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Tunes of Glory

theatrical poster
Directed by Ronald Neame
Produced by Colin Lesslie
Written by James Kennaway
(novel & screenplay)
Starring Alec Guinness
John Mills
Music by Malcolm Arnold
Cinematography Arthur Ibbetson
Editing by Anne V. Coates
Distributed by United Artists (UK)
Lopert Pictures (US)
Release date(s) 20 December 1960 (US)
Running time 106 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Tunes of Glory is a 1960 British film directed by Ronald Neame, based on the novel and screenplay by James Kennaway. The film is a "dark psychological drama"[1] centering on events in a Scottish Highland regimental barracks in the period following World War II. It stars Alec Guinness and John Mills, and features Dennis Price, Kay Walsh, John Fraser, Susannah York, Duncan MacRae and Gordon Jackson.

Writer Kennaway served with the Gordon Highlanders, and the title refers to the bagpiping that accompanies every important action of the regiment. The original pipe music was composed by Malcolm Arnold, who also wrote the music for The Bridge on the River Kwai.[1] The film was generally well received by critics, the acting in particular garnering praise. Kennaway's screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award.



The film opens in the officer’s mess of a Scottish battalion in the early post-war era. Major Jock Sinclair (Alec Guinness) announces that this will be his last day as Commanding Officer before Colonel Basil Barrow (John Mills) arrives to take over. Sinclair had been in command since their colonel was killed in action during World War II, leading the battalion for the rest of the war, but Barrow is considered by Brigade HQ to be a more appropriate peacetime commanding officer.

Barrow arrives early, and observes the battalion's officers (including Sinclair) dancing rowdily. Barrow and Sinclair briefly swap their respective military backgrounds. Sinclair had joined as a bandsman and rose spectacularly through the ranks, winning the Distinguished Service Order and Military Medal in the process. Barrow by contrast came to the regiment directly from Oxford University, his ancestors having been colonel of the regiment before him - although he has served only a year with the regiment back in 1933 before being posted to "Special duties". When Sinclair humorously tells of the time he was briefly thrown in Barlinnie prison for being drunk and disorderly (also in 1933), Barrow rather reticently mentions his own experience in a prisoner of war camp. Sinclair assumes that Barrow received preferential treatment usually afforded to officers ("officer's privileges and amateur theatricals") - in fact Barrow is deeply psychologically scarred after being tortured by the Japanese but does not tell this to Sinclair.

Sinclair resents the fact that he is being replaced by a "stupid wee man" and appears determined to regain control of the battalion, although by what means is initially unclear. Sinclair's daughter Morag is also observed illicitly meeting with a piper for romance.

Barrow immediately passes several orders designed to instill discipline that Sinclair had allowed to slip. Particularly controversial is an order that every officer take lessons in highland dancing in an effort to make their customary rowdy style more formal and suitable for mixed company. The consequential shouting and energetic dancing of the officers, led by a drunken Sinclair, at Barrow's first cocktail party with the townspeople incites his anger, leading to an extreme outburst that seriously damages his own authority.

The tensions come to a head when Sinclair publicly assaults the uniformed corporal piper he discovers with his daughter (Susannah York) – "bashing a corporal" as he puts it. Barrow decides an official report must be made, meaning an imminent court-martial, aware that the action will only further the erosion of his popularity, and authority, within the battalion. Barrow is eventually persuaded to back down, despite the fact that Sinclair was guilty of striking a non-commissioned officer and deserved to be court-martialled. However, he finds that this decision further undermines his authority and Sinclair and others, notably Captain Alec Rattray (Richard Leech), treat him with renewed lack of respect. He finds that some senior officers believe that Sinclair is really running the battalion, having forced Barrow to dismiss the charges against him. When he realizes that his authority will never be accepted, he shoots himself.

With the death of Barrow, Sinclair realizes he is to blame. He calls the officers to a meeting and announces plans for a grandiose funeral, fit for a field marshal, complete with a march through the town, in which all the tunes of glory will be played by the pipers. Pointed out how out of proportion these plans are, especially given the manner of the colonel's death, Sinclair insists that it was not suicide, it was murder. He himself was the murderer and the other senior officers were his accomplices, with the exception of the colonel's adjutant. Minutes afterwards, Sinclair suffers a nervous breakdown and is escorted from the barracks, while the officers and men salute as he passes.


Cast notes
  • According to an article in the New York Times[2] Alec Guinness wanted to play the role of Barrow, and John Mills wanted to play Sinclair – both initially turned down the film for those reasons. It took a meeting between Guiness, Mills and director Ronald Neame to straighten out why each was best suited for the role they had been offered.[3] However, in his autobiography, John Mills claimed that he brought the script to Guiness, and between them they decided who should play which role.[4] Guiness believed this performance to be among his best.
  • Tunes of Glory was Susannah York's film debut. Her opening screen credit reads "and Introducing".[4]


Tunes of Glory was shot at Shepperton Studios in London. Establishing location shots were done at Stirling Castle in Stirling, Scotland,[4] which was the actual location where James Kennaway served with the Gordon Highlanders. Although the production was initially offered broad cooperation to film within the castle from the commanding officer there, as long as it didn't disrupt the regiment's routine, after seeing a lurid paperback cover for Kennaway's book, that cooperation evaporated, and the production was only allowed to shoot distant exterior shots of the castle.[1]

Director Ronald Neame has worked with Guiness on The Horse's Mouth (1958), and a number of other participants were also involved in both films, including actress Kay Walsh, cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson and editor Anne V. Coates.[1]

Awards and honours

James Kennaway, who adapted the screenplay from his novel, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, but lost to Elmer Gantry. It also received numerous BAFTA nominations, including Best Film, Best British Film, Best British Screenplay and Best Actor nominations for both Guinness and Mills.[5]

The film was the official British entry at the 1960 Venice Film Festival, and John Mills won the Best Actor award there.[4] That same year the film was named "Best Foreign Film" by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.[6]


Tunes of Glory was adapted for the stage by Michael Lunney, who directed a production of it which toured England in 2006.[7][8]

Home video

Tunes of Glory is available on DVD from Criterion and Metrodome.


  1. ^ a b c d Nixon, Rob "Tunes of Glory" (TCM article)
  2. ^ TCM Notes, which cites the date of the New York Times article as October 2, 1960
  3. ^ Robert Osborne, on the Turner Classic Movies broadcast of Tunes of Glory (February 2, 2009).
  4. ^ a b c d TCM Notes
  5. ^ IMDB Awards
  6. ^ AllMovie Guide Awards
  7. ^ Brown, Kay. "Tunes of Glory" review
  8. ^ "Tunes of Glory" London Theatre Database

External links



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