Home Video Hovel: Tunes of Glory, by David Bax
Ronald Neame’s Tunes of Glory (out now on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection) is a movie about soldiers and thus has plenty of the stern, rough-hewn masculinity you might expect from the sub-genre. But, as the title suggests, it also has way more music (not to mention dancing!) than you’d think. The persistent and lovely sound of bagpipes is almost enough to drown out the sound of men’s inner demons clawing at each other’s psyches.
It’s just after World War II and a Scottish military regiment has returned to their peacetime highlands camp. And Colonel Sinclair (Alec Guinness), the well-loved commanding officer who led them in battle and drank with them after, is being replaced. Now that the war is over, the reins are being handed to an academy-trained upper class gentleman named Colonel Barrow (John Mills), who served in the same regiment as a younger man. Barrow’s attempts to return the rowdy band of brothers to a respectable, traditional unit create factions among the soldiers and start Sinclair on the path to a breakdown.
Englishman Guinness plays Scotsman Sinclair with cropped red hair and an equally bristly demeanor. Mills, meanwhile, with the posture and diction of the matriculated, is the polar opposite of his Oscar-winning performance as the village idiot in Ryan’s Daughter. Giving both of them a run for their money, though, is Dennis Price (Kind Hearts and Coronets), as an officer with a posh accent and a liver made of steel.
If the question is whether Sinclair or Barrow is the better commanding officer, the answer is probably neither. Their mind games–like Sinclair forcing a young soldier to inhale his cigarette smoke so he’ll cough in front of everyone or Barrow initiating mandatory 7 AM dance lessons outside in the cold–are closer to abuse than leadership (former NHL head coach Mike Babcock would be proud). But when those resources are turned on each other, the result is fireworks.
Criterion’s new transfer comes from a scan and a restoration both done in 4K by the Academy, the Film Foundation, Janus and the Museum of Modern Art. The image is clear enough to highlight details like the matte-painted castle on a hill in the distance behind the barracks but also grainy enough to underscore the unglamorous cold and wet of the Scottish winter. The mono audio is strong and sharp.
Special features include a 2003 interview with Neame, a 2002 interview with Mills, a 1973 interview with Guinness and an essay by film scholar Robert Murphy.