This is a great movie, embodying the art at its highest level.
Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller), a very bright and strong-willed young upper-middle-class urban British woman who from childhood on has shown great talent for what we now call “upward mobility,” is to marry fabulously wealthy middle-aged industrial tycoon Sir Robert Bellinger on Killoran Isle (which he has rented in its entirety) in the elemental Scottish Hebrides with their mythical aura. Traveling alone to her wedding by train and boat from Manchester, Joan is stranded on the Isle of Mull for several days, only a short boat trip from Killoran, by a severe storm and ensuing high seas. She meets a fellow traveler, Torquil MacNeil, a poor Scots naval officer also visiting Killoran (and who turns out to be the Lord of Killoran sans the wealth such a position used to bequeath and who is renting the island to Bellinger), Torquil on a furlough from the now nearly ended World War Two, and, of course, Joan and Torquil fall in love.
The classic movie love story.
The co-directors and co-writers are Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Probably their World War Two film, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, nudges out I Know Where I’m Going! as their best-known movie; but I Know Where I’m Going! is surely their best movie. (The notoriety of Blimp was owing in part to Churchill despising that anti-war absurd comedy owing to Churchill’s determined opposition to defeatism in Dark Days, days which obliged/relied upon Heroic Stoic Resolve as essential to Survival-Revival. But now, over a half century after the Real Peril of that Dire Real, I think that strained aesthetics and slap-happy slapstick mar Blimp as well as its hopeless hope of the ostrich in the sand box.)
I Know Where I’m Going! is on the Mount Olympus of movie-making for the few, essential reasons: the ancient ever-true storytelling imperative of unity of time, place and action holds (and it’s really amazing how often it doesn’t!); the love-story drama, that never-failing narrative proposition, is basic human mythology proven to spellbind each of us and, here, is simply sublimely done; the screenplay (Oscar) is stripped to the essential suspenseful action-moving scenes which (a) enable/defeat/enable the heroine in reaching her soon conflicted/complicated goal and (b) allows no interruption/distraction from same (they must have cut this movie with a chain saw and a blowtorch, then starved it on a sadistic diet over several months because there is no body fat anywhere); the moving pictures themselves, without the dialog, would convey the essential drama–after all this is a movie; the drama itself is intense, a conflict which through a natural, largely psychological barrier (Joan stews long about changing her mind against her girlhood dreams) postpones until the very last seconds of the story the restoration of order, the realizing of the heroine’s heart winning out (falling back on the tried-and-true old principle in the venerable love-story tradition of delay, the sword placed between the bedded lovers to symbolize and impose a painful chastity which creates a finally unbearable tension–in short, here we must speak a hailing welcome to our Old Dear Friend and Temporary Stern Punishing One, Drama, whose riveting influence we all desperately need for sanity and confidence–indeed for making our difficult way through the world–if for a lot of complex, somewhat baffling, perhaps ever inscrutable, reasons); and, finally and importantly, the perspective of the movie reminds of the Athenian-Stage/Kabuki-Theater perspective on dramatic action, a pure and fundamental and not-distracting one you likewise expect in movies from Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Kubrick, and ilk. The resolution isn’t great enough to show the dent in the Yellow Cab that bore the Zodiac killer to his first murder back there in the late 60s or to zoom on the 555-1234 phone number in so many movies, those annoying little instances of “verisimilitude” that interrupt the flow of the elemental: you wouldn’t want to know of King Lear’s sword that it was Made in China as etched into the blade just above the handle.
I Know Where I’m Going! is not: an affliction movie; feminist; correct; Cinderella. It’s especially not a chick flick. Joan Webster is worlds from there. She’s self-possessed, ambitious, capable, and attractive–very much up-to-date. She’s an authentic heroine.
Further: In its background, its place, I Know Where I’m Going! is a magnificent paean to Scotland. It’s worth seeing simply for its mythical beauty. The old drama of stunned humanity on the Old Earth–the traditions, the elders, the olden heroes, the happy as well as harsh realities–is evoked unforgettably: or I should say, shown.
Above all, the love drama, familiar from the beginning, will engross you despite your best efforts to resist.
Besides, you won’t want to miss the wonderful sub-story about the eagle, the fox, the hunters and the sheep–it’s positively Aesopean (the eagle is very important to the point of this superb movie). Nor do you want to miss the appearance of that great old veteran actor, now long-gone, Finlay Currie, in an essential role. If any actor ever “looked the part,” it’s him. And besides, and again, this is a moving picture, so the first requirement is to dramatize by showing.