The great British directing duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made some of the most memorably classic films in cinema history. Such films as "The Red Shoes", "Black Narcissus" and "A Matter of Life and Death" are fabulous fables shot in garish colors featuring remarkable set designs, pithy scripts and top notch performances. "I Know Where I'm Going!" from 1945 is a film that can be included as one of their best but until now it has rarely been seen.
The film is about a headstrong young woman named Joan (Wendy Hiller) who has known where she's going all her life and now, fresh out of college, plans to marry a wealthy English industrialist who is living on the small island of Kilorin, which is located in the Scottish Hebrides. She heads to Scotland but when she gets there the fog is so thick that she is unable to get to the island. She waits one night, then a huge storm blows in and for the next few days she is landlocked on the Island of Mull.
While she waits Joan meets Torquil MacNeil (Roger Livesey) a local man on leave from the Navy who immediately takes an interest in her. Everywhere she goes he accompanies her and since he is an attractive guy who is well respected by all the locals she begins to cautiously take an interest. As the days go on Joan becomes almost desperate to get to the island of Kilorin for fear that maybe she will fall in love with Torquil, which will totally throw her plans out of whack.
At once fiercely romantic and eccentrically humorous the film has all the elements that make for a classic 1940's film. It's a film about the struggle of a headstrong woman against fate. Joan does everything she can to get away and cross the rough sea but at every turn she is forced into the arms of Torquil.
The film is beautiful to look at thanks to the expressionistic cinematography by Edward Hillier. Everything is lit with remarkable contrasts of dark and light and the land, the fog and the local architecture (and castles) add a distinct flavor to the film that could never be duplicated in a studio – although, studio work was done for many of the interiors. Like all the Powell & Pressburger films this one balances between fable and drama and is cinematically striking with inventive camera shots, impressive editing and a lively pace from start to finish.
The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1:33 to 1 and was created by a 35mm preservation print, which was struck from the original nitrate elements. The transfer is superb even though there are some scratches and a noticeable hint of change in light levels between edits. This may have something to do with the age of the print but it also has to do with the fact that light meters were not yet invented. The film is shot in black & white and there is a strong emphasis on the contrasts between darks and whites in both the indoor and outdoor locations. There are also a lot of outdoor backlit shots, which add a magical glow to the characters that transferred quite well.
The audio track is presented in its original single channel mono and since there was no digital stereo available in 1945 this is fine. The soundtrack is occasionally uneven and there is minor hiss but this is from the original track not specific to the DVD. (Although it should be noted that well into the 1940's hiss was actually common on soundtracks because viewers were thought to become unnerved when there was absolutely no sound). It should be noted too that the film is louder on the audio commentary than the regular audio track when Ian Christie is not speaking.
Criterion is often impressive in this department and on this disc they hold nothing back. There are six extra features including a commentary track, two slide shows, a documentary (and a half) and a home movie shot by Michael Powell. The commentary track by noted film historian Ian Christie is excellent. He talks a lot about the making of the film and gives great insight into the various parts of the film including visual characteristics, info on individual actors, a history of Scotland in cinema and an overall discussion of the Powell & Pressburger canon.
There are over 70 behind-the-scenes stills that are presented in an eight-minute slide show and feature a commentary track by Michael Powell's widow Thelma Schoonmaker. All of the photos are in black and white and there is a good story behind many of them.
The home movie section features seven-minutes that were shot by Michael Powell in the 1950's during one of his trips to the Scottish Highlands. It is all outdoor footage (shot in 8mm) done on one of his hikes with a group of friends. There too is a commentary by Thelma Schoonmaker.
The half documentary is this 18 minute excerpt from"Return to The Edge of The World", which is a documentary about Michael Powell's first really personal film. It starts with a shot of Powell driving through the Pinewood Studios and then segues into 13 minutes of footage from "The Edge of The World," which was also shot in Scotland. The scene they show is a harrowing scene of two men competing in a rock climbing race on a some dramatic ocean cliffs. The section also features a commentary track by Ian Christie who notes the similarities between it and "I Know Where I'm Going!."
The 50 minute video documentary "I Know Where I'm Going! Revisited" by Mark Cousins features interviews with D.P. Edward Hillier, and older taped footage of Wendy Hiller as well as short excerpted interviews with Martin Scorsese and some of the locals in and around the film's location in Scotland. The documentary centers a lot on Nancy Franklin, an aficionado of the film, who accompanies Cousins on a tour of the Island of Mull. The documentary also provides a good background into the magic of filmmaking, letting us know that most of the outdoor scenes were done in the Scottish Highlands while most of the interiors were done on the Pinewood Studio lot in England. The most remarkable fact is that the lead actor Roger Livesey never even set foot in Scotland. But the editing is so seamless there is almost no way to tell.
There is also a Photo Essay by Nancy Franklin section which features a nine-minute slide show presentation of about 100 slides taken by Nancy (super fan of the film) Franklin when she visited many of the film's locations in the 1970's. The slides are accompanied by a good commentary by Ms. Franklin. The photos are all in color and show how beautiful and remote the locale still is today.
The film is 91 minutes long and there are 23 chapters. There is an English subtitle option and Criterion also features their standard color bars.
"I Know Where I'm Going!" is not as well known as most of the other films in the Powell & Pressburger canon but thanks to The Criterion Collection's quality work on this release it can now be savored again and again in all its original glory. The entire presentation is impressive and – besides helping us to become experts on the film – it encourages us to see more of the Powell & Pressburger films on DVD.