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Friday Film Review: I Know Where I’m Going!

I Know Where I’m Going! (1945)
I Know Where I’m Going! – Criterion Collection
Grade B
Genre: Romance/Drama (UK)

Dear Readers,

I Know Where I’m Going!” is a film made by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger who wrote, directed and produced a number of films in the UK. This one was a kind of “tossed together,” time filler that they decided to make while waiting for color film to become available in order to make “Stairway to Heaven” aka “A Matter of Life and Death.”

It popped up at Netflix on one of those “if you like this you might like that” pages and I liked the blurb so I got it and watched it about a year ago. I had issues with it then but something about it wouldn’t let me forget it. When Jaili/Maili began her Friday Films feature, I decided to email her and ask her opinion of the film for a number of reasons. 1) I respect her knowledge of films and 2) most of the story takes place in Scotland. Anyone who’s read her opinions of novels (supposedly) set in Scotland knows how she feels about them but I wondered what she thought of this film which Powell and Pressburger are supposed to have taken such care to get correct. And what she thought of the issues that I first had with the movie.

Dame Wendy Hiller plays Joan Webster, a modern woman of the age who has definite opinions and designs to move up in the world. She’s almost managed to snag the man she wants – a rich industrialist who appears to have been knighted recently. Now she’s on her way to the Hebrides to marry him. Everything’s going according to plan – and the schedule he’s had made out for her – until she arrives on the next to the last island on her route. Here the weather turns bad with a gale force wind blowing which no one will brave to take her across by boat.

While she initially waits on the dock, she meets a naval officer on leave named Torquil MacNeil played by Roger Livesey. He appears amused at her hurry to reach the island of Kiloran and wiser than she at determining that they’re not going to cross that day or probably the next either. Offering her a place at a nearby house, which has seen better days, owned by a lifelong friend of his, Catriona Potts, they spend the evening with Catriona and another guest of hers, a former Army officer who is a keen falconer.

When the weather is still bad the following morning, Torquil suggests they move to a hotel. As they walk past the ruins of Moy Castle, Joan learns that it is not her fiance who owns Kiloran but Torquil who is the real laird of Kiloran and being forced by economic necessity to rent the island to Sir Roger. On the bus trip to the hotel, Joan first overhears the opinion of the locals about the “rich man” she is to marry. It’s not too flattering. He might be wealthy but he wastes his money, the fish won’t bite for him and the locals would rather not have to deal with him overly much. It’s obvious to most that Torquil is falling for Joan and equally obvious that she is fighting an attraction to him.

But Joan is determined to become the next Lady Bellinger. She takes the opportunity to meet with some of Sir Roger’s London friends who are renting a local estate – and whose daughter is played by a young Petula Clark – then with another of the impoverished local aristocrats. It’s here that she meets up with Torquil again and together they attend a Céilidh in celebration of a diamond wedding anniversary. As the dancing continues, Torquil translates the words of a song which ends with the line “For she’s the maid for me” which he delivers looking straight at Joan. She knows she’s in trouble now.

Joan is almost frantic at this point to get across to Kiloran and away from this man with whom she’s afraid she’s falling in love. Pulling out all the stops, she engineers a trip by boat across the still dangerous waters which include a violent whirlpool. But will her determination get her where she wants to go or cause her to lose everything?

Michael Powell loved the Scottish countryside and it shows in this film. According to the film commentary, the locals commiserated with the film crew about how bad the weather conditions were for filming only to learn that the directors wanted the conditions to actually be worse! We see fog and rain and the lovely cinematography of Erwin Hillier. The film is beautifully shot and full of local color as well as some dialogue in Scottish Gaelic – which I’d love to have a translation of. The film has subtitles for the English dialogue but not the Gaelic. Plus the character of Catriona owns a house full of gorgeous Scottish deerhounds. Torquil comments that Catriona still has the hounds and wonders how she’s managed to keep them fed during the wartime rationing. Jokingly, she replies, “Oh we live off the country. Rabbits, deer, a stray hiker or two.”

The music is wonderful. The title song is one that stuck in my head all these months since the first time I saw the film and the music at the ceilidh is fantastic. But if you don’t like bagpipes, you won’t like that.

Livesey is great in his role though obviously a bit older than his character is supposed to be. If the film were shot today, I don’t think there’s any way that he would ever be cast as a leading man but his face has got character and strength and his voice is one I could listen to for days. He delivers some polite rejoinders to Joan about oddness of character and how lack of money doesn’t necessarily make people poor. He’s such a laid back, easy going man that it takes a lot to rile him but Joan finally manages it late in the film. However, even then, he’s still – mainly – a gentleman and continues to try to get her what she still believes she wants in life. I like that his character doesn’t try to sweep Joan off her feet. Rather, he is content to try and open her eyes to the fact that money isn’t everything nor can it bring her lasting happiness.

Hiller, as Maili says, played strong willed women and Joan is no exception. She’s damned and determined to get what she wants and to get it now even if that might end up being a bone head move that could cost lives. Watching the movie a second time, I could sit back and follow her actions and see what drove her to go to the lengths she does to escape falling for a poor man. But there are still times that I wanted to reach into the screen and shake her for her selfishness. As Torquil tells her, if you want to commit suicide, why not do it in Manchester? Why endanger so many others when you can probably get what you want if you’ll wait til tomorrow? Sigh….

As for this great, instant and overwhelming attraction that is the driving force for much of the actions of the film, it’s definitely a case of insta-love and we need to accept it as such and keep watching the film. Joan’s very driven, quite young, has opinions that she hasn’t yet learned to temper before blurting out and, well, she’s got a lot to learn. She does eventually relax and hopefully with Torquil to act as a buffer, she’ll fit in with the locals but at times I wondered how such a great guy would fall for her so quickly.

There are some marvelous secondary characters who add depth and richness to the story but who are never dumbed down nor turned into caricatures. The scenery is fantastic including the crumbling Moy Castle where Joan and Torquil finally lay to rest the curse that was laid on the MacNeils centuries ago – and which was inserted into the screenplay since the setting was Scotland and the works of Sir Walter Scott have lead viewers/readers to expect such a thing.

The Criterion DVD is well done. The screen images are crisp, the sound is clear, it’s loaded with extras including a commentary track that is well worth listening to as well as stills from the film and a featurette which has, among others, Martin Scorcese telling why he loves the film. I was amazed to learn that Roger Livesey was never on location with the rest of the cast and crew. His close ups were done in the studio and a double did all the work in Scotland but the editing is so seamless that it’s almost impossible to tell the difference. The scene of the whirlpool will look dated today but by the standards of the time it was quite a feat of filming. The DVD I watched is a region 1 but I believe there is a region 2 as well.

The film has some fanatical fans many of whom who have gone to the lengths of traveling to Scotland just to see the filming locations. Apparently the current owners of Moy Castle now keep it locked so that fans of the film won’t risk injuring themselves racing through the ruins. On the other hand, I’ve also read some opinions of the film that question why anyone would like it at all. I’m still on the fence about buying myself a copy of the DVD
but not sorry that I took a second look at it. B

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

33 Comments

  1. Toddson
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 06:41:25

    oh … I’m afraid I’m one of this movie’s rabid fans. I do love it – it’s not really rational, but I just love this movie. Of course, I also think Wendy Hiller was wonderful, which helps. Also, some of the story – the curse – reminded me of an old Elizabeth Goudge book, which helped some too.

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  2. Maili
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 07:15:17

    My DVD still hasn’t arrived yet, but having read this well-written review, I really look forward to watching it again.

    @Toddson
    I love Wendy Hiller! One of the best. She’s up there with Flora Robson.

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  3. Jane O
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 07:55:15

    WHen I was in high school back in the mid-1950s one of the television channels we got showed English movies on Saturday afternoon. This was one of the movies I saw while doing my stint at the ironing board. I absolutely loved it, and remember it vividly. I didn’t know there was a DVD, but I’ll have to put that on my Christmas list.

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  4. Jayne
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 08:06:03

    When I emailed Maili about the film, she said it’s a “Sunday movie” and often shown on the weekends in the UK. I’ve never seen it shown on on US TV but I think it was recently on TCM (Turner Classic Movies). Anyone interested in trying it might want to check their cable schedule and see if they can spot it there.

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  5. Jayne
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 08:08:23

    I love the way the curse is resolved! Though the MacNeil who brought it on his descendants deserved it. Looking down that well was horrifying.

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  6. Maili
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 08:20:44

    I have to say that when I was a kid watching this film, I wondered why it was so foggy (I was used to the morning mist), but reasoned it happened before my time. Like how London used to have the pea-soup smog until 1950s or 1960s(?).

    I’m thinking the constant fog in the film must be to enforce the mythical feel of the place? Even Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps didn’t have that much fog.

    It’s funny that that is what I remembered the most about I Know Where I’m Going!. The memory of the fog is more vivid than the dream and the whirlpool (Corryvreckan?). :P I am looking forward to watching it again, to see if it was as foggy as I remembered!

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  7. Jayne
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 08:25:24

    The reason it’s so foggy is the fog machines they had there to make it so! I would guess you’re right about the mythical feel or perhaps P&P just thought everyone expects Scotland to be foggy. Just like they expect a curse in the story.

    I laughed during the Corryvreckan scene when Torquil sees what’s coming and ducks while Joan gets the wave right in her face. Then tries to act as if she didn’t care. ;)

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  8. Darlynne
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 09:33:26

    I had read somewhere that I Know Where I’m Going! was considered one of the most romantic movies ever made. I wasn’t disappointed when I saw it, but I was surprised at such high praise. It wasn’t up there, IMO, with Death Takes a Holiday starring Frederick March, but I did enjoy it. I’ll have to watch it again.

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  9. Lisa Hendrix
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 09:45:37

    I saw this movie on Bravo, back in the network’s early days when it showed classics of Brit TV and films, and I absolutely loved it. At the time, I tried to hunt it down on video, but it just wasn’t out there. Thanks so much for doing this review, Jayne, because now it’s back on my radar and I can actually get my hands on it!

    For trivia buffs, there is a lot of juicy info on Wikipedia

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Know_Where_I'm_Going!

    (that link takes you to an intermediate page where you’ll find a link to the right page. WordPress kept chopping off the correct link)

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  10. Caz
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 14:43:35

    I remember stumbling across this film by accident. Here in the UK, BBC 2 was running a season of Powell and Pressburger films and this was one of them. It was on late at night, after Matter of Life and Death, and although I really should have gone to bed, I couldn’t stop watching.

    In fact, P&P wanted James Mason for the role of Torquil, and Joan was originally to have been Deborah Kerr (according to Powell’s autobiography), but Mason was unavailable, and Kerr broke her ankle, or was pregnant or something, and couldn’t play Joan.

    I agree with what you say about Livesey – striking rather than handsome, but that VOICE – you could drown in it!

    I haven’t watched it in a while – time to dig out my (R2!) DVD!

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  11. Karla
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 16:34:23

    I am also a rabid fan of this movie, and of Roger Livesey. I recently saw him in another good movie No My Darling Daughter where he played the hero’s father, but the voice was still there.

    I have a dvd of another film of his The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp which I haven’t watched yet.

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  12. Caz
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 16:42:06

    Oh, Blimp is a wonderful movie – it was one of Deborah Kerr’s first major roles, as well. The relationship between Livesey and Anton Walbrook’s characters are wonderfully played as the two men age and go through two world wars. There’s a healthy dose of satire, too :(

    It’s another of my faves (but then, I’m a Powell & Pressburger fan) – I hope you enjoy it :-)

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  13. Jayne
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 17:06:25

    It wasn't up there, IMO, with Death Takes a Holiday starring Frederick March, but I did enjoy it.

    Ah, now there’s one I haven’t watched in a long time. I know I have this taped somewhere and will have to dig through my collection to find it.

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  14. Jayne
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 17:10:47

    I’m also a fan of “Blimp.” Loved Deborah Kerr in it as well as discovered Anton Walbrook. Can anyone tell me, during the duel scene, what the two seconds are doing? I thought the days when the seconds might actually take part in the duel were long gone by then.

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  15. Marianne McA
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 17:15:10

    If we’re doing Sunday Scottish movies can we do the one about the boy who does the body building course? I remember practically nothing about it, except that he buys her a hat…

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  16. Jayne
    Jun 12, 2009 @ 18:17:48

    Marianne, do you remember the title or any actor who’s in it? I yahoo’d the subjects you mentioned and came up with this.

    Wee Geordie – (UK, 1955)
    Charming little British film about a skinny little Scottish boy, who everyone calls Wee Geordie. He is pictured as a boy 10-years of age and of course wears nice shorts, cords I think. He is picked on by the other boys at school who chase him and tease him. His only friend appears to be a little girl. Geordie has a lovely Scottish accent and is a very sweet little boy. Unfortunately the sequences with him as a boy only take up a part at the beginning of the film, but there is a substantial sequence. He sends off for a body building course and grows up to be a huge strapping lad that shakes the house when he stomps about and towers over his parents. Everyone still, however, continues to call him Wee Geordie.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be out as a DVD.

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  17. Caz
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 03:31:04

    I’m pretty sure Geordie was played by Bill Travers and the wonderful Alastair Sim also stars – it’s a Launder and Gilliat film IIRC.

    Ah – here we go; I found it on Amazon UK – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Geordie-DVD-Bill-Travers/dp/B001TJKVQ4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1244885270&sr=8-1

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  18. cate
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 05:45:17

    Another rabid Powell & Pressburger fan here. If you enjoyed IKWIG,

    try A Matter of Life and Death. Another P&P spectacular. Made during WW2

    as a morale booster. Stars David Niven, Roger Livesy & Kim Hunter…. & a

    very,very young Richard Attenborough in one of his first roles.

    The basic story is that of a young pilot whose plane is severely damaged

    on a bombing mission. He spends what hould be his last minutes talking

    to a young American aircraft controller, & in the way of things falls in

    love.Following the crash, he is – amazingly- still alive. Heaven , it seems,

    has …to put it bluntly… cocked up !

    The film follows his fight with his Heavenly messenger to stay alive.

    The film is now slightly dated, but Southern England has never looked

    more glorious, & the use of colour & black and white film is fabulous.

    Although to my mind, earth should’ve been the B&W sequences, and

    heaven in colour…… See what you think.

    I also recommend another P&P film. A Canterbury Tale. Another morale

    booster from the early 40′s. A “modern”(for 60 yrs ago) take on Chaucer.

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  19. Jayne
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 06:51:14

    Geordie looks wonderful. Unfortunately for me, it doesn’t appear to be out in a region 1 DVD. Bummer. Maybe Maili can check this one out and do a “So sorry suckers, it’s not available in region 1″ review. Can I say how much I hate region coded DVDs?

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  20. Jayne
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 06:54:50

    Cate, I just watched “Matter of Life and Death” last weekend. I totally agree that heaven should have been in color. What were they thinking?

    But the Raymond Massey character made me want to reach through the screen and slap him. Prosing on and on about how dare this young Englishman think a Mass. girl of Good American Stock could fall in love with him? Get over yourself, pal. The Battle of Bunker Hill was over ages ago and if Kim Hunter wants to fall for David Niven (and I would have done it myself), then let her!

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  21. Caz
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 07:34:18

    Aaargh! I wrote a comment and the blog ate it, so forgive me if this appears twice!

    Jayne, I have to disagree with you about the use of colour for “heaven” in AOLAD. The way I’ve always seen it, the richness of life with it’s uncertainties and limitless possibilities is represented by the richness of technicolour – one of the things I’ve always loved about P&P’s movies is the superb use of colour; The Red Shoes is another prime example – whereas “heaven”, which is more limiting, more certain, more stilted, where everything literally is black and white was filmed in monochrome (which allows for more subtlety than b&w). As to Massey’s character, well, he dates from the time of the War of Independence, so even as a Brit, I can make allowances!

    Oh, and re. Geordie – can you region-free your DVD player? I have the same issues with R1 product, but managed to find a way to do it ;-)

    Cate – A Canterbury Tale really is an overlooked gem, isn’t it? Again, I first saw it as part of a P&P series on TV and was completely bowled over by it. Sure, some of the plot is a bit odd (the glue!) but it’s still a fabulous film.

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  22. cate
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 08:09:30

    Jayne, I concur re: RM’s character…. Which is quite extrordinary given that the USA & the UK were allies at the time ! As for me, you can have Niven , I’d have the Livesy character every time

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  23. Jayne
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 08:55:38

    Oh well, if it’s a choice between Livesey and Niven then I’ll take Livesey too, please. Or a young Peter O’Toole.

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  24. Jayne
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 08:59:22

    As to Massey's character, well, he dates from the time of the War of Independence, so even as a Brit, I can make allowances!

    I could make allowances for the first few minutes of his ranting then it got to be too much. As Cate said, we were allies then! What, I wonder, were P&P trying to get across with this?

    Oh, and re. Geordie – can you region-free your DVD player? I have the same issues with R1 product, but managed to find a way to do it ;-)

    I’ve heard of doing this but have no idea how to go about it. And would worry I’d break something. There are a couple more R2 DVDs I’d love to get though….

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  25. Caz
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 09:11:54

    Jayne – if you google “hack” plus your make and model of DVD player you might find something, that’s how I did it.

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  26. cate
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 09:29:57

    Caz
    I don’t know what it was about P&P but they had a truly magical touch as filmakers that you rarely see today…. & thanks for the hack info ! I’ve a few region 1 DVD’s that I had to buy (sad! or what ?) but haven’t been able to watch.
    Jayne
    I had first dibs on the Doctor, & Richard Burton for me !

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  27. Caz
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 09:42:46

    :), Cate. I agree, there’s something special about P&P movies. Powell was a wonderful director and they tended to use the same group of people in front of and behind the camera – the great Jack Cardiff was their cinematographer on numerous occasions. One film we haven’t mentioned here is Black Narcissus – again starring Deborah Kerr. If you haven’t seen it, do – I won’t say too much about the story except that it’s set in a convent in the Himalayas (and P&P never left the UK!!) – the atmopshere of repression and, later, hysteria is incredible. Powell famously described it as the most erotic film he ever made – although of course, given that it was 1947, it was all below the surface.

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  28. cate
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 10:05:46

    Black Narcissus….. All I’ll say is it’s one of the best studies of sexual repression you’ll ever see. Deborah Kerr & Kathleen Byron are superb.
    Kerr in particular brings that buttoned up sexuality that she also used to great effect in The Innocents.
    Caz, Jayne … Thanks a lot ! Now I’m going to have to watch these again
    Such hardship

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  29. Jayne
    Jun 13, 2009 @ 17:43:55

    Black Narcissus and A Canterbury Tale have been in my Netflix queue for a while now. I’ll have to move them up based on everyone’s recs. Thanks!

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  30. Allie
    Jun 14, 2009 @ 04:10:32

    I loved seeing this review. I Know Where I’m Going is one of my favorite movies and Wendy Hiller is one of my favorite actresses. If anyone here hasn’t yet seen the 1938 film version of Pygmalion I highly recommend it – she’s the best Eliza Doolittle ever.

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  31. Cheryl S
    Jun 14, 2009 @ 05:17:14

    I stumbled on ‘I know where I’m going’ years ago one night on late night TV and was absolutely swept away by its romance. I adored it and watch it every time it’s on. I thought the opening credits were a very clever way to tell the Wendy Hiller character’s back story.

    I’d never seen Roger Livesey in anything before, but oh my giddy aunt… that voice, that look, and that one embrace really did it for me. He made my toes curl, and in a very good way.

    I’ve seen the David Niven one, as well as Col Blimp and have to concur that P and P had a magic touch in their films. I’ll have to try to track down Black Narcissus on the strength of your recommendations.

    Thank you Jayne for your thoughtful review of one of my all-time favourite films

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  32. Jayne
    Jun 14, 2009 @ 07:03:12

    My thanks to Maili for starting this feature or I never would have thought to review the film.

    I'd never seen Roger Livesey in anything before, but oh my giddy aunt… that voice, that look, and that one embrace really did it for me. He made my toes curl, and in a very good way.

    Yes, he is a toe curler for me now too.

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  33. Marianne McA
    Jun 14, 2009 @ 11:45:28

    Thanks Jayne & Caz. Now that I know what it’s called, I’ll try and rent a copy from somewhere.

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