Movie Monday: Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue (1953)


Small countries, particularly small countries with big tourism industries, can sometimes find themselves weirdly associated with a sufficiently colourful minority. Take Jamaica for instance; the image of the typical Jamaican in most people’s minds is probably of a dreadlocked rasta, even though Rastafari make up about 1% of Jamaica’s population. Similarly, the popular image of Scotland is of a kilted highlander, even though the majority of the population even in the 18th century when this image was solidified didn’t fit the stereotype at all. I don’t consider myself Scottish enough to speak knowledgeably about questions of national identity (I was born in Scotland, but my family moved away when I was four years old) but even so I bet that the average person from Edinburgh or Glasgow loves the fact that teuchters are the public face of the country.

(If it turns out that “teuchter” is genuinely offensive this bit might get changed.)

And there’s probably no single figure more associated with this representation than Robert “Robin” “Rob Roy” McGregor, 17th-18th century Highland outlaw and all-purpose swashbuckling hero. His story’s been filmed three times at least, but the one we’re looking at today is the 1953 Disney production. A tip of the bonny blue bonnet to friend of the blog Chris for linking me to this … historical curiosity.

So, what I found interesting was the poster’s claim that “every minute flames with furious action,” which is really not true. We actually get quite a lot of backroom politicking, wooing, Highland dancing, and fat comedy uncles. Which, you know, fair enough. Even at a svelte 82 minutes, if every minute were furious action it would be a little wearing.

The basic story is familiar in outline: Rob Roy is imprisoned by the rotten old redcoats for taking part in a rebellion, gets busted out, woos and wins the beautiful Helen Mary, gets chased down by the government some more, jumps over a waterfall and engages in some acts of derring-do which end up with him getting to meet the King.

Rob looks like this:

Ahoy There


His battle cry is, no fooling, “Ahoy there!” This leads me to conclude that Rob doesn’t know the difference between “being in a fight” and “seeing a boat.” Travel by water must be fun.

The baddie is the villainous Marquis (although I think they call him a Duke in the film?) of Montrose, here represented by Michael Gough:



Unlike proper, upright Duke of Argyll, Montrose is an Anglified sissy. Surprise.

Rob Roy is supported in his adventures by his love interest, Helen Mary, his mum, Helen Mary’s comedy Uncle Hamish, and various MacGregors, who may in fact all be called Donald.

L to R: Fat Uncle, Highland Lassie, Our Hero
L to R: Fat Uncle, Highland Lassie, Our Hero

Two things surprised me about the film: the first was that it’s surprisingly on-point about the ambiguities of the politics of the age. The main villains are Scottish rather than English (although England was certainly involved, the Jacobite rebellions saw Scots on both sides), and they’re up-front about the complexity of the situation. It was also nice to see that Rob is presented as a rich dude rather than a champion of the oppressed. Comparatively rich, anyway. This is accurate — the historical Rob McGregor was outlawed for failing to pay back a loan for the whopping sum of £1,000. 

The second thing that surprised me was how much of this was repeated in the 1995 film — well, at least the iconic waterfall jump. Perhaps that’s in Scott’s novel, which I haven’t read.

What didn’t surprise me:

  • Rob Roy’s outlawry represented as an act of noble rebellion rather than a money squabble between tycoons.
  • Godawful Scottish accents on a mostly-English cast.
  • A lot of picturesque mooning about in bens and/or glens.
  • Everyone except the principals being super greasy.

Most of the reason people care about Rob Roy instead of some other ruffian is Walter Scott’s novel about him, which was presumably inspired by a 1723 (that is, during his life) book called

The Highland Rogue: Or, The Memorable Actions of the Celebrated Robert Mac-gregor, Commonly Called
Rob-Roy: Containing a Genuine Account of His Education, Grandeur, and Sudden Misfortune; His Commencing Robber, and Being Elected Captain of a Formidable Gang; His Exploits on the Highway, Breaking Open Houses, Taking Prisoners, Commencing Judge, and Levying Taxes; His Defence of His Manner of Living; His
Dispute with a Scotch Parson Upon Predestination; His Joining with the Earl of Marr in the Rebellion;
His Being Decoy’d and Imprison’d by the Duke of ——–, with the Manner of His Escape, &c

People had a lot more time to read titles in 1723, I’ll tell you what.

Now, the link I have to this text says it’s by Defoe, but I think that is an older theory. Which is a shame.

Anyway, so yeah, this is a charmingly bland and brainless Disney adventure film, but it’s not like terrible terrible, it’s just old.

Movie Monday: Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue (1953)

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