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Criterion Collection: Tunes of Glory (1960) | Blu-Ray Review

Ronald Neame remains somewhat of an underrated, incredibly multi-faceted figure from the annals of classic British cinema. Beginning as a writer/producer/cinematographer for David Lean (he was thrice nominated for an Oscar, for cinematography on the 1943 Powell & Pressburger war film One of Our Aircraft is Missing and for writing on Lean’s Brief Encounter and Great Expectations), Neame began his directorial debut in the late 1940s and stretched into the mid-1980s.

Twice competing at Cannes (his 1969 Muriel Sparks adaptation of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie won Maggie Smith her first Oscar), his work ranged from film noir (the Locarno entry The Golden Salamander) and twice went to Venice, with 1958’s The Horse’s Mouth and 1960’s underappreciated post-WWII drama Tunes of Glory, one of three Neame titles to join the Criterion Collection (including The Horse’s Mouth and Hopscotch), and won John Mills Best Actor in Venice while scribe James Kennaway nabbed an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay (from his own novel).

In retrospect, Kennaway remains an interesting aspect of this film, his screenplays often involving noir or strident genre aspects, from the pyromaniac at the center of Violent Playground (1958), Dirk Bogarde’s brainwashing scientist in The Mind Benders (19630 to the controversial Peter O’Toole incest shocker Brotherly Love (1970), which also featured Susannah York. If anything, Kennaway’s Tunes seems a more interesting homosocial examination than his later WWII epic Battle of Britain.

A cross section of class values and the repressed emotional ear markers of toxic masculinity which pervade both realms, Guinness and Mills expertly engage with Kennaway’s dialogue, which boiled down is two men unable or unwilling to secede control—the loss of the pissing contest, as depicted in the film, inevitably leads to tragic consequences. The flame haired Guinness is a masterclass in tonal moderation, a times manipulative, petty, sympathetic and infuriating—at a superficial glance, one could mistake his alternating accent as sloppy elocution, but instead his tone and vocal register are meant to reflect whatever level of masculine posturing he’s exhibiting in any given power play. As his foil, Mills is excellent as a rigid, emotionally traumatized Lt. Col., whose turmoil reaches a boiling point.

Susannah York makes her screen debut as Guinness’ daughter, who perhaps unwisely, has been carrying on a secretive affair with John Fraser’s Cpl. Piper. Kay Walsh (who was Nancy in Lean’s Oliver Twist and is reunited with both Guinness and Neame from The Horse’s Mouth) provides a meager outlet as a pseudo-love interest for Guinness (she’s an actress about to star in a production of My Sister Eileen).

Film Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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