The Maggie, 1954.
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick.
Starring Alex Mackenzie, Paul Douglas and Tommy Kearins.
An old run-down puffer boat the ‘Maggie’ carries a loveable yet reckless reputation, only surpassed by her crafty old master Captain Mactaggart. When Mactaggart gets hold of an expensive cargo by chance, their journey ahead will be anything but plain sailing.
The Maggie is a forgotten gem in the long list of Ealing Studios’ classic movies, made in an era commonly regarded as the ‘Golden Age’ of British Cinema. The infectious storyline reels the viewer in immediately when the ‘Maggie’ pulls into harbour at Glasgow. The coast guards speak of her cunning master Captain Mactaggart and the recent trouble he found himself in. The Maggie’s engineer warns Mactaggart they should have arrived in Glasgow at night to avoid being caught by Mactaggart’s sister Sarah, the rightful owner of the archaic puffer. Mactaggart responds in his usual relaxed manner, “they will never come looking for us in the day, they won’t expect it.” An air of mischief and trickery surrounds the Captain and the Maggie herself. This notion of harmless misbehavior is the spine that runs through the entire film.
Additionally in this scene Mactaggart bellows instructions at Dougy (Tommy Kearins) the ship’s boy, who follows orders with no resentment whatsoever. Dougy’s obedience is exemplary of one the strongest themes in the film; loyalty. The boy is totally committed to the Captain and the Maggie, no matter how harshly he is treated. Even when Mactaggart (who is also prone to an afternoon pint or two) leaves the boy to pay for his drinks, Dougy literally fights a man defending his Captain’s name.
Mactaggart is on the verge of having his beloved ship shut down when he tricks the incompetent Pusey into entrusting him with an expensive cargo owned by American transport tycoon Calvin B. Marshall (Paul Douglas). The Maggie is barely in a fit enough state to carry her crew, let alone a cargo worth thousands of pounds, but Pusey mistakes a well-kept ship for the Maggie. Mactaggart is only too happy to go along with this fortunate mix up “it seems there’s been a wee bit of a misunderstanding” he says with a cheeky smile. As well as highlighting the warmly deceiving nature of the Captain, these two incidents reveal another one of his many traits; he is an opportunist.
When the cargo’s owner Marshall tries to track down the Maggie and retrieve his cargo, a hilarious game of cat and mouse begins. Mactaggart pulls out bluff after bluff and even when Marshall personally boards the Maggie, Mactaggart uses his wit, lovable smile and any opportunity he gets to keep the cargo on board. Another strong undercurrent of The Maggie is tradition against modernization; The Maggie being a symbol of tradition struggling to cope with Marshall and the demands of modern shipping. Marshall is also a compelling character and a likeable person, but he is someone who is not at peace with himself. Marshall intends to bring the cargo to his brand new holiday home in attempt to rekindle his strained marriage. Under the surface of Marshall’s predicament there is a sense of materialism (the cargo) being at odds with the more important things in life, such as seeing your loved ones and being content with yourself
The Maggie is a beautiful blend of charismatic characters, witty humour and an engaging storyline. In an age where blockbuster movies with over-the-top special effects and weak storylines dominate the box office, it is reassuring to watch a film with a truly original screenplay. Mactaggart, Dougy and Marshall are three of the strongest characters I have ever seen in a film, whilst The Maggie’s underlying themes are tactfully executed without being forced upon the viewer. During a particular scene a journalist describes the old puffer boats as a “national treasure” and personally I could not think of a more appropriate way to describe The Maggie.