Both Alec Guinness and John Mills are cast as colonels, the former a man of humble origin who has risen from the ranks, the other a product of Eton, Oxford and a classy military academy. It is the clash of personalities between the two that provides the main story thread.
Tunes is the story of a Scottish regiment in peacetime commanded by Guinness. He’s reasonably popular with his fellow officers, though a few appear to resent his rough-and-ready behavior in the mess. His is only an acting command, and when he is superseded by Mills (whose grandfather had commanded the same regiment), the clash is inevitable.
The struggle between the two reaches its climax when Guinness finds his daughter in a public house with a young corporal, and strikes the soldier. That’s a serious offense under military law, and though Mills has the power to deal with the case, he chooses to submit a report to higher authority, which would inevitably lead to a courtmartial.
Ronald Neame’s crisp and vigorous direction keeps the main spotlight on the two central characters. Guinness, as always, is outstanding, and his performance is as forthright as it is subtle. He assumes an authentic Scottish accent naturally, and never misses a trick to win sympathy, even when he behaves foolishly. It’s a tough assignment for Mills to play against Guinness, particularly in a fundamentally unsympathetic role, but he is always a match for his co-star.
1960: Nomination: Best Adapted Screenplay