The Maggie

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The Maggie
The Maggie original poster.jpg
Original British quad-sized poster
Directed by Alexander Mackendrick
Produced by Michael Balcon
Michael Truman
Screenplay by William Rose
Story by Alexander Mackendrick
Starring Alex Mackenzie
Paul Douglas
Cinematography Gordon Dines
Distributed by GFD (UK)
Universal-International (US)
Release dates
  • 25 February 1954 (1954-02-25) (UK[1])
  • 30 August 1954 (1954-08-30) (US)
Running time
92 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Maggie (released in the U.S. as High and Dry) is a 1954 British comedy film. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick and written by William Rose, it is a story of a clash of cultures between a hard-driving American businessman and a wily Scottish captain.

It was produced by Ealing Studios at a time when rural Scotland was seen as a popular backdrop for light family entertainment (other examples include I Know Where I'm Going!, Whisky Galore! and Geordie, and British Transport Films such as The Coasts of Clyde).

The story was inspired by Neil Munro's short stories of the Vital Spark and her captain, Para Handy.[2][3]

Although underrated as an Ealing comedy (perhaps because it has a Scottish setting, a small narrative scope, a different British and American title, features only one minor "star" - the superbly acted slow-burning American, who behaves mostly like a stereotype American but is redeemed at the end, and suffers from the difficulties of the Scottish accents of many of the cast, and the almost-forgotten post-World War II austerity of Britain: and it lacks Alec Guinness and an eccentric plot) this is a deeply satisfying gem that stands up strongly to repeated viewing.

The De Havilland "Dragon Rapide" twin-engine bi-plane is almost as appealing as the puffer-boat "Maggie", herself, as central as the better known "African Queen".


The Maggie is a typical Clyde puffer, a small, aged cargo boat with a varied, irascible and argumentative crew. MacTaggart (Alex Mackenzie), a rascal of a captain, is in dire need of 300 pounds to renew his licence. In a shipping office by chance, he meets Mr Pusey (Hubert Gregg). Pusey, a proper Englishman, complete with bowler hat and umbrella, is trying to arrange for the transportation of some personal furniture for his boss, American Calvin B. Marshall (Paul Douglas), as a present for his wife to furnish their new home. The big company has no ships immediately available, so by default MacTaggart gets the job as Pusey mistakenly believes that he works for the reputable shipping company and that the more modern vessel docked next to the Maggie is MacTaggart's.

Marshall is a wealthy industrialist, a stubborn and determined self made man. When he eventually learns the truth he sets out in pursuit of the boat by aeroplane and hired car. Catching up with the Puffer, he puts Pusey on board to ensure the cargo is transferred to another boat. But his underling is no match for the captain; he ends up in jail on a charge of poaching. Marshall realizes that he will have to handle the matter personally. After another costly chase, he boards the boat himself to spur its progress in unloading the cargo swiftly into the nearest alternate vessel. However, the route and timing of the voyage is determined by tidal variations and local community priorities.

Marshall's hostile attitude gradually softens somewhat. He is particularly touched by the loyalty of the "wee boy", Dougie (Tommy Kearins), to his captain. At one point, when Marshall threatens to buy the boat from the owner, MacTaggart's sister, and sell it for scrap, Dougie drops a board on him, knocking him unconscious. Though his mood hardens at when the wily Mactaggart moors the puffer under a wooden jetty across which the furniture must be carried in order to offload it; as the tide rises the jetty is torn apart, making unloading impossible At one of the stops, where the crew attend the one hundredth birthday of an islander, Marshall chats with a nineteen-year-old girl who is pondering her future. She has two suitors, an up-and-coming, ambitious store owner and a poor fisherman. The American advises her to choose the former, but she believes she will marry the latter, explaining that he will give her his time, rather than just things. This strikes a chord with Marshall. He is having marital difficulties and the furniture is an attempt to patch things up with his wife.

As they finally near their destination, the engine fails with a bent connecting rod; caught by wind and tide on a lee shore with the crew in panic it falls to Marshall to find and fix the problem, practically beating the elderly engine into submission to get it to run. But the Maggie has drifted too close inshore and the repaired engine drives the boat onto the rocks. The practical minded Marshall knows that if they jettison the cargo the lightened puffer can be floated off safely. Mactaggert finally realises the price of his scheming, for he has failed to insure the furniture and the falling tide will cause his ship to break up. Despite this he assures Marshall that his furniture can be recovered safely from the wreck. After pause for thought, Marshall astonishes them all by ordering the furniture thrown overboard, insisting that ‘if any man aboard so much as laughs he will strangle him with his bare hands…’

To Puseys amazement when they meet up with him at journey’s end Marshall heads away from the empty Maggie, presumably to re-evaluate his life, even allowing Mactaggart to keep the money he so desperately needs. In appreciation of his magnanimity (more likely exasperation), Mactaggart renames his boat the Calvin B. Marshall.

The puffer is last seen heading erratically and amidst much argument back up the Clyde as the credits roll.



The Maggie was played by two Hays boats in the film, the Boer and the Inca. Much of the film was shot on location at Islay.

The film uses real placenames as far as the Crinan Canal, then switches to fictional placenames once they get through it.

DVD releases[edit]

The film is available as part of the Region 2 Ealing Comedy DVD Collection, released in April, 2003. Other movies in the set include Whisky Galore!, Champagne Charlie, and It Always Rains on Sunday.

In Region 1, it is part of the Ealing Studios Comedy Collection, released in April, 2005, along with Whisky Galore!, Passport to Pimlico, A Run for Your Money and The Titfield Thunderbolt.


  1. ^ Times Digital Archive: First advert in The Times, 25 February 1954, page 2
  2. ^ Osborne, Brian D.; Armstrong, Ronald (1998). Echoes of the Sea. Canongate. p. 405. 
  3. ^ Jack, Ian (2003-09-20). "Letting off steam". The Guardian (Guardian News and Media). Retrieved 2008-11-25. 

External links[edit]