In the grand tradition of such Scotland based films as I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and Alexander Mackendrick's Tight Little Island (1949), Local Hero (1983) is a sly, comic sleeper of a movie and confirmed Bill Forsyth's promise as a director after the critically acclaimed Gregory's Girl (1981), the first of his features to receive a wide U.S. release. Decidedly small in scale and featuring a cast of mostly unknown Scottish actors with the exception of New York native Peter Riegert, the film is particularly notable for the presence of Burt Lancaster in a supporting role.
Lancaster was in the middle of a career renaissance at the time, having just been nominated the previous year for a Best Actor Oscar for his work in Atlantic City (1980). Continuing his quest for unique and offbeat roles, the actor fell in love with Forsyth's screenplay for Local Hero and was particularly fond of the eccentric, star-gazing millionaire who sets the whole plot in motion, even though he wasn't the main character. To Forsyth's amazement, Lancaster agreed to do the film for less than his standard fee.
Having Lancaster on location in Pennan (near Inverlochy Castle in northeast Scotland) was like a dream come true for the local cast and crew. In Burt Lancaster: An American Life (Alfred A. Knopf), author Kate Buford wrote: "Twenty-three at the time, and in his first movie, (Peter) Capaldi remembered the star mainly...from Birdman of Alcatraz. 'No one really believed that this Hollywood star was going to appear in our midst,' he said. 'And when he did, he exuded such charm and openness that people just fell all over themselves to be around him.' He was still the old Lancaster, however. He told Capaldi, who speaks in the film....in a distinct Glasgow accent: 'I gotta tell you kid, you've fabulous instinct. But I can't understand a f*cking word you say.' He ribbed Forsyth as the director who spoke 'no known language.'"
Lancaster's biographer also concludes that there was "a Brigadoon aura about the filming of Local Hero. Lancaster appeared out of the Hollywood sky, telling Tinseltown tales to a rapt audience, picking up checks, answering questions about Birdman of Alcatraz from the locals for whom it was as fresh and vivid as a new release. He liked and trusted Forsyth...When he left the production, 'we were all quite sad,' recalled Capaldi....They don't make these roles any longer...These men who can be trusted to help. We were all brought up with that. The movies told us that there was always a guy who could sort it all out. I think it was wrong that it was always a guy, but that's just the way it was.'
It's true that Local Hero seems to belong to another place and time and there is a beguiling quality about the setting that makes some viewers want to chuck their current responsibilities and retreat to this magical place, far removed from the rat race. For this reason alone, Local Hero has developed a strong and loyal cult following. The soundtrack by former Dire Straits member, Mark Knopfler, was also popular and helped launch Knopfler's career as a film composer. He has since composed the movie scores for such films as Cal (1984), The Princess Bride (1987), and Wag the Dog (1997).
Producer: David Puttnam, Iain Smith (associate producer)
Director/Screenplay: Bill Forsyth
Production Design: Roger Murray-Leach
Cinematography: Chris Menges
Costume Design: Penny Rose
Film Editing: Michael Bradsell
Original Music: Guy Fletcher, Mark Knopfler
Principal Cast: Burt Lancaster (Felix Happer), Peter Riegert (Mac MacIntyre), Fulton Mackay (Ben Knox), Denis Lawson (Gordon Urquhart), Norman Chancer (Moritz), Jenny Seagrove (Marina), Peter Capaldi (Danny Oldsen).
By Jeff Stafford