Gales, Gaelic, and romance in the Hebrides …

Give me time, and I could be a fairly big fan of the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (a.k.a. “the Archers”). I already love 49th Parallel (1941) and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), quite possibly the best and most self-critical war-time propaganda movies ever made — I devoted a few paragraphs to them in an article on war movies for Books & Culture — and I am intrigued by the spiritual implications of Black Narcissus (1947). But I wouldn’t say I know their works well enough to comment on them at any great length; I just happen to enjoy them.

A couple nights ago I had the privilege of introducing my wife to I Know Where I’m Going! (1945), which in some ways is a typical romantic comedy populated by eccentric, rustic supporting characters, but it’s got a wit and a charm and even a surrealism that make it better than most films in its genre. FWIW, Deanna and I generally roll our eyes whenever we come across any film about someone who falls in love with someone new just days before his or her wedding, but this film sets out its terms (people with money are shallow and snobby, people without it are full of life) so starkly and humorously that it doesn’t really matter — this is clearly fantasy, a grand myth, and not reality. And the dream sequence, in which Wendy Hiller imagines that she is marrying “Consolidated Chemical Industries” itself and not the man who happens to own or run the company, is beautifully strange.

A few things jumped out at me, both while watching the film and while watching the DVD bonus features. Apparently Roger Livesey came nowhere near the Hebrides during the entire shoot — all his seemingly outdoor scenes were done either with a stand-in or against a screen, and while it did seem obvious in a few shots, I never would have guessed that this was true of the entire film. It also seems that that wonderfully silly telephone booth by the waterfall is real, and still exists there. And that aloof, aristocratic little girl is played by Petula Clark, who went on to become a star of Swinging London in the ’60s, singing ‘Downtown’ and co-starring with Peter O’Toole in Goodbye Mr. Chips! (The Archers seem to have had a knack for finding female stars when they were young; a teenaged Glynis Johns appeared in 49th Parallel decades before her roles in The Court Jester and Mary Poppins.)

I am also struck by the segue which begins with the camera coming in tight on a train station employee’s hat, which then puffs smoke, before the image dissolves to a train’s chimney. It’s one thing for Hitchcock to make a simple cut from an image of a woman about to scream to an image of a train whistle, as he did in The 39 Steps, but it’s quite another for a filmmaker to rig up a prop to do something on the set as strange as that puffing hat!

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  • BethR

    Delighted to hear that you and Deanna enjoyed I Know Where I’m Going. I discovered it via Criterion DVD a month or so ago and not only enjoyed it greatly for the qualities you note, but also for the scenery and B&W; cinematography (though I’m no expert there!). Then I got an unexpected “six-degrees-of separation” surprise in the “home movies” featurette, which revealed that Powell had been a close friend of Alastair Dunnett, the husband of one of my favorite authors, historical novelist Dorothy Dunnett.

    So–time to re-view The Red Shoes, I guess.