Cast & Crew
The skipper of a tatty coastal 'puffer' boat cons an American into letting "The Maggie" carry a cargo to a Scottish island. The American soon realises he's been conned but can he stop them ?
M. [moultrie] Kelsall
Shelia Shand Gibbs
Herbert C Cameron
R B Wharrie
Sheila Shand Gibbs
Giacomo Rossi Stuart
The Maggie (aka High and Dry)
The Maggie (released in America as High and Dry) was written by an American, William Rose, and directed by American-born Alexander Mackendrick, who grew up in his parents' native Scotland. Both Rose and Mackendrick would have illustrious careers. Rose's previous film, the delightful comedy Genevieve (1953), would soon be Oscar-nominated for screenwriting (it was released in America in 1954), and Rose would be nominated three more times: for The Ladykillers (1955), The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming (1966) and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), for which he won. He also wrote It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). Rose joined the WWII effort in Canada before the United States entered the war, and afterwards he settled in England and Scotland with his Scottish wife, which is why the customs and dialect in The Maggie are so convincing.
Mackendrick will always be best remembered for his masterpiece Sweet Smell of Success (1957), his lone Hollywood picture, but he directed several Ealing comedies as well before eventually settling into life in Los Angeles as a film school instructor and dean. Mackendrick's first film as director had been Whisky Galore! (1949), another classic Ealing comedy that was a sleeper hit and can be seen as a forerunner to The Maggie, with similar settings and humor.
Mackendrick said that he got the idea for The Maggie while making Whisky Galore! His screenwriter, Compton Mackenzie, told him about an experience he'd had trying to ship some rare books to his home on the island of Barra, on a boat with an irresponsible captain and crew. Mackendrick wrote a treatment, and Rose turned it into a screenplay. Modern sources, however, claim the script was at the very least strongly inspired by a 1931 Neil Munro book, The Vital Spark, comprised of popular short stories previously published in the Glasgow Evening News that followed the exploits of a fictional puffer boat and its skipper.
Filming took place on the island of Islay and the Argyllshire coast during the summer of 1953. Mackendrick cast the film largely with nonprofessionals. 68-year-old Alex Mackenzie, who plays the skipper, was a Glasgow schoolmaster who started his acting career after he retired. This was his first film. 14-year-old Tommy Kearins, who plays a resourceful cabin helper known as "the wee boy," was making his first and only film appearance. He drew raves from practically every critic, one of whom described his character as "every dirty inch the Huck Finn of the Hebrides."
In the middle of all the newcomers was Hollywood star Paul Douglas. Mackendrick later said: "If you take a polished professional like Douglas and put him among the amateurs, it brings him right down to total belief in the character, and makes it impossible for him to use any acting tricks. And he's always subject to the fact that these amateurs are going to steal the scenes from him. He's got to work twice as hard, because what happens is that the professional provides the structure of the scene within which the amateur can flower. It's a cruel thing to do to a professional movie star, but it works wonders for the scene." Still, Mackendrick added, "[Douglas] knew instinctively he was being acted off the screen by Alex Mackenzie and the wee boy, and maybe he didn't trust his director."
Of the film overall, Mackendrick reflected, "I like it, but I know why other people don't. It's the most self-indulgent of my films, in that it's the most personal and the most private. It came at a difficult time, because Hilary and I were having marital troubles, which is reflected in some of the writing. All the principal characters are me, in a way."
The Maggie set house records on its opening day at New York's Sutton Theatre, despite a hurricane lashing the city. Critics were effusive. "Downright intoxicating," said The New York Times. "As bracing as the Hebridean air." The Hollywood Reporter called it an "excellently-made British comedy, and Hollywood can take pride that an American actor, Paul Douglas, gives a standout performance in as good a cast as England and Scotland have assembled in some time... It should be welcomed wherever people like to laugh."
Film scholar Charles Barr later wrote that Time criticized the film for treating the American character cruelly, and Mackendrick wrote a letter to the magazine saying that he and Rose, both American-born, actually "saw the story very much from the point of view of the American."
By Jeremy Arnold
Charles Barr, Ealing Studios
Philip Kemp, Lethal Innocence: The Cinema of Alex Mackendrick