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Monday, September 17, 2007

I Know Where I'm Going

Here's a film I would have never ventured to watch had I not come across it by accident on Turner Classic Movies.

This woman, Joan Webster, played by Wendy Hiller, is off to Scotland to marry some guy she obviously doesn't know too well. We know this ourselves because she has dinner with her father the night before she's scheduled to leave for the Hebrides. Her father tries to tell her to slow down and think about it but she: "KNOWS WHERE SHE'S GOING." (She doesn't scream it, as implied by the caps. But she might as well have. The setup is movie perfection.)

Joan has these directions to the island on which this guy has planned to marry her. She has to take the train from London to East Bumshoe, then another train from Bumshoe to Overloafen, a bus from Overloafen to Pudgydubby, a cab from Pudgyduddy to Shaddycrack, the ferry from there to some other weirdly named town, then the water taxi to yet another Scottish backwater, and finally a private skiff to the island.

Unfortunately, when she gets there, it's thick of fog. Swirling, smoky, impenetrable fog. Fog like you won't believe, unless you live in Scotland or Great Britain or Maine, like I do. Or you own a Hollywood fog machine, or work in a Russian spa, or live next door to Sherlock Holmes. You get the point.

So she can't get to the island. She has to stay at someone's house with a bunch of other people who are similarly stuck. At this point, we're only about five minutes into the film, which is just more of this movie's magic, because it's here she's dealt the classic "Call to Adventure" of the hero's journey. She meets a man, and not the one she's supposed to marry.

The man is Torquil Macneil, played by Roger Livesey; he wears a kilt and speaks in a heavy Scottish brogue, and although he's not exactly the most handsome leading man you ever saw, he does wear a kilt and speak in a heavy Scottish brogue, which makes him, apparently, very hot. Don't get me wrong, he's always the perfect gentleman. It's 1945 for God's sake.

Later that day, feeling rather threatened by this charming kilt-wearing Scotsman, she tries once again to get the boat to the island. She's told it's way to foggy but as soon as the wind comes around northwest, the fog will lift and they'll be able to go. That night, Joan, while lying in her bed at the Inn, prays for wind from the northwest.

In the morning Joan wakes to find her prayers answered. The fog has cleared. Unfortunately, it's because of a full blown northwest gale, which ends up sticking around for more than a week. She never makes it to the island.

This special gem of a movie is the product of one of the most creative collaborations in movie history, that of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

They had a gift for storytelling that is almost gone. Very often when you see a film today you're struck by inconsistencies, failures of logic, plot holes, gimmicks, etc. Or you're faced with a movie that just doesn't come together. Not the case with Powell and Pressburger films. Their movies have perfect structure; they engage you, keep moving toward a goal and wrap up all neat and tidy.

If you ever see this one on the video rental shelf, grab it and take it home. I guarantee you won't be disappointed, especially if you're trying to score some points in the romance game.


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