Tunes of Glory (1960)

Tunes of Glory (1960)

“Though shalt not bash a corporal: that’s different; that’s the law.”

When a new commander (John Mills) arrives to take over a Scottish Highlands battalion, the resentful acting officer (Alec Guinness) becomes drunk, at which points he lashes out at a young bagpiper (John Fraser) seen in a pub with his daughter (Susannah York), and must face the severe consequences of his actions.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alec Guinness Films
  • John Mills Films
  • Military
  • Rivalry
  • Susannah York Films

Ronald Neame directed this adaptation of a 1956 novel by James Kennaway, about tense dynamics between radically different leaders at a Scottish Highlands military base shortly after the end of World War II. Guinness — who starred in Neame’s previous feature, The Horse’s Mouth (1958) — was originally considered a shoo-in for the rule-following character played by Mills, but Guinness wanted the challenge of playing a commander much different from his Oscar-winning role as Col. Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).

Mills — whose character suffers from military-induced PTSD (he was water-boarded while a POW) — is in the unfortunate position of taking over command from a charismatic individual whose men mostly love him; when faced with meting out a harsh but required reprimand to Guinness, the extent of Mills’s shattered nerves comes into sharp focus.

To its credit, the film doesn’t present either man as either entirely likable or villainous, thus making the film’s shocking final third especially challenging to take in. Among numerous memorable faces in the cast (including Gordon Jackson and Duncan MacRae), watch for Kay Walsh as Guinness’s sometimes-girlfriend:

… Susannah York (in her cinematic debut) as Guinness’s grown daughter:

… and Dennis Price in a crucial supporting role as an oily major.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Alec Guinness as Major Jock Sinclair
  • John Mills as Lt. Col. Basil Burrow
  • Fine production design

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a one-time look for Guinness’s performance.


One thought on “Tunes of Glory (1960)

  1. First viewing (5/11/14). A once-must for Guinness’ performance. As posted in ‘Film Junkie’ (fb):

    ‘Tunes of Glory’: Hadn’t seen this and had no idea of the story – only knew it was an Alec Guinness performance I hadn’t seen. He’s amazing; it’s a very detailed character turn. I thought the film might be along the lines of Kubrick’s ‘Paths of Glory’ but there’s no actual war here, save the war of wills between two commanding officers. Apparently it tends to be quite the heavy emotional load, being the one in-charge.

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