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Maggie, The (1954)


Main image of Maggie, The (1954)
DirectorAlexander Mackendrick
ProducerMichael Truman
Production CompanyEaling Studios
ScreenplayWilliam Rose
Director of PhotographyGordon Dines

Cast: Paul Douglas (Calvin B. Marshall); Alex Mackenzie (Skipper Peter Mactaggart); James Copeland (The Mate); Abe Barker (The Engineer); Tommy Kearins (The Wee Boy)

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The captain of a dilapidated old 'puffer' boat, the Maggie tricks an American businessman into letting them carry his valuable cargo.

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Released in 1954, when Ealing's creative and commercial energy was fading, The Maggie (d. Alexander Mackendrick) is rarely mentioned alongside the studio's better known comedies. This is a shame since, imperfect as it is, it has much of the intelligence that marks Mackendrick's more celebrated films.

The film is in many ways a counterpart to The Titfield Thunderbolt (d. Crichton, 1954), written by T.E.B. Clarke. Both films deal with sentimental efforts to preserve ageing vehicles - the Maggie is a decrepit 'puffer' boat, the Thunderbolt a steam engine rescued from a museum - in the face of apparently heartless forces of progress. But while Clarke's script displays an unreserved nostalgia and an anxiety towards change, Mackendrick's film is, typically, more complex. For one thing, whereas to the villagers of Titfield the steam engine is little more than a hobby and a symbol of local pride, the antique puffer represents its crew's only livelihood.

The central battle at the heart of The Maggie, between the wily, self-interested puffer skipper, Mactaggart (Alex Mackenzie) and the American airline magnate, Calvin B. Marshall (Paul Douglas) - a man who understands money better than people - mirrors the struggle between postmaster Macroon and Home Guard officer Waggett in Mackendrick's previous Scottish-set film, Whisky Galore! (1949).

Here however, the line between the opponents is less clear. Marshall, despite his cold materialism, is neither as foolish nor as unsympathetic as the self-important Waggett, while Mactaggart, for all his cleverness, is dishonest and selfish, acting more out of his own interests than those of his community or even his crew. Perhaps closer to Waggett is Marshall's agent, Pusey (Hubert Gregg), the only Englishman in the film, who suffers a string of humiliations at the hands of the Maggie's crew.

As in Mackendrick's Mandy (1952), the moral centre of The Maggie is a child, the puffer's enthusiastic 'Wee boy', Dougie (Tommy Kearins). It is Dougie whose fierce loyalty to his captain and boat finally touches Marshall's heart. Crucially, Marshall is redeemed at the end, first when he mucks in to fix the boat's broken engine and, when this isn't enough, when he volunteers to throw his precious cargo overboard. It is Dougie, again, who convinces Marshall to let Mactaggart keep his - entirely undeserved - fee, to pay for the restoration of the Maggie.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. The wrong boat (2.26)
2. Triple bluff (1:22)
3. A lesson (2:54)
4. The last straw (3:43)
Original poster
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Addison, John (1920-1998)
Mackendrick, Alexander (1912-1993)
Rose, William (1918-1987)
Tanner, Peter (1914-2002)
Ealing Comedy