Horses. They’re stunning creatures with a sense of nobility and adventure, and they can make you a lot of money in the realm of racing. Horse racing, obviously, not motor racing. It’d be hard to find a car that would fit your average steed behind the steering wheel.
Anyway, The Galloping Major is all about the members of a small London village called Lambs Green who follow the madcap plan of pet shop owner Major Hill, who wants to buy a racehorse but doesn’t have the capital. After seeing one horse in action, he convinces 300 of the townspeople to put in a pound so they can buy the animal. However, everyone is so caught up in the excitement that they miss the prized horse and accidentally buy one that isn’t so great.
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Hilarity ensues as they decide to train the horse and discover it’s a better jumper than runner – hence the villagers renaming it to the Galloping Major – and end up entering it into the Grand National. Here it turns a little bit into One of Our Racehorses is Missing, and you can imagine how it ends. Of course, it’s going to end that way, and damn well it should too.
The Galloping Major is an Ealing studios comedy in all but name. It was directed by Henry Cornelius and written by Cornelius and Monja Danischewsky, both of whom worked on pictures for Ealing, and despite being an independent production was still seen as a kind of spiritual production from the famous stable, even if it didn’t have the name on it. It definitely has the Ealing feel to it, even if some of it is a bit edgier than was expected from the studio and certainly its owners. It also has a sense of ingenuity, including the fantastic opening titles that include the credits swooshing by as banners on the side of London buses.
It’s a lot of fun, and much of this comes from the lead performance of Basil Radford as Major Hill. He’s an eccentric person, owning a rather ragged pet shop yet with delusions of grandeur that likely come from his stature as a military officer, but he’s a lovely man that lives with his young daughter Susan (a young Janette Scott) who inspires the idea of the horse syndicate after she and 29 of her friends club together to buy a shiny new bicycle. A sign of his generosity is that he ends up taking in a bailiff who turns up at the beginning asking him to pay his debts.
It’s a film which heavily features the working class but never looks down on them, and instead lets them have as much fun as they want, with no moral quandary placed on them. The film is well-supported with performances by Jimmy Hanley as a bus driver and Joyce Grenfell as the gossiping owner of a milk bar. Minor roles go to future Carry On members Charles Hawtrey and Sid James, and a fun stint by A.E. Matthews as the slightly delirious but fun president of the local veterans club.
Studiocanal has given The Galloping Major a brand new restoration as part of their Vintage Classics range, and it looks absolutely wonderful. It sounds great too, and there’s very little more you could ask for in terms of audio and visual quality. There are two featurettes on the disc, which are both informative; an interview with broadcaster Matthew Sweet about the film, and a piece that has film historian Richard Dacre showing you around the locations the film was shot in modern London. A stills gallery is also included.
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The Galloping Major is a hugely enjoyable pseudo-Ealing comedy and another winner in Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics line. It looks and sounds great and is definitely worth a punt. Please note: Set The Tape does not endorse gambling or corralling the people of your village to buy a racehorse, but it does endorse making a film about corralling the people of your village to buy a racehorse. Ere mother, get t’agent on t’phone.
The Galloping Major is out now on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray from Studiocanal.