Classic Film Review: “The Maggie” is Ealing and Mackendrick at their finest

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While most film buffs have seen the post-war comedy classic “Whisky Galore!”, a later comedy by Ealing Studios’ acknowledged Master of Twee and Laird of Laughter, Alexander Mackendrick, might have slipped by you.

“The Maggie,” cleverly re-titled “High and Dry” when it was theatrically released in North America, is a daft and deft 1954 farce newly restored and paired with “Whisky” as a two-disc BluRay release by Film Movement.

It’s every bit as silly and Scottish as “Whisky Galore!,” boasts an impressive cast and plays like a lighthearted black and white travelogue, seeing the coast of Scotland via a “puffer.”

That’s what has the title role. The Maggie is an ancient coaster, a coastal waters/canal friendly freighter that the locals label “puffer.” She was ancient, even at the time the movie was made, which is why maritime inspectors board and declare her unfit for further duty, sending her skipper, the rascal MacTaggart (Alex Mackenzie), into what amounts to a tizzy.

He needs cargoes to pay for repairs (the boat’s a real beater) and feed his crew of three, the Mate (James Copeland), the Engineer (Abe Barker) and “Wee Boy” (Tommy Kearins).

Maybe a loan from the local shipping broker (veteran character actor Geoffrey Keen)? Aye, but he’s too busy and wouldn’t be interested. Fortunately, there’s an attorney/aid (Hubert Gregg) to a wealthy American trying to get tubs, a stove and sundry other home renovation materials up to Kiltarra. Mr. Pusey is anxious because his airline-chief boss is in a hurry.

He hires the Maggie on the spot, but quite by mistake, mind you. He’d not heard of MacTaggart or the man’s reputation, which any Glasgow cabbie could pass along.

“Aye, there’s a man for you. Seen him drunk TREE times in one day!”

The rest of the movie is MacTaggart and his crew trying to dodge the rules and the long arm of “The American” (American character actor Paul Douglas of “Angels in the Outfield” and “It Happens Every Spring”) who is understandably upset that his pricey home appointments are being shipped by a con artist in a rust bucket.

The misadventures include running aground “on the subway” (the newly-built tunnel roof) on the River Clyde before they’ve cleared port, poaching pheasants from a “laird” who owns land along the Crinan Canal, a detour to a birthday party, assorted beachings and dockside mishaps.

The underlying theme here is as timeless as it is “Mayberry” old fashioned. Slow down, take an interest in people. What’s your rush? See the sights, have a Guinness!

Boat folks (like myself) will marvel at the delightfully primitive navigation gear that gets them through the fog — a lead line (depth sounder) and “radar” (Throwing coals fetched from the engine room, listening for “the plunk.” No “plunk” means “We’ve all made a big mistake.”).

And any modern viewer should be charmed at the long-lost Scotland captured here,“only pub in town” villages with their docks, their livestock tran-shipment, the homey values.

I’d say this was the best of the Scottish Mackendricks, as it ages better than “Whisky Garlore!” And if you’ve not seen it, put it on your list. Gorgeously shot, whimsically scripted and acted, a dated delight from start to finish.

3half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, squeaky clean

Cast: Alex Mackenzie, Paul Douglas, Hubert Gregg, Geoffrey Keen, James Copeland and Tommy Kearins.

Credits: Directed by Alexander Mackendrick, script by William Rose. A Film Movement release.

Running time: 1:32

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