McGonagall Dies Again

Free-standing footnote — THE GREAT MCGONAGALL (above and below) is also the only film to contain its own lunch break, at no extra charge. As a particularly befuddled comedy scene rages, star Spike Milligan becomes briefly disorientated, and turns to his director for advice. Joe McGrath, at the helm, offers Spike zero help, but tries to press on. Clapperboards are clapped. Spike’s pleas to have another crack at the scene from the start, because “It all feels over the top,” go unheeded. On the next take, co-star defiantly Victor Spinetti hams it up even more. A take completed, McGrath calls for lunch.

Music plays, and we watch the cast eat.

Then, back to the scene!

I like generosity in a film-maker, and I find it in most of my favourites, but few of the great directors actually treat their whole audience to lunch. In this, McGrath stands alone.

With the pleasure, always a little malaise — one feels sorry for Spike, whose objections are steamrollered over by a director apparently concerned only with completing the day’s schedule. It’s a good clip for directors-in-training to look at: most actors won’t be as blatant as this in asking for a retake, but when they’re unhappy with their work, it shows, and it’s usually worth paying attention.

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