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One of the best loved of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's films, I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) is a dizzyingly delirious blend of romance, comedy, adventure, mythology, mysticism and folklore. Ambitious Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) knows where she's going - to one of Scotland's remote Hebrides islands, to marry a rich industrialist, whom she doesn't love. Nature has other plans for her, however. Bad weather prevents her from reaching her destination, leaving her stranded on another island, and throwing her together with a dashing naval officer Torquil MacNeil (Roger Livesey), and an assortment of eccentric islanders.
I Know Where I'm Going! might never have been made if it hadn't been for wartime restrictions. In 1944, Powell and Pressburger were planning to make a big-budget Technicolor film to cement Anglo-American relations, but couldn't get access to Technicolor cameras because the U.S. Army was using them to make training films. While they were waiting, they decided to make a smaller, personal film. In his memoirs, Powell writes that Pressburger said he had always wanted to make a film about a girl who wants to go to an island, but is delayed by weather, and once the weather clears, she no longer wants to go. Powell asked why she wanted to go to the island in the first place. "Emeric smiled one of his mysterious smiles. 'Let's make the film and find out.'"
Pressburger reportedly wrote the story for I Know Where I'm Going! in five days. Both men worked on the script, and finished it in three weeks. Wendy Hiller, who had lost the leading role in their film, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) to Deborah Kerr, was their first choice for Joan. They offered the part of Torquil to an up-and-coming young actor, James Mason, and Powell met with Mason, enthusiastically describing the rugged location where they would camp, and the climactic storm and whirlpool sequence. Mason was not amused, and soon after, Powell got a telegram from him saying he "did not propose to play Boy Scouts for anybody, and would expect first-class transportation and accommodation." Powell began looking for another actor.
Roger Livesey, who had played Colonel Blimp, wanted the role, but at first Powell resisted. Torquil was supposed to be in his twenties, and physically fit. Livesey was over forty and overweight, but he wanted the part so badly that he lost weight and bleached his hair, so he looked the part. There was one other problem. Livesey was in a play in London, and the producers would not release him to go on location. So as it turned out, Livesey played the part, but never left London. Powell used a double in the Scottish exteriors, intercutting close-ups of Livesey shot in a London studio. "I'm not sure, but I think it was one of the cleverest things I did in movies," Powell recalled. "What a pity James Mason didn't trust me more. He need never have gone on location at all, and the rest of us could have played Boys Scouts to our hearts' content." Powell and Mason would finally work together twenty-four years later in Powell's final film as director, Age of Consent (1969).
Livesey's double was only one example of I Know Where I'm Going!'s technical wizardry. Most of the Vorryvreckan Whirlpool sequence was shot in a studio tank, supplemented with shots of real whirlpools that Powell himself had filmed while tied to a mast, and rear-projection shots of Livesey and Hiller.
Hiller didn't want to play Boy Scouts either, and stayed in a hotel during the location filming, but Pamela Brown, who played the self-sufficient Catriona, roughed it with the crew, even though she suffered from arthritis and was in constant pain. She and Powell fell in love during filming. Both were married, but their relationship would last until her death more than thirty years later.
Also in the cast was a precocious thirteen-year-old girl who had become a singing star entertaining the troops during the war, and had recently started a film career. Her name was Petula Clark, and she would become a child star in British films, then would re-invent herself as a pop singer in the early 1960s.
Executives at the Rank Organisation, where Powell and Pressburger had their production company, The Archers, didn't like I Know Where I'm Going!, and especially didn't like all the island culture in the film -- the music, the Gaelic language, the mysticism. According to Powell, "They weren't very sure that the public wanted a strange wayward story loaded with Celtic sounds and voices, and which seemed to them to have no relation to the facts of 1945." But audiences and critics found its love story, picturesque setting, anti-materialism message, and Erwin Hillier's stunning cinematography captivating. I Know Where I'm Going! received excellent reviews, especially in America. Novelist Raymond Chandler wrote in a letter to a friend, "I've never seen a picture which smelled of the wind and rain in quite this way nor one which so beautifully exploited the kind of scenery people actually live with, rather than the kind which is commercialized as a show place."
A few years later, Powell and Pressburger were in Hollywood, and Pressburger had lunch with a friend at Paramount, who told him that the studio had a copy of I Know Where I'm Going! "which they showed to writers as an example of how a perfect screenplay should be constructed," according to Powell.
Powell and Pressburger eventually made their big-budget Technicolor fantasy, A Matter of Life and Death (1946), and its message of Anglo-American cooperation was effective and respectfully received. But it is their small, personal black-and-white afterthought of a film that has become a well-loved masterpiece. To Powell, I Know Where I'm Going! was simply, "the sweetest film we ever made."
Director: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Producer: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Screenplay: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Cinematography: Erwin Hillier
Editor: John Seabourne
Art Direction: Alfred Junge
Music: Allan Gray
Cast: Roger Livesey (Torquil MacNeil), Wendy Hiller (Joan Webster), Pamela Brown (Catriona Potts), Nancy Price (Mrs. Crozier), Finlay Currie (Ruairidh Mur), John Laurie (John Campbell), George Carney (Mr. Webster), Walter Hudd (Hunter), Murdo Morrison (Kenny), Margot Fitzsimons (Birdie), Petula Clark (Cheril).
by Margarita Landazuri