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Tunes of Glory

Tunes of Glory(1960)

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teaser Tunes of Glory (1960)

Following the success of their collaboration on the comedy The Horse's Mouth (1958), director Ronald Neame and actor Alec Guinness (who received an Academy Award nomination for his screenplay for that film) teamed up again. Using several of the same cast and crew members from the earlier movie, the duo made Tunes of Glory (1960), a dark psychological drama about two officers of a Highland regiment, each very different in background and style of command, resulting in conflict and competition with tragic results.

The genesis of the project is a little unclear. Some sources (including a biographer of Guinness) say Tunes of Glory was actually offered first to John Mills; the actor felt the project would benefit from another star of equal talent and importance and approached Guinness about playing one of the two officers. Neame, on the other hand, said he was given the screenplay by independent producer Colin Lesslie and that he spoke to Guinness about it first. In either case, the expectation was that the polished Guinness would play the Oxford-educated upper-crust Lt. Col. Basil Barrow, who does everything strictly by the rules (the type of character that had earned Guinness a Best Actor Academy Award for The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957). Mills, with his ordinary everyman image and appeal, would portray Major Jock Sinclair, a hard-drinking, working-class military man who had risen through the ranks to achieve temporary command of the regiment, which he exercises with a mixture of charisma and camaraderie. In an interesting twist, the two actors decided to go against the expected typecasting and switched their roles, in part motivated, no doubt, by Guinness's decision to avoid a repeat of his Kwai performance.

Guinness's part was the flashier role, giving him yet another opportunity to create a character through outward appearance (ginger mustache and hairpiece) and language (thick Scots accent). It is one of his finest and favorite performances (his wife always considered it his best), and it earned him a British Film Academy (BAFTA) Best Actor nomination. Mills's role was less showy but no less complex and difficult, and his work (also one his favorites and among his best) earned him the Best Actor Award at the 1960 Venice Film Festival, as well as a BAFTA nomination.

The screenplay of Tunes of Glory was nominated for an American Academy Award. It was adapted by James Kennaway from his own novel based on his experiences serving with the Gordon Highlanders after World War II. The title refers to the military airs and marches played on bagpipes, and Malcolm Arnold, who had written the memorable music for The Bridge on the River Kwai, composed the suitably evocative bagpipe music that plays throughout the film.

Joining Neame and Guinness from The Horse's Mouth was Kay Walsh, once again playing Guinness's put-upon sometimes girlfriend; cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson, who had been promoted from camera operator by Neame on the previous picture; and editor Anne V. Coates, an Oscar® winner a short time later for her work on Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

Although most of the film was shot at Shepperton Studios in London, Neame also wanted to include some footage from Stirling Castle in Argyllshire, Scotland, the actual regimental base that Kennaway had written into his story. The author, director, and producer went there to meet the commanding officer, who was happy to cooperate with the production, as long as the shooting didn't interfere with the regiment's routine. Neame and company left him a copy of the script to read for his final approval. When they returned a few days later, they found a paperback copy of the novel with a lurid cover sitting on the officer's desk next to the screenplay. In a cheap marketing ploy, the illustration showed Major Sinclair holding a bottle of Scotch with his girlfriend sitting on his lap. The scene was nowhere in either the book or the script, but the commander said he would never let the Argylls participate in a film where the officer was depicted that way. After much cajoling, the only thing the film company was able to secure from him was an agreement to film some exteriors of the castle as long as it was not identified or too recognizable. The shots appear under the opening titles and at the end of the film.

Tunes of Glory marked the big screen debut of Susannah York, who would later be nominated for an Academy Award and win a BAFTA award as Best Supporting Actress for They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969). Guinness agreed to test with the inexperienced 19-year-old actress. After the test was complete, York was on the train going home when it suddenly hit her: "My God I've just done a screen test with Alec Guinness!"

Director: Ronald Neame
Producers: Albert Fennell, Colin Lesslie
Screenplay: James Kennaway, based on his novel
Cinematography: Arthur Ibbetson
Editing: Anne V. Coates
Production Design: Wilfred Shingleton
Original Music: Malcolm Arnold
Cast: Alec Guinness (Maj. Jock Sinclair), John Mills (Lt. Col. Basil Barrow), Dennis Price (Maj. Charles Scott), Kay Walsh (Mary Titterington), John Fraser (Cpl. Piper Ian Fraser), Susannah York (Morag Sinclair).

by Rob Nixon

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