinness and Mills are absolutely superb! But also in the way army life in Scotland developed during peacetime after the Second World War. All the main players are there, including the RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major) terrorising the men that serve in the battalion. The charming and laid back Pipe Major. The jealous officers that snatch their chance at making life impossible for their new C.O. and the sympathetic Adjutant, Captain Jimmy Cairns, that goes to tremendous lengths to serve his C.O. and hopelessly tries to get the cooperation of his brother officers. This is magnificently achieved in the Mess scene where he invites the Colonel to talk about his expertise about the Pentathlon. The expression on Sinclair's face and his comment ¨"Aye, the pentathlon" says it all.
The reason why this is such a good portrayal of Scottish Army life is that writer James Kennaway served as a young subaltern in the Cameron Highlanders. It may also explain why the officer characters are better explored than the enlisted men.
For anyone who enjoys the music of the Pipes, this is a Piper's movie par excellance! It definitely is mine.
I know I am biased, but I strongly recommend it. If you enjoy strong characters, excellent ambiance and a strong story line that leads you to the powerful ending, you won't be disappointed.
Alec Guinness is superb as acting colonel Jock Sinclair. Drunken and boorish, a terrible administrator but a wartime hero. Rough and wild for once, he is cast against type, yet emerges triumphant in an acting master class.
The book is a slim volume, but is fast moving and full of character. Set in provincial Scotland, the flavour of the film is as strong as the novel (by James Kennaway who also wrote the screenplay) but the characterisation by the actors builds on and then surpasses the script. I note that neither of the actors is Scottish and this amazes me. Maybe I should seek advice from a Scot on this matter.
We never leave the barracks or the quiet army town and so learn only by rumour how Jock Sinclair, on some blasted field at the centre of El Alamein saved his regiment and turned the battle. Half the officers and men were dead, the cause lost, yet his spirit and the force of his will brought him a battlefield promotion to acting colonel. The Regiment is what he lives for.
Several years later, in peacetime, the army catches up with its paperwork and sends a proper officer to take back the reins. Basil Barrow arrives unexpectedly from a desk job and Sandhurst. His assignment is to organise and civilise the men, long gone wild under Jock's supervision. John Mills plays the rather impotent lonely Barrow as an accentless and educated man. There are "dark rumours" amongst the men that he may be English.
The clash between the two men commences immediately on their meeting and ends in scenes of mourning and redemption.
This is an actors film. There are few effects and much of the action is centred on one or the other of Guinness or Mills. Sinclair is a piper, this gives him an almost spiritual air and his feel for music (the Tunes of Glory) is the first area of contention between the two Colonels. When Jock leads his men in a wild and unruly reel with arms flailing and much shouting and yipping at a society ball the ensuing fit from the uptight and conservative Mills is wonderful. He trembles and shakes and we do likewise.
The film builds and builds to a finale full of Tunes of Glory and we come to an understanding about both men, as they come to understand each other.
This is a fine movie. If anyone wants to examine the difference between what passes for a "good movie" these days and a "good movie" fifty years ago, "Tunes of Glory" is a good place to start. The direction is economical, with little in the way of razzle dazzle. Ronald Neame has almost "edited himself out of existence." And the writers are equally straightforward.
I'll give an example. As Col. Barrows, John Mills spent several years in a POW camp during World War II, as a result of which he's about to pop. This is a golden opportunity for a dramatic flashback. Neame could have stopped the narrative short and taken us back to a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Burma or someplace, and then shown us Mills starving, Mills shivering with fever, Mills being waterboarded, Mills being beaten by sadistic guards, Mills crawling through the mud. But instead we see Mills and a younger captain (Gordon Jackson) racing along in a Jeep. Mills pulls the vehicle to a halt, slumps behind the wheel, and in a brief monologue he tells Jackson a little of his experiences. The scene lasts about two minutes. That's "economy." And it's all the more effective for not being spelled out in detail. The horrors are left to our imaginations.
The movie is a Shakespearian kind of tragedy addressed to adults and the script leaves a lot to the viewer's own judgment. There are no easy "good guys" and "bad guys." That brings us to the acting and I'm reluctant to get into it for fear of running out of space. Alec Guiness is Jock Sinclair, the long-time temporary commander of the Scottish regiment who is replaced by an uptight, by-the-book John Mills. Guiness has never been better. He's been as good before, but not better. Let's just say he embodies the bluff, raucous, whisky-loving, brave, deceitful, superior officer, very different from his Col. Nicholson in "The Bridge on the River Kwai."
He has the most screen time, but John Mills has the more complicated role -- a commander new to his post, unknown to his men, given to following the kinds of rules that Guiness has made a point of ignoring, slightly deranged by his war experiences, loyal to the regiment and willing to compromise his principles for its sake.
When Mills lets Guiness get away with a major public offense, Guiness tells him he's grateful, but then goes on to celebrate what he deems his victory over Mills. Guiness and his loyal officers carry on loudly and drunkenly at one end of the table while Mills sits humiliated and alone at the other. Mills loses more than his dignity. One of the officers -- next in command, in fact -- is Dennis Price, in a splendid performance. Want a challenge? Figure out if he's a "good guy" or a "bad guy." Justify your answers. Five minutes allowed, beginning -- now! The location, which looks more like the Edinburgh Castle than a military barracks, are almost as beautiful as the teen-aged Susannah York.
Alec Guinness' performance in this has to be seen to be believed. He is one of the best actors ever to appear in movies. Everything about this movie is spellbinding, the location, the actors, who are all flawless. You feel as if you are part of this regiment, watching as Alec preens and struts in front of his "babies" telling ribald jokes, drinking to unconsciousness, keeping tight control of the boys. Then John Mills comes to assume command and Alec is shown for the shrewd, conniving, manipulative person he is. As a study in personalities and the regimental philosophy, this is A 1 and should not be missed by any true movie buff. The disintegration of the formerly fearless Jock at the end is one of the best performances on film I have ever seen. 9 out of 10.
I think all the other reviewers have said just about everything regarding Tunes of Glory. Probably having the author of the novel the film is based on write the screenplay insured conveying just what the author intended about men in crisis. Alec Guinness and John Mills never did anything better, including the films each won Oscars for.
But the thing that most impressed me is the ensemble cast. Every role no matter how small is meticulously cast and the actors give well rounded performances. It is a lot like the military service films that John Ford did in America. In fact there's more than a passing resemblance to Fort Apache in the rivalry between Guinness and Mills here and John Wayne and Henry Fonda in Fort Apache. The comedy involving the enlisted men is pure Ford.
It has been the movie that made me fall in love with highland bagpipes, in 1970. I would love to have a DVD in Italian for my collection. Thw b/w movie is stirring my soul when I hear of pipes played in the ancient barracks. I remember the sensation as it was yesterday, and from that moment the bagpipes began to be an obsession for me. I started playing in 1975 and still continue being one of the oldest pipers here around. If someone has news about an Italian version of the movie please send comment to firstname.lastname@example.org. Major Jock Sinclair is one of my favorites and the brave Sir Alec Guinnes is here at top of his performances, equaled only in Colonel Nicholson's part in Bridge over River Kway.
I've always been impressed by the performances of British screen actors... Jack Hawkins, John Mills, Roger Livesley, Sean Connery, even Rita Tushingham... have ALL, at one time or another shown the uncanny ability to not ACT a part, but actually BECOME the characters they portrayed.
The all time grand prize for this sort of transformation goes to Alec Guiness, both in BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, but even more so in TUNES OF GLORY.
The final officer's briefing that Guiness, as Colonel "Jock" Sinclair, gives concerning the funeral arrangements for Colonel Barrow, is ELECTRIFYING! In five minutes of screen time we see a man completely change from a self confident military officer to an emotionally disturbed wreck of a human being. It's FRIGHTENING, and the ne plus ultra of the actor's craft.
The film itself is EXCELLENT, but Guiness's performance is the capstone.
Some of the reviewers stated that the Germans torture Col. Barrows during the War. If they had paid more attention, they would have discovered that it was the Japanese would torture Barrows.
Colonel Barrows informed Sinclair that he spend jail time in a Japanese POW camp after Sinclair stated that he did time in a civilian jail before joining the army. Furthermore, Barrows inform his adjutant when they were in a jeep near a lake about being tortured by the Japanese.
In addition, if you look at Col. Barrows' ribbon bar, one of them is the Burma Star for fighting the Japanese in World War II Burma from 1941-45. There is no Africa, Italy, or Germany Star on Barrows' uniform to show that he fought the Germans. Finally, there was nothing in the movie about whether Barrows fought the Germans in 1940 Norway, 1940 France, 1941 Greece, 1941 Crete, or assisting the various resistance movements in Occupied Europe.
Sinclair got rapid promotion as an officer. He enlisted in the army in 1933 and won the Military Medal; however, that medal was awarded only to enlisted and NCO ranks, so he must have won it along with the General Service Medal for seeing action during the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine and then was shortly commissioned during or after the revolt because World War II in Europe broke out in September 1939 and three years late, Sinclair become temporarily battalion commander during the Battle of El Alamein and won the Distinguished Service Order (awarded to officers only).
Alec Guiness is Mozart to Marlon Brando's Beethoven. Arguably, the two finest actors of the 20th century, they are poles apart. While it is impossible to see Guiness as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, it is equally impossible to see Brando as Jock Sinclair in Tunes of Glory.
Both roles are deeply masculine, but Tunes of Glory reaches subtleties of character that Waterfront never approached. And Guiness was probably the only actor that could carry it out so well.
I won't repeat what others here have already said so well, but only to encourage the reader to see this masterpiece of acting, setting, and story. The emotional crescendo to Guiness'es final brilliant, devastating denouement is as powerful and profound as it was over 40 years ago.
This movie is for adults only - in the best sense.
One of my all time favourites and one of the few movies that I own.
Guinness is superb, but so is the entire cast. As in many British films, even the bit parts are acting gems. I particularly enjoy the work of Duncan Macrae as the Pipe Major. I first saw him in the original version of The Little Kidnappers.
This is the kind of movie you can watch repeatedly for the acting, direction and the fabulous dialogue.
It's October 10, 2008, and I've just watched Tunes Of Glory on DVD. I give you the date because it is now more than 52 years since the end of World War II and that is relevant. Tunes Of Glory is about unresolved grief for friends and comrades in arms who have died in battle. Those now very old men who fought in WWII, those who fought in Korea, those who fought in Vietnam and Iraq, and those who fought in the many other smaller engagements around the world since then might be familiar with that grief, but a great many of us won't. Are great many of us are the baby-boomers who grew up to smoke dope and sneer at our father's generation and the occasional show of emotion they felt for friends and comrades alongside whom they had fought and who, unlike them, had been unable to cheat death. My father, born in 1923 and who enlisted in 1942, took part in the D-Day invasion in June 1944. He finally developed cancer in the late Eighties and died in 1991. But oddly enough he, a man who was always something of a hypochondriac all his life, spoke nor one word of complaint when he was, for once, very ill and knew he was to die. He said that after seeing so many of his friends and comrades killed in the war, every day since then had been a gift and he could not complain now that his life was finally going to come to an end. Tunes Of Glory is a film for his generation. The two main characters, portrayed by Alec Guinness and John Mills, have neither of them really come to terms with their experiences in the war and the deaths of comrades in arms, but both coped with it in different ways. Mills retreats into being a stickler but that doesn't save him from his grief. Guinness copes far better but is still damaged, but at least he survives. Both are very different characters, both strong in their own way, but both also weak. The Mills character, ironically, demonstrates his strength by going against the grain and giving way. The Guinness character's weakness is more hidden - he has the affection and loyalty of his men, but his flaw is that that affection and loyalty is vital to him. Without it and the battalion he led for a while, it seems that his whole life might fall apart. The film itself is quite static and this production would not be out of place on a stage. But that is no criticism. It is not a director's film, but an actor's film - you watch the film for the story and acting, not the direction and cinematography. In that sense it is quite old-fashioned, but that, too, is no criticism. The only drawback is that it might mean nothing at all to the MTV generation and that it might only be fully appreciated again once - heaven forbid - we have another world war and once again men and women are destined to cope somehow with a grief they find almost impossible to express. In that sense - in the sense that until this planet becomes uninhabitable and mankind ceases to exist, we will always go to war and we will always lose friends and comrade in arms and we will always ask ourselves: why did I survive but not him or her - this film will always carry an emotional clout and will be timeless.