I am pleased to write about a black and white film on this blog for the first time. It’s the oldest film I’ve featured on here, a film that does Glasgow a pretty decent service, and is a production of the legendary Ealing Studios no less.
Released in 1954, The Maggie is a gentle comedy which follows the journey of an American airline tycoon’s precious cargo from Glasgow to the remote island of Kiltarra aboard a puffer boat that has seen better days. The caper begins when the ‘Maggie’s’ ragtag crew overhear Pusey (Hubert Gregg), the American’s uptight English sidekick, in a Clydeside shipping office pleading for a boat to take his boss’ goods. With no reputable vessels available the crew offer Pusey their services and when he agrees on mistaking another boat in much better order for theirs, they don’t point out his error.
Overnight the reputation of the old puffer and its lovably roguish skipper (Alex Mackenzie) are brought to the attention of the London based airline executives, triggering a sequence of events that sees the American – Calvin B. Marshall, played by Philadelphia born Paul Douglas – board the boat, join the passage to Kiltarra and ultimately go on his own journey of self discovery.
It’s a charming film and one that surprised me for the following reason. The boat’s crew feature prominently on the DVD cover and on its reverse the descriptor describes The Maggie as being “…about a skipper who tricks a wealthy American…”. I had assumed that this was going to be a Para Handy style story with the skipper at the centre of it, but while Mackenzie’s character is certainly a key player it is the character of Marshall that the audience is most intimately engaged with (another assumption of mine was that this would be a blustering, unsympathetic character – the unwelcome foil to the crew’s exploits).
I actually found myself comparing The Maggie to 1987’s Planes, Trains & Automobiles: the Marshall character is Steve Martin’s Neal – a serious businessman who wants to do something for his wife (and family in Neal’s case) but is hindered in doing so; the skipper is John Candy’s Del – culturally the opposite of Marshall/Neal, who wants to help the latter in their journey but not in a way that they approve of; the more straight laced character ends up taking some life lessons from their new travelling companion, although in The Maggie it’s perhaps fair to say that Marshall gets more of this from the boat’s ‘Wee Boy’, played by Tommy Kearins, than he does from the skipper. If you don’t find this to be a particularly convincing comparison between these two films, well… Marshall does have to travel by plane and automobile to reach the boat, and makes plans to take a train back to London!
The film was shot at Ealing Studios and on location around Scotland. Glasgow’s starring role is during the earlier part of the film, and while some scenes here – including interiors – were filmed in the studios, there is some live action in the city. This includes the ‘Maggie’ getting stuck on the raised riverbed of the Clyde above the subway next to the South Portland Street suspension bridge, and Marshall’s arrival on Gordon Street at the Central Hotel – which gets a few name checks. Also mentioned by name are the Broomielaw and Pollokshaws, while a sign outside a pub reads “Yorkhill Quay”.