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Whisky Galore!

March 25, 2017

Whisky Galore! (1949)
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Actors: Basil Radford, Bruce Seton, Joan Greenwood

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Synopsis: The inhabitants of an Outer Hebrides island cannot believe their luck when their whisky drought is ended by a ship containing crates of the stuff capsizing on the shores of the island. Their only challenge entails keeping their bounty hidden from the authorities…

Review: The Ealing comedies really are a treasured high point of British cinema: exquisite delectations which, beneath their veneer of adventure and caper comedy, function as lovely little odes to the wry wit and inherent pluckiness of the British sensibility.

As comedies, they were in many respects ahead of their times. They were almost proto-spoofs – something the Fratpack movement in American film comedy of the last dozen or so years has expanded on but to much brasher effect. There’s plenty of slapstick in Whisky Galore! (mainly centring on the old chaps of the island keeling over with despair then delight at the respective losses then gains of their whisky bounty) but even more appealing is the exquisite current of social satire coursing through the film’s narrative. To list all the wry moments of social commentary would be impossible, but the high points include: the pompous Captain Waggett getting the response he least expects when reporting the looting of the whisky to his commanding officer; the sergeant wilfully letting the hapless islanders tie him up with their bumbling “panther crawl” manoeuvre; and the simply exquisite scene where the puritanical mother of the meek school teacher finally succumbs to the licentiousness of the scenario with the sly cut to a dram of whisky which was once full but has since mysteriously disappeared beside her.

What’s also so appealing about the Ealing comedy ‘brand’ is the sense that it lionises the importance of community values and a collective spirit. This finds its best representation in Whisky Galore‘s denouement when it seems as if the authorities have finally cornered the islanders, until – “homeguard” style – they unite to thwart those authorities, before making their own getaway by literalising the whisky as a form of escape – it becomes the “rocket fuel” powering their failing car to zoom off into the distance – a lovely image to encapsulate a lovely film. (March 2017)

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