With 1947’s The Brothers out now on Park Circus DVD, Andrew Martin, Curator of Modern Scottish Collections at the National Library of Scotland, offers a glimpse of how the film was promoted over 60 years ago using archival material from the Library’s vaults.
Within the 14 million printed items in the National Library of Scotland we have a small but evocative collection of material relating to some of the classic Scottish films. I’ve been looking at the material we have for The Brothers, and these provide an insight into how this major screen event – and one of my favourite films – was marketed in 1947.
The Brothers and its Scottish director David MacDonald have been a little neglected in the annals of Scottish cinema. The film appeared on screens between the release of two favourites – I Know Where I Am Going and Whisky Galore. With great charm both portray a Hebridean world of actual locations, ceilidhs, and canny locals. The Brothers has some of these ingredients too: striking Skye scenery, old traditions and a wealth of character actors in distinctive roles – but it is also a dark and powerful drama.
When Patricia Roc steps off the steamer to be a servant girl for Finlay Currie and his two adult sons, she finds that the locals are rather too friendly. Her beauty soon begins to take its toll on the island community, provoking an outbreak of feuding between two families, and what ensues is extraordinary.
In 1947 Roc was well-known as a wholesome leading lady who had often played second-fiddle to Margaret Lockwood in Gainsborough Studio melodramas such as Love Story and The Wicked Lady. The Brothers gave her the chance to take centre stage. Maxwell Reed and Duncan MacRae are the unlikely brothers – Reed smoulders in sub-Stewart Granger style as befits the future first husband of Rank starlet Joan Collins and MacRae reminds us that he played sinister and funny with equal skill.
The Brothers remains a striking film, an intense melodrama played out with gusto against the very real back-drop of Skye.
The National Library of Scotland collections include an original poster, pressbook, and set of photographic stills, as well as the 1947 film edition of L.A.G. Strong’s novel.
The Film of the Book paperback comes complete with stills, biographies, and a colour cover of a beaming leading lady sitting amongst the studio heather. Facts about the Film inform us that the weather was not ideal during the seven weeks of location work in Skye, but that the crew, many of which were recently de-mobbed were up to the challenge, and that the RAF helped out with weather forecasting.
We also learn that 200 people turned up as extras, half of which were on holiday, and that many of the locals had never visited a cinema. On her departure Patricia Roc was, we hear, presented with a shawl and box of kippers.
Pressbooks were distributed to film exhibitors by the companies who made the films. They offered posters to buy, stills and trailers to hire, and helpful suggestions how cinema managers might market the film locally, with ready-made articles and snippets of information.
The pressbook for The Brothers includes cast photographs, biographies, features on the ancient traditions revived for the film, the work of the dialect coach, and an “outdoor girl” healthy diet and beauty regime for the “Women’s Page”.
The local librarian, we are told, might be persuaded to feature the Book of the Film in the Library window. There is also a reminder of the Scottish credentials of the crew and cast, whether it be Dumfries (John Laurie) Dumbartonshire (David MacDonald, the director) or St.Andrews (Cedric Thorpe Davie, the composer) – “be sure and plug your particular connection in your local newspapers.”
Our set of eight photographic stills (four of which are reproduced here) was designed to be displayed in the standard-sized frames which decorated the foyers of cinemas throughout the country. In 1947 the stills were hired out for seven shillings the set – but there was a 50% reduction if returned in good condition. One of the curiosities of the photographs is that the name of Megs Jenkins, who has a minor role, appears in rather larger type than that of the stars. Perhaps Patricia Roc’s agent was on vacation.
It is great to welcome back a rare and peculiar treat on DVD in the shape of The Brothers, Scotland’s full-blooded excursion into the world of costume melodrama.
Andrew Martin is Curator of Modern Scottish Collections at the National Library of Scotland and the author of ‘Going to the Pictures: Scottish memories of cinema’.