Written and directed by Henry Cornelius, co-written by Monja Danischewsky, a syndicate is set up by a horse lover to buy a particular racehorse, but they accidentally buy the wrong horse. The horse is useless on the flat, so they decide to enter him as a jumper. Starring: Basil Radford, Jimmy Hanley, Janette Scott, A.E. Matthews, Rene Ray, Hugh Griffith, Joyce Grenfell, Charles Victor and Sydney Tafler.
Modern film can undoubtedly achieve a lot of things that classic film couldn’t but they’ll never be able to make a silly, adventurous comedy like the classics could. It’s just not a tone that you can pull off today but in 1951 it works perfectly, creating the slightly unbelievable but lovably entertaining The Galloping Major. It has that typical embellished chaos with a great group of key characters and a strong community feel. It also taps directly into the underdog vein, giving itself such low odds of working out and throwing in plenty of coincidental and over the top moments along the way. It is fun but at the same time, it does lose a lot of its pace in the second half, it’s the time to really ramp up the excitement and raise your hopes, and instead it moves fairly slowly and feels anticlimactic.
However, it does make up for that with the charisma of its characters, particularly its lead played by Basil Radford, who also came up with the story for the film. Radford is a hugely reliable actor, who’s always enjoyable to watch, he captures that classic British gentleman air but with added generosity and compassion. There’s then a large and well casted ensemble behind him, with Janette Scott as his daughter Susan at the centre. It’s remarkably often in classic cinema that child performances were heinously over the top and cheesy but Scott’s is not in that category at all. Her character has that edge of bucking expectations, she wants to be independent and roll up her sleeves rather than being treated as just the pretty girl. It’s a great cast and they all exemplify the old-fashioned British sense of humour, and since it’s family focused it’s pleasantly not so full of innuendoes.
Visually, it starts out on a fantastic note, when you think of credits being integrated into the opening scenes, modern films like Baby Driver probably come to mind but it’s been done for years and The Galloping Majoris a great example. It may not be quite as flashy as those today but it’s one of those extra touches that kicks things off on such strong footing. One of the other great choices is that while the horse racing is a central part to the story, it doesn’t take over and the focus remains on the characters. There’s a great variety of locations and a number of different elements thrown into the mix to keep it interesting, from the pet shop inexplicably having a monkey to getting caught up in a film set.
The Galloping Major is a fun, silly adventure about bringing people together and holding out hope, even when the odds are stacked against you. Basil Radford is superb as always and the entire cast are extremely enjoyable to watch. It’s just the right amount of unbelievable though it does slow down a touch too much in its final scenes to do itself justice. It’s sweet and funny in exactly the ways you think it’s going to be, it may not hold a lot of surprises but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s entertaining and full of hope.