February 4, 1954 – The Live-Action Feature Film Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue is Released in Theaters
“It takes more than foot soldiers to stop highland men.”
On February 4, 1954, the live-action adventure film Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue was released to theaters. The film is a romantic adaptation of the legend of Rob Roy MacGregor, and was the last Disney production in England until 1960’s Kidnapped. The extras in the film were Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who had just returned from the Korean War and were on loan from the Scottish Command of the British War Office. This film was also the final Disney film released through RKO Radio Pictures; all later films were released under Disney’s own distribution label, Buena Vista Distribution. The film stars Richard Todd as Rob Roy, Glynis Johns as Helen Mary MacGregor, James Robertson Justice as the Duke of Argyll, Michael Gough as the Duke of Montrose, And Jean Taylor Smith as Lady Margaret Campbell MacGregor. The music was composed by Cedric Thorpe Davie, with screenplay by Lawrence Edward Watkin, and was directed by Harold French.
The film begins with a synopsis of the state of Scotland in the early 18th century: the German George I was chosen as the King of England, leading to a revolt of the Scottish clans to place James Stuart on the throne. However, this revolt was almost completely crushed by the English armies, save for a small group of clansmen. Troops are then seen marching over the highlands, while the Scottish troops climb up quietly on the side of a hill. The leader of the highland troops sounds the charge, and a battle ensues. Unfortunately, the battle does not end well for the clansmen, and the leader, Rob Roy MacGregor, is among those captured as prisoners. General Argyll commands the troops to hold their fire, although another general wants to see much more bloodshed, hoping to wipe out every last clansman. Argyll, a highlander himself, holds firm to his orders.
The highland troops return home, defeated and weary. Two of the men head to Rob Roy’s home, where his mother, Lady Margaret, sadly asks what’s happened to him. They tell her that he’s been taken to Sterling Castle, and she angrily asks why, as his closest kinsmen, they would dare to return without him. Lady Margaret then decides to head to Sterling to free her son, joined by the kinsmen. She greets Argyll, and although he tries to brush her away, she sits and refuses to leave. The Duke of Montrose, who has been going through the figures from the battle, states that at least they have the chief of the clan MacGregor to hang in England, while Argyll declares that Scots will be tried in Scotland. Montrose informs Argyll that his position as Secretary of State for Scotland is in peril, and if Argyll doesn’t deliver MacGregor to England, he will no long have his position. Argyll then explains to Margaret that while he believes in the fight to get James on the throne, he is working on getting amnesty for all of the clans of Scotland, and Rob Roy must not act so impetuously. Margaret then asks what would happen if Rob Roy were sent to England, and comes up with a plan to save him if he is transported; Argyll, who is Margaret’s cousin from the clan Campbell, goes along with her plan with a smile.
As Rob Roy is sent to England in Montrose’s carriage, MacGregor clansmen come to his rescue. Safely back home, he greets his mother, but warns her that the troubles are not quite over yet. He is shocked when she tells him that Argyll was the one that helped save him and that Argyll is not the enemy Rob Roy considers him to be. She asks him to try the ways of peace and settle down, and he hints at his affection for local girl Helen, although he has no intention of finding out her feelings for him. At the local tavern, where Helen is, the men are telling their stories from battle, when Helen animatedly picks up the story her father was telling. She’s hoping that Rob Roy will be by, and when he does appear, she acts rather indifferent at his arrival. He distracts her father to have a chance to talk with Helen alone (although he can only talk to her “alone” with her parents in the room). Finally, he proposes, and she happily accepts.
The wedding is a grand affair, with many kinsmen and friends in attendance. Unfortunately, the party quickly ends when British troops arrive with a proclamation from King George, which grants amnesty to all the clans of Scotland – except the clan MacGregor. The members of the clan are ordered to change their name to any surname of their choosing, no minister can lawfully baptize any male child with the name of MacGregor, and no member of the MacGregor clan can ever bear arms, whether offensively or defensively. When Rob Roy orders them to leave, the troops then bring forward a warrant for his arrest from the new Secretary of State of Scotland, Montrose. Argyll has been stripped of his offices and sent home to his castle. As Rob Roy is arrested, he orders his men to go “back to the punchbowl,” and Helen is sent to Lady Margaret’s home for her protection. As he is taken away, Rob Roy breaks free from his bonds and escapes over a waterfall, with the British troops in quick pursuit. Rob Roy makes it back to his clansmen at an area known as the punchbowl (which he alluded to earlier), and orders his men to hide away their weapons, as he has no doubt that the British will kill them all should they attempt to fight back. Begrudgingly, they follow his orders.
Rob Roy sneaks back into his mother’s castle and greets his wife, but reveals that he can’t stay long, and asks her to come with him. The British troops have surrounded the castle all night, waiting to find if he has returned home. The troops fire as they spot Rob fleeing the castle, but he escapes. Back in the village, the men are paying their rents and extra taxes Montrose has placed on them, but when they ask for receipts, the British soldiers refuse to call the clansmen by their names of MacGregor, changing it to MacAllister. Tensions are high between the British men and the MacGregor men, especially when the British men offer a reward for the capture of Rob Roy. Rob Roy then appears, claiming the reward money and giving it back to his men. Montrose is angered at Rob Roy’s escape – again – and demands that Lady Margaret be brought in for harboring a fugitive, followed by an order to bring more men to surround her castle, if Rob Roy returns.
Rob Roy watches as the British invade the castle, taking all of Lady Margaret’s belongings as punishment for harboring a fugitive, then taking her to Sterling Castle as a prisoner. Helen is dragged away, but is saved just in time as Rob Roy appears. A fight ensues, with Lady Margaret using her late husband’s pistols to save her son, but is shot herself, although she brushes it off so as not to worry him. The British men then set her house on fire, alerting all the MacGregor men in the village. Rob Roy, Helen, and Lady Margaret are captured inside the burning building, but Rob Roy, to save his wife and mother, decides to sacrifice himself. Suddenly, he hears the cries of his clansmen, and Helen takes Lady Margaret away from the smoke, only to find that she’s been fatally wounded. Her last wish is to ask Rob Roy to stop the fighting, and Helen agrees to ask.
Lady Margaret is given a proper highland burial, with Argyll in attendance. Montrose crashes the funeral, incurring the wrath of Argyll, who has shown up with several Campbell kinsmen to stand at the ready. Seeing the Campbell clan, Montrose leaves, letting the funeral continue. Rob Roy tells Argyll that although the MacGregor men have tried for peace and to follow the English law, they are still attacked no matter what they do. Argyll then states that as a Knight of the Garter, he still has the right to talk to the King, and will persuade him to give amnesty to the clan MacGregor, claiming that “the peace of the highlands concerns us all.” Argyll asks Helen to restrain Rob Roy, and allow the soldiers he captured from the fight at his mother’s castle go free. Convinced by his mother’s last words, he comes forward with an offering of peace, and is shot by one of the English men, which means in no uncertain terms that this has escalated into a war.
Meanwhile, in London, Rob Roy is becoming a living legend, with ballads and stories being written about him. A cabinet meeting is called to talk about his actions, and fear that the other clans will join the MacGregor uprising. The King, however, is delighted by the stories of Rob Roy. Argyll arrives to explain the situation in Scotland, and the King calls out members of his cabinet to speak with him and Argyll. Montrose declares that 6,000 soldiers will be needed to kill the highland troops, but Argyll says that if he can go back alone, he can bring Rob Roy back alone; the King agrees to Argyll’s proposal. In Scotland, Rob Roy continues to fight, although Helen asks him once more to stop the fighting. The battle begins, and Rob Roy’s men are victorious at taking over the fort. Argyll arrives just as the battle ends, saddened that Rob Roy’s actions may have cost them all the peace they wished. As Rob Roy declares that they will always fight against the German king, Argyll says that if they do, he will be back with English troops to fight against them.
Just as Rob Roy’s men agree with his declaration, Helen appears, hoping to talk sense into the men. She doesn’t honor their impetuous actions, as they will only destroy themselves rather than get the peace that they need. Moved by Helen’s words, Rob Roy surprises Argyll by showing up in London with his men, wishing for amnesty. The whole of London follows the clan, wanting a chance to see the legendary Rob Roy for themselves. Rob Roy enters the throne room and asks for amnesty for his clan, and will take all the punishment the king wishes to bestow. The king then announces he doesn’t fear Rob Roy, but the self-seeking “friends” among him, shooting a pointed look at Montrose. He then gives Rob Roy back his sword and his name of MacGregor, calling him a great rogue, with Rob Roy responding that King George is a great king. The story of Rob Roy and the King is then told over and over in the inn, with the added fact that Argyll is now the Secretary of State once again. Rob Roy returns home during the storytelling into the waiting arms of Helen, and all is well in Clan MacGregor once more.