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February 25, 2010

Geordie

geordie dvd.jpg

Frank Launder - 1955
Wham! USA Region 1 DVD

It might be considered more appropriate to watch a film related to the Winter Olympics at this time. But thinking about films that had the Olympic games as the subject made me recall the first such film I had seen. What is personally significant for me about Geordie is also that it was one of the few times I had seen a movie on television that my father had selected. Geordie is also the first British film I had probably seen as well. Roughly fifty years, and broadcast in black and white, I vaguely recall that a small Scottish boy responded to a newspaper advertisement, and grew to be a very big man. Parts of the film involved discussion of the wearing of kilts.

The most interesting part of Geordie is the first half of the film, primarily the relationship between Geordie and Jean. The small boy takes the girl, slightly bigger than he is, to glance at an eagle's nest. The boy is too weak to pull himself up on the ledge, while the girl is able to observe the two baby eagles. Looking to challenge his perceived physical limitations, Geordie writes to Henry Samson, following a course of exercise through correspondence. Growing to the tallest and strongest man in his little village, Geordie is encouraged to take up the sport of hammer throwing, with abilities that catch the eye of the British Olympic committee. In the meantime, Geordie has an emotional tug of war with Jean who is skeptical of Geordie's athletic pursuits. Jean eventually becomes Geordie's most ardent supporter.

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Raymond Durgnat cited Launder and Gilliat for "their consistent freshness and mischief, their cheerful lightly-and-slightly anarchism, their relaxed romping in and out of the system's little loopholes and bye-ways." The characters could be called quirky, although at the time the film was made, the favored word was eccentric. Chief among the villagers is Launder and Gilliat favorite Alastair Sims, known only as "The Laird", the wealthy, often distracted landowner whom Geordie and his father work for as gamekeepers. There is an affection for the characters as well, which is why the relationship between Geordie and Jean, both as children and as adults feels more palpable than many couplings of screen actors. The more interesting aspect of Geordie is the story about a group of people who are emotionally and physically tied to their little corner of Scotland.

Geordie is less interesting once the title character goes out into the bigger world. Released prior to the Olympic games held in Melbourne, Australia, in 1956, Geordie goes to the games on behalf of Great Britain. On the way, he meets his body building mentor, Henry Samson, amusingly played by the bushy eyebrowed Francis De Wolfe. There is also a female Olympian from Denmark who tries to make her own moves on the pure hearted young man from Scotland who pines for the girl back home. Some drama is attempted in Geordie's decision to wear his father's kilt over the objections of the Olympic committee.

One moment of filmmaking inventiveness is noteworthy. After retrieving his father's gun, left behind in a field after Geordie carries the ill man back home in the rain, Geordie stands over a hill overlooking his home, and hears the howl of a dog. While we hear the eulogy given inside the church during the funeral, what is shown is a panning shot of several dogs lounging outside of the church. The combination of the two shots is sweet, sad and gently satirical. There are some nicely composed individual shots by cinematographer Wilkie Cooper, but as several critics examining the films of Launder and Gilliat have concluded, the pair were craftsmen, not visual stylists. It could well be that it is because a film like Geordie has nothing more than the modest ambition to be entertaining that it also succeeds in being enduringly charming as well.

Posted by peter at February 25, 2010 12:21 AM

Comments

I hadn't thought of this film in years. Used to be on TV all the time when I was a kid. Your post brought it all back to me.

Posted by: Doug Bonner at March 3, 2010 12:42 PM