“I Know Where I’m Going!”
Here’s a good example of how a good but fairly standard romance can be elevated to greatness by good cinematic technique. The script is good, if predictable, the acting is competent and in the case of Wendy Hiller, even excellent. But I think the movie would have been forgettable if not for the cinematic touches by The Archers, the brilliant long-time team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who in their way were as revolutionary and distinctive in the UK in the middle of last century as the Coen Brothers are in America today.
You can see it right from the opening credits, where we cover the entire youthful life of a determined young lady named Joan Webster in about five minutes, and see the credits at the same time. We see her crawling along the floor, and a narrator tells us that even from this age she knew where she was going: straight ahead. Then we pan to a child’s chalkboard that lists the cast. Other scenes also cleverly include the credits into the picture.
Then she is an adult, and has set her cap for Robert Bellinger, the rich owner of the factory where she works. She is due to be married to him on the tiny, isolated island of Kiloran, in the Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. She moves through life like a steamroller, but not a nasty or unattractive one, with everything planned out to the tiniest detail. On the train north she dreams of the marriage, not to Bellinger, but to the Bellinger Company. And as the real train crosses the border into Scotland we dissolve to a tiny train set crossing a border … and all the hills on the other side are in plaid!
She makes it as far as the isle of Mull, when a gale blows up and it’s impossible to make it the last few miles. She is forced to hole up in a quirky little hotel with its quirky residents until the storm blows itself out. Among the other guests is Torquil McNeill, who it turns out is the Laird of Kiloran, on an eight-day leave from the Royal Navy to visit his ancestral land. He is next to penniless, and has been forced to lease the island to filthy rich Bellinger “for the duration,” as they said back in wartime in the UK. And the seeds of romance are planted. It will come as no surprise that, no matter how she tries to resist him, her heart knows this is the man, not the elderly jerk out on the island, who we never see.
In her last attempt to keep her life on the track she had intended she hires a boat and a young pilot to take her across. Kiloran insists on going with them, and they are almost swallowed by a giant whirlpool in the middle of the storm. These scenes are very, very good for the time, and must have been hell to film what with all the water and wind and the violently rocking boat in the studio tank. It’s a movie that makes you happy, and it succeeds on all levels. In addition to everything else, there is an extended scene with really nice Scottish dancing and singing, and folklore.