"Tunes of Glory" tells the story of what happens when the proverbial irresistible force meets the immovable object. Alec Guinness in the persona of Major Jock Sinclair represents the former, and John Mills represents the latter in the role of Lt. Colonel Basil Barrow, who is sent to replace Sinclair as permanent Colonel of a Scottish battalion. Sinclair is a popular former Pipe Major who has risen up through the ranks because of his heroism in the desert campaign of El Alamein in World War II. Barrow, whom Jock belittles, calling him "Barrow Boy", is the antithesis: a graduate of Eton and Oxford, he is descended from a long line of colonels who have themselves commanded the same battalion. Barrow has therefore inherited the "Idea" of the regiment, while Sinclair has grown up at its heart and has grafted himself onto what he considers its spirit.
I cannot recall two other actors who are so well matched in equality of strength. One gets the feeling that if anyone else had been cast in only one of the respective leading roles, either Guinness or Mills would have dominated that unfortunate actor. But these two giants are equipollent in ability. Furthermore, they have a history of acting together. Guinness was outstanding as Herbert Pocket (his first role) in Dickens' "Great Expectations" where he played alongside of John Mills, who portrayed Pip. In "Kind Hearts and Coronets," Guinness also worked with Dennis Price who, in "Tunes", plays Major Charles Scott, whose motives are as enigmatic as he is aristocratic. Jock never tires of addressing him mockingly as "Old Boy!" And although Charlie seems to tolerate Jock's japes good-naturedly to a point, when the tension between Jock Sinclair and Basil Barrow explodes, Charlie's motives become ambiguously opaque.
The excellent ensemble cast includes Kay Walsh as Jock's actress and "bit on the side"; Gordon Jackson as Captain Jimmy Cairns, the only man who really tries to understand the difficulties of both antagonists; and the incomparable Duncan Macrae as the sympathetic Pipe Major MacLean.
Ronald Neame's direction is superb, and the disc includes a fascinating interview with him about the making of the film and his warm relationship with the actors. The cinematography captures the essence (or what convinced me was the essence, since I have no personal knowledge thereof) of the officers' quarters: gothic elegance downstairs--the great fireplace and tall leaded windows; the paneled dining hall with its regimental silver; and Spartan rudiments upstairs in the sleeping quarters. The dour grey skies and the powdering of snow outside seem to exacerbate the tensions and jealousies inside that not even the fire crackling in the immense grate can dispel.
A star of the film is certainly the piping and the precision marching of the splendidly kilted highland pipers, who play all the tunes of glory that accompany the cinematic narrative. They fully epitomize the "Idea" of the Regiment.