Powerful, inspiring satirical comedic film; Wendy Hiller is magnificent
Long before "Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day", the creators of the movie "I Know Where I'm Going", Directors-scenarists Michael Powell and Emmerich Pressburger had mined the same vein. The character of the heroine here is supportable only because she is young; she has grown up during the Depression, lived in an empire, Great Britain, and now she has endured the privations and dangers of WWII as well. The year is early 1945 and she surprises her father, a bank supervisor but not a rich man, by saying she has agreed to marry an older man--one who is immensely wealthy. She has always been strong-willed, intelligent, not versed in people and "proper'--in her case moral toward the real, ethical toward others but lacking in experience of many things--friendship, a societal order of normatives--and love. She finds herself on the far edge of Scotland staring through storm-roiled skies and across dangerous waters at the island rented by her fiancée from one Torquil MacNeil. And by chance it is MacNeil, striving to get home for a leave from the War, who is there to help her when she cannot get to his isle to marry her fiancée, his tenant. Against her inclinations, the heroine, Joan Webster, then has to interact with a wide spectrum of persons, animals and situations as she grows more and more frantic in her attempts to complete her original plan. In fact, she fights an epic battle for the major portion of the film against the idea that she has made an error in her thinking. The film's makers cunningly pit her commoner status against the stuck- up and silly upper-crust ways of the rich; we see her being kind to dogs, walking about outdoors, showing interest in an old curse and in old tales, and being charmed more than she will admit by the poor but proud Scottish folk who are kind and considerate to her. The key point in the film, for me as a writer, comes when Torquil explains to her that the people thereabouts aren't poor--"they just don't have much money". After she compels Toquil to risk his life so she and a young man bribed by her 20 pounds to try to get her to the Isle through hazardous seas can be saved, and he barely saves them all, everyone is angry with her--but he still says, "She's just young, she doesn't understand". At the last, as the adverse wind that has blown for days finally drops and she can sail to the island to be married, and because she has been running from him for days, Joan asks Torquil to kiss her. He does so, then goes into his ruined castle to read the curse on his line, which he's told her he would never do for fear of incurring it; and she marches off to the dock. The ending if the film is then fleshed out appropriately; I find the characters fascinating then and throughout, and the directing flawless by my judgment. A loch, waterfalls, eagles, whirlpools, roads, shorelines, skies and seas, interiors and the characters all contribute to the overall power and beauty of this exceptionally-memorable production. George Busby is credited as producer along with the writers, and there is clever music and sometimes authentic Scottish music also by Allan Gray and award-level cinematography by Erwin Hiller. The very fine production design and art direction are by Alfred Junge. Few of the large supporting cast have more than a single scene, but they are all uncommonly sincere in the parts they are asked to play. Murdo Morrison and Margot Fitzsimmons play a young affianced pair, Bridie and Kenny, he being bribed by Joan's money; his father is veteran character actor Finlay Currie. As the excitable falconer, Colonel Barnstaple does well, as do George Carney as Joan's father., Norman Shelley, only heard as her fiancée's voice over the radio, the Postmistress who operates the radio to the island, Jean Cadell; and Nancy Price is especially effective as Mrs. Crozier, while Valentine Dyall and Catherine Lacy are properly upper class as the Robinsons. Catriona, in whose house Joan learns so much, is skillfully played by Pamela Brown. But the two young people at the center of the film are Wendy Hiller as Joan Webster and Roger Livesey as Torquil MacNeil, Laird of Killorren. The script requires Joan to be a magnificent, since she is given little chance to be anything at all during the first half of the script except surprised, disappointed, stubborn or resentful. Wendy Hiller as Joan is at least as good in this work as she was in "Pygmalion" and "Separate Tables". So we see what MacNeil sees in her mostly through Hiller's stellar qualities, and so we fall in love with her even as he does. As MacNeil, Roger Livesey is a bit too old but otherwise a consummate professional as always. His rather breathy tenor voice is used beautifully here; we owe to the war his being allowed to play splendid leads in "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" and "I Know Where I'm Going", very accurately and with memorable effect. The famous whirlpool effect is splendidly done, especially for 1945; the sound recording is good. But the air of Scotland and the seriousness with which social satire is used to reveal to Joan, and to the audience, the shallowness of those who hunt for sport rather than in order to eat and build swimming pools when they have a grand bay are strong indeed. They help to make this one of the great films of all time; and, I suggest, a proof why great actors like Hiller deserve to play all parts requiring classical accent training, unusual professional capabilities and idea-level- motivated characterizations in dramatic and satirical roles--and not the merely attractive whose charm palls after a few minutes. A true classic.