TUNES OF GLORY
Review by Ed Nguyen
Alec Guinness, John Mills, Dennis Price, Kay Walsh, Susannah York, John Fraser
Director: Ronald Neame
Audio: English monaural 1.0
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 1.66:1
Features: Trailer, interviews, essay
Length: 106 minutes
Release Date: February 17, 2004
always think good of them, but there's none of them live up to you."
Neame will not be a familiar name to many, but in British cinema, this
cinematographer later-turned-director was somewhat of a Renaissance man.
At the start of his career, he was a director of photography and worked
on several of David Lean's earliest films.
Later, Neame moved on to producer duties (and sometimes screenwriter
duties as well), collaborating on such acknowledged David Lean classics as Brief
Encounter and Great Expectations.
Neame's own directorial career did not begin until 1947 with Take
My Life, but afterwards, it would encompass such recognizable films in the
twilight of his career as The Odessa File,
The Poseidon Adventure, and Scrooge
(he even directed my favorite Hayley Mills film, The
of Glory is
a 1960 film which Neame adapted from a novel by James Kennaway, who also wrote
the screenplay. Despite the film's
rather chipper title, it is not a musical but rather a dramatic film that uses regimental military life as allegory to the class hierarchy of traditional
English society. One of the film's
best assets is a stellar cast that benefits from the presence of two of
England's greatest actors - Alec Guinness and John Mills.
portrays Jock Sinclair, a whiskey-drinking, high-spirited major.
He is the current acting-colonel of a Scottish military battalion, and
being lenient with regulations,
unlike they would teach in
online criminal justice programs, is fairly liked by his men.
However, as Tunes of Glory
begins, a new replacement commander has arrived to take over control of the
battalion. He is Basil Barrow (John
Mills), a stiff upper-lip and strictly by-the-books colonel.
The consequent clash of personalities and military methods between these
two men provides the dramatic fire in the film's battle of wills.
Guinness was originally offered the role of Basil Barrow.
However, he felt that it was too similar to his Oscar-winning role from The
Bridge on the River Kwai. Instead,
Guinness chose to play the character of Sinclair, whose boisterous personality
was very much a polar opposite to his own nature in reality. Nevertheless, Guinness, being a consummate method actor,
delivered what is considered one of his finest performances.
Sporting red hair, a deep voice, and a Scottish accent, Guinness the
actor simply disappears into his role, and the difference between his Major
Sinclair and Bridge's Colonel
Nicholson could not be more startling.
Mills, of course, was no slouch in the acting department either.
Though he is probably best remembered today as father to the popular
1960's starlet Hayley Mills, his performance as the strict Colonel Barrow in Tunes
of Glory is likewise one of his finest (and coincidentally one of his
personal favorites, too). For his
performance, Mills received the best actor award from the Venice Film Festival.
It is not a surprise that Mills eventually won an Oscar of his own and,
as with Guinness, was knighted by the Queen of England for excellence in the
supporting cast is also quite solid, being comprised of several of Britain's
familiar character actors of the day. Dennis
Price plays Major Charles Scott, Sinclair's friend who later turns against him
in the film. Duncan Macrae steals
his scenes as Pipe Major Duncan MacLean, and Kay Walsh is effective as actress
Mary Titterington, Sinclair's long-suffering sweetheart.
Also in the cast is a young Susannah York (before she became a star) as
Sinclair's daughter; her ill-advised romance with a soldier in the battalion
will lead to the dire consequences which propel the film towards its powerful
of Glory is
set in the post-world war two era. Sinclair,
a boisterous soldier, dulls the current monotony of the peace with whiskey and
spontaneous gigs for his fellow officers. Barrow,
however, is a rules-and-regulations man, and after assuming Sinclair's command,
he sets about with his strict drills and dress codes. Barrow finds fault in the men's loose adherence to the daily
schedules. He looks keenly for
errors in Sinclair's previous paperwork. He
even frets upon how the officers conduct themselves socially in their free time.
Consequently, Barrow is given little regard by Sinclair, and Sinclair's
estimate of the colonel is further diminished by Barrow's declaration, at their
first encounter, that he prefers mild lemonade to whiskey.
is not really a bad man, of course. We
learn more of Barrow's character as the film progresses and begin to understand
the influences of his background and breeding.
Sinclair might be considered a society man, whereas Barrow would be the
man's man, someone whose own strength of character and self-determination,
rather than family connections, has carried him to his current status in the
military. What both men hold in
common are their proud and stubborn beliefs in their own values and personal
principles. That these values
should inherently clash is a matter of propriety, which by normal accounts
should be handled delicately behind closed doors.
Instead, in Tunes of Glory,
these differences come to the forefront and dictate the very public actions of
these men, not entirely to either's benefit by the conclusion of the film.
it is a drama, Tunes of Glory is not
without its moments of levity. There
is a sequence (play for comic effect) in which Barrow orders his officers to
undergo early morning dancing drills prior to a military benefit party.
The sight of grown soldiers, dressed in skirts (okay fine, kilts),
twirling around with each other as partners, is pretty amusing.
In fact, viewers should quickly become accustomed to seeing soldiers in
kilts (this film is about the Scottish military, after all).
And, a lot of the film's music is performed by bagpipes.
I might even suggest that, as a precaution, anyone seriously allergic to
bagpipe music consider forgoing this film, although that would also mean missing
out on some great performances as well.
John Mills provides a very fine, multi-layered performance as Colonel Barrow,
the heart and soul of the film belongs to Alec Guinness.
His swaggering Major Sinclair may have many faults and even comes across
as somewhat unlikable at times, but there is such an energy and forcefulness to
Sinclair that we ultimately come to like this flawed, overbearing man.
His impassioned speech in defense of Barrow, of all people, at the film's
conclusion shows a fortitude of character that overcomes whatever hindrance his
own pride would normally impose upon him.
Alec Guinness (somewhat to his chagrin) will probably always be remembered for
playing a wise, old Jedi master. Still,
had he been able to sway the public's perception of him, he would have preferred
to be properly embraced for what was his personal favorite of all his
performances - that of Major Sinclair in Tunes
of Glory. It is a sentiment
echoed by co-star John Mills as well. With
such talent on the film, it is no wonder that Ronald Neame's Tunes
of Glory has stood the test of time to remain us all of how truly great
these actors were in their prime.
of Glory is
presented in an anamorphic widescreen format.
The high-definition transfer was created from a 35mm interpositive.
The film is in Technicolor, a rarity for British films of the time.
The print is in good condition although due to the age of the film, it is
not quite pristine. There is a
grainy texture to the picture, otherwise it is generally clean of dust or
debris. There are some mild
instances of density fluctuation in the intensity of the film but nothing
significant. Slightly more
intrusive is a translucent, gray band that suddenly appears along the right side
of the frame at the 1:30 mark; fortunately, it vanishes about eight minutes
of Glory is
presented with its original English 1.0 audio.
The track has been cleaned up, so it sounds fairly nice, albeit with an
occasionally audible trace of buzz or distortion at higher frequencies.
Sound arises predominately from the center speaker, with 2-channel
playback possible, if desired. Despite
some obvious limitations due to the monaural technology of the time, this audio
track is decent enough.
arrives from Criterion as a director-approved special edition DVD.
The company even acknowledges that the disc would not have been possible
without Neame's generous participation.
film trailer is available for Tunes of
Glory on this DVD. Of greater
interest, however, are the new interviews created exclusively for this Criterion
release. First up is a 23-minute
interview with director Ronald Neame. He talks about the original novel and author Kennaway, some
of the early pre-production work for the film (including a disastrous meeting
with a disgruntled Scottish commander), his experiences with the actors, and
there is a new 14-minute audio interview with actor Sir John Mills.
Recorded in 2002, it is heard over a still photograph of the actor.
The interview is generally informative, although the interviewer tends to
provide more facts about the film (or the actor) than does Mills, who seems
content to follow the lead of the questions with simple, bemused responses. Towards the end of the interview, Mills does offer several
interesting tidbits about the actual production and his own acting method.
A word of caution, though - while listening to this audio interview,
there are no options to fast-forward, reverse, or pause.
Furthermore, stopping the interview will send viewers back to the main
menu, so it is best to listen to this interview from start to finish.
third interview, a 15-minute archival clip from 1973, also appears on the disc.
It features Sir Alec Guinness in a rare TV interview for the BBC's Film
Extra. Guinness talks about his
early acting days and some of his experiences on the David Lean films.
There is also a brief mention of Tunes
of Glory near the end of the interview.
the package insert contains an essay on the film by film historian Robert
Murphy, author of British Cinema and the
Second World War. The essay
offers a perspective on the film's place in British cinema as well as the
similarities and differences between the film and the novel upon which it was