In his New York Times pan of Mark Dery’s excellent biography of Edward Gorey, critic Robert Gottlieb complained that Dery described a favorite film of Gorey’s, I Know Where I’m Going!, as a cult film. As if that were a bad thing. It deserves a cult, that’s certain. The so-called Archers, a name adopted by director Michael Powell and co-writer/producer Emeric Pressburger, hit their mark once again with this deeply charming 1945 romance in the Scottish Hebrides.
It’s a love story in bad weather—a gale that lasts for days, even as the storm of WW II continues offscreen. The war is mentioned in asides and, in one startling moment, in the speech of a young girl (Margot Fitzsimons) who rages at the kind of people who don’t care whose hearts get broken. She specifically means an ambitious stranger named Joan. But surely her words apply to the creators of the war.
So far, nothing has been able to stand in the way of Joan (Wendy Hiller). She’s on her way to the edge of the world to make an advantageous marriage. Her fiancé is the kind of plutocrat rich enough to rent an island castle. But first a thick fog, and then a tempest, keeps her from leaving the isle of Mull to boat to her betrothed’s islet. While waiting for the sea to calm, Joan is increasingly tempted by a handsome naval officer on leave named MacNeil (Roger Livesey).
The weather forces Joan to bunk up at the house of Catriona (Pamela Brown), a dear old friend of MacNeil’s; Catriona is an ardent huntress who stables a pack of wolfhounds in her living room. Captain Charles William Robert Knight, M.C., F.R.P.S., F.Z.S., plays MacNeil’s friend the colonel, a portly, blustering falconer. Knight demonstrates the feats of Mr. Ramshaw, the golden eagle he tamed in real life. A very tender event here is a diamond wedding anniversary party—John Laurie is the old groom of 60 years, too moved by the party to be able to make a speech. It’s followed by a ceilidh with excellent singers.
So much unlikely beauty is here, and not just in Hiller’s closeups or the raw Scottish scenery of the hills and waterfalls. I Know Where I’m Going! is a deft, warm film that opposes the kind of dithering romantic comedy that seems to be running out the clock. The film catalyzes in the ruins of a forbidden castle, where what seems to be an ancient curse turns out to be a blessing, and the movie ends with bagpipes that never sounded so good.
‘I Know Where I’m Going!’ plays Thursday, Feb. 14, and Sunday, Feb. 17, at the Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.454.1222.