WEE GEORDIE (Frank Launder, 1955)

Based on David Walker’s novel Geordie (the original title, incidentally, of the British film), Wee Geordie is a gentle, amiable comedy about a puny Scottish schoolboy, a gamekeeper’s sensitive son, who beefs up his stature by following a bodybuilding correspondence course and winds up representing his nation as a hammer-thrower at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. I loved this film as a child and watched it over and over again; but a time-capsule may be its most fitting resting-place. Written by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, and leisurely directed by Launder, Wee Geordie may be too mild for current tastes, including my own.

Indeed, revisiting the film yesterday, now that I am old and sick, has played mischief with my cherished memories of it. Except for Bill Travers’ fine acting as the grown Geordie Mac Taggart, nothing has held up particularly well here, and this devastates me; even Alastair Sim, whom I once deemed hilarious in his role, has grown tiresome with The Laird’s admonitions not to shoot kestrels, and Geordie’s romance with his Jean is hardly as magical as I remembered it: it’s plain and drearily conventional. The one nice element of it, I suppose, is that wee Geordie finally stands up to his self-righteous sweetheart: a bit of relationship-building to match his bodybuilding. Henry Samson’s parody of Charles Atlas, alas, doesn’t click in any longer.

Geordie’s insistence on wearing his late dad’s black kilt at the Olympics rather than the team garment reminded me of Chariots of Fire (Hugh Hudson, 1981), and I still enjoyed the rural pristineness of Wilkie Cooper’s color cinematography. While watching the film for the first time in a half-century, I thought about Bill Travers—how I cried when the star of Born Free (James Hill, 1966) and Ring of Bright Water (Jack Couffer, 1969), not to mention his Robert Browning to Jennifer Jones’s Elizabeth Barrett (The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Sidney Franklin, 1957), passed away nearly twenty years ago. How can we patch our world up now that the spell of Wee Geordie is broken? How do we suffer through the remaining days of our lives now that our childhoods, revoked, have been taken from us? How do we prepare for the hard times ahead?

How do we hold onto what is already irrevocably lost?

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