What's this sailing up the River Clyde? Why it's The Maggie, a steamboat whose captain, MacTaggart (Alex Mackenzie), has something of a cheek showing his face round here as he risks losing the vessel when its insurance has run out, and it's not allowed to carry cargo until he can raise three hundred pounds. As he and the other three crewmembers enjoy the pub, an insurance agent shows up and begins to look the puffer over: if they don't find a deal quick, it's curtains for their livelihood...
One of the lesser Ealing comedies, this was notable for its direction by Alexander Mackendrick, who came up with the story as well, adapted by William Rose who scripted Genevieve around the same time. Few would claim the director was operating at his best here, and the ever self-critical Mackendrick found much to complain about the end result, yet nevertheless held a small place in the hearts of the Ealing cultists even if it took second place at most to Whisky Galore in the Scottish outings the studio made. However, there were those wont to point out that there was something rather nasty in its parochialism.
What started out as a roguish item of Scottish humour ended up as a hard to deny taking down of the foreigners, embodied by the hapless Calvin B. Marshall, played by imported American Paul Douglas who in this decade had turned quite the Anglophile, spending a lot of time in Britain to make projects there. Sadly, five years after this was completed he met his untimely death, but remained a recognisable face for his talent for character comedy within the bulky frame of a bruiser. Here he was in the fish out of water role, and did very well in the face of Celtic conniving as essentially the crew of The Maggie wanted to take advantage of Marshall.
This was meant to be funny, but as it played, seeing Marshall's plans to get his cargo up to the Northwest of the country by ship constantly thwarted by MacTaggart's machinations to get as much money out of him as possible, this didn't exactly reflect well on the Scots. Indeed, it looked as if Mackendrick had been in an especially bad mood when he dreamt up the plot, as whereas it was patently inspired by the classic tales of The Vital Spark (filmed for television by the BBC in the next decade and the one after that, starring Roddy McMillan who had a bit part in this), there was very little of the benevolent quality say, a Bill Forsyth would have conjured up for the narrative.
Although there was a hint Forsyth had drawn on this for Local Hero, especially in the extended sequence where Marshall is brought to question his existence as a successful businessman by a folksy lass he meets at a hundredth birthday party for one of the villagers. Elsewhere, these ruminations were downplayed for the supposed humour value of Marshall seeing his hopes soundly dashed by MacTaggart - even the cabin boy gets into the act by knocking the man out at one point - which would only really be amusing if you particularly didn't like Americans. Not that Marshall acted like a saint throughout, but his more callous actions were born out of frustration with the self-serving and even deliberately heartless behaviour of the captain, so if you were not laughing you would more likely be feeling very sorry for the visitor and if you were Scots, even wanting to reassure him that we were not all as xenophobic as shown here. Music by John Addison.