Movie: The Galloping Major (1951)

I’m not up to it anymore, but I have camped out on sidewalks overnight for many of the past years’ Record Store Days.  In 1951’s The Galloping Major, Basil Radford is much older than I am now, and yet he should have camped out overnight at a horse auction that is essential to the plot.  Instead, newspaper reporters intent on interviewing him inadvertently prevent him from getting there in time, leading him to mistakenly buying the wrong horse.

The problem is he hasn’t just likely wasted his own money.  He obtained the money by selling shares in the horse to the community.

The horse accidentally acquired, Father’s Folly, is skittish and hard to control.  He is especially startled when aircraft fly overhead.  Performing disastrously in his first race, he jumps a barricade when alarmed by one.  The owners figure they should go ahead and sell him.  The jockey convinces them they have a potential Grand National winner on their hands.  Instead of a runner, they unintentionally have a jumper on their hands.

One unexpected party who becomes a key figure in this endeavor is Hugh Griffith as a bill collector who we first we ready to repossess all of Radford’s property.  They bond over horses—Radford, because he loves the animals, and Griffith, because he loves a flutter.  And, by using the word “flutter”, I realize I have seen way too many British films.

Anywho, I like how Radford invites the other man to stay with his family and he’s just there for the rest of the film.  I also like how flustered Griffith gets when he is made treasurer of the group who owns the horse, stammering, “I’d be very honored to have the honor to be honored in this way…”

A young Janette Scott is Radford’s daughter and she is given a quite a bit to do here.  It is she who provides the inspiration for selling shares in a racehorse, following the model of a syndicate she is in with some other girls.  They collectively own a bicycle, with each getting it for one month.  I hope for her sake that’s a small group, lest she see that bicycle only every so many years.

Scott was a confident actor even at that young age.  If there is a misstep with her character, it is her tendency to misspell things, and those errors are 2 cute by haf: “plaice” instead of “place” and “ergent” for “urgent”.  Her lines, at least, are far more intelligent than the mind that would write in such a way.  I found it especially amusing when she rages against the tortures she is subjected to at the beauty parlor: “I wish I could be ugly, and be a man and drive a bus.”  Fortunately for the UK movie industry, she would, in fact, grow up to be a very attractive and accomplished actress.

The horse is put to good use here.  It’s owners can’t afford to train him in a real facility, so a public park is put to use for that purpose.  Scott fails to properly secure the stable the night before the Grand National, leading to the horse going on a walking tour of the town.  I swear he showed a genuine curiosity in some of these moments, like he was really taking in the sights. 

He will eventually wander onto a film studio’s property and I hoped we would have a scene not unlike the mayhem created by Pee-Wee Herman on the Warners’ lot in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.  Alas, nothing as crazy as that happens, though he does get airbrushed to a different color as he was not the horse one film director was expecting.

The third act is all fast-paced mayhem, and it earns it.  Various parties have to find the horse, convince the studio to surrender it and then get it to Liverpool in time for the race.  Although largely rear-projection and stock footage, the event is quite exciting.  The finale of it is quite a surprise, with moments that had me laughing harder than at any other point during the runtime.

The Galloping Major is rather a slight film, even for this kind of thing.  It isn’t a product of Ealing Studios, but fans of their output will find much here to be in a similar vein.  I know I only laughed a few times, but my pained facial muscles tell me I must have smiled throughout my viewing of it.

Dir: Henry Cornelius

Starring Basil Radford, Hugh Griffith, Janette Scott

Watched on StudioCanal UK blu-ray (region B)