Thursday, June 4, 2020

Wee Geordie Throws a Hammer!

Bill Travers as the adult Geordie.
Young Geordie MacTaggert doesn't like to be called "wee' by the other lads in his rural Scottish community. Yet, it's accurate to say that he's decidedly short for his age. It's a sore point, though, and comes to a head when he and childhood playmate Jean visit an eagle's nest. Jean is tall enough to see the baby birds, but Geordie is neither tall enough nor strong enough to view the nest.

That night, he sees a newspaper ad that will change his life. In the advertisement, bodybuilder Henry Samson asks: "Are you undersized? Let me make a different man of you!" Geordie sends off for Samson's exercise program and soon becomes obsessed with physical fitness. He eventually grows into a 6' 6" muscular young man! (As one character notes, the exercises can't have accounted for his growth spurt.)

Unfortunately, Geordie's focus on building his muscles has come with a cost. Jean, now an attractive young woman, feels ignored. The situation doesn't improve when Samson recommends that Geordie take up a sport like hammer throwing--at which he excels. Indeed, his hammer throwing attracts the interest of officials organizing Britain's team for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.

Norah Gorsen as Jean and Travers.
Made in 1955, Geordie (aka Wee Geordie) is a heartfelt film brimming with Scottish charm. Despite a handful of rear projection shots, it's one of those movies that will make you want to move to the Scottish glen--or at least take a vacation there. In the title role, Bill Travers makes a charming, reluctant hero who has to be convinced to participate in the Olympics. His Geordie has no desire to leave his beloved home and see the rest of the world. Why would he--when everything he loves is right there in the glen?

Indeed, Geordie works best when staying in Scotland and focusing on the Geordie-Jean relationship. One of the best scenes has Geordie floundering in his first hammer throwing competition until he hears Jean calling out to him from a nearby hill. Later, when the plot relocates to Melbourne, it becomes a conventional fish-out-of-water story.

Alastair Sim as the Laird.
Travers gets wonderful support from Norah Gorsen as Jean, Paul Young as the young Geordie, and Alastair Sim as The Laird. While it's true that Sim frequently portrayed quirky British gentlemen, that doesn't take away from his typical amusing performance. Paul Young, who made his film debut in Geordie, had a long television career (that's still ongoing). In contrast, the fresh-faced Norah Gorsen retired from acting in the mid-1960s.

Upon its release in Great Britain, Geordie quickly became a box office hit. Hollywood took notice of the ruggedly handsome Bill Travers and cast him opposite established stars in movies like Footsteps in the Fog (1955) and The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957). His biggest success, though, didn't come until 1967 when he appeared with his wife Virginia McKenna in Born Free (1966). That film and Ring of Bright Water (about an otter) transformed the couple into animal rights activists. It was a passion that Travers pursued until his death in 1994.


  1. Wee Geordie! Now, this is a movie that I have heard about but not had the luck or timing to see yet. When My dad mentioned it, in relation to Mr. Sim and Born Free playing on the radio, he gave it the air of legend.

    I enjoyed this review and I know I will enjoy the movie.

  2. The only Bill Travers films I've seen are Born Free and Ring of Bright Water, which I watched numerous times as a kid (thanks to a local television station and my wacky anti-TV parents who thought these films would be educational). I'll search for Geordie because it sounds wonderful.

  3. An Elephant Called Slowly might well have been the most important film in Travers and McKenna becoming animal rights activists. Pole Pole, their elephant co-star, later died at an early age after isolation in a zoo for many years.