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Review: Whisky Galore! (1949)

Directed by Alexander Mackendrick | 82 minutes | | Actors: , Catherine Lacey, , Joan Greenwood, , , Gordon Jackson, , James Justice, Morland Graham, John Gregson, , James Anderson, Jameson Clark, , , Norman Macowan, , , , Finlay Currie, ,

Along with “Passport to Pimlico” and “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, “Whiskey Galore!” Was created in 1949, the first year Sir Michael Balcon produced comedies for Britain’s Ealing Studios. This widely admired determined the light-hearted, satirical tone of later comic productions. The theme – the triumph of the man over the mighty of the earth – also began to advance. The main director of the foolish Ealing comedies was Alexander Mackendrick (1912-1993), a man who specialized in social satires with a dark edge at the beginning of his career. His skeptical view of the world and biting Scottish humor worked on the cozy world of Ealing Studios like a knife in a carton of butter. Mackendrick gives a fine example of this in his debut film “Whiskey Galore!”: The only honest man on the island where the story is set is deceived and destroyed by the ruthless, opportunistic locals. Because, says the director, “There is a certain point, towards the end of certain kinds of comedy, when they should get mean.”

Mackendrick puts that philosophy into practice in “Whiskey Galore!” This comedy, shot on the Scottish island of Barra, focuses on the clash between two cultures. The residents of the tiny hamlet of Garryboo – mostly workers and fishermen – form a close-knit community. Also during the Second World War. But when it turns out that their supply of whiskey is running out and they can’t get new ones for the time being, their true nature comes out. The impeccable British teetotaler, Captain Waggett (Basil Radford), is in charge of the island during wartime. When a ship wrecked off the coast with a huge load of malt whiskey on board, he goes looking for it. The drink was destined for the American market but has been taken by thirsty islanders, impoverished by the war. They constantly outsmart the captain and his men. The story, based on a novel by Compton MacKenzie, was based on a true story: after the wreckage of a freighter off the coast of Eriskay Island, the cargo of 50,000 barrels of whiskey “disappeared” without a trace. Author and screenwriter MacKenzie can be seen in the film as the captain of the SS Cabinet Minister.

“Whiskey Galore!” May seem more dated than some of the other comedies produced by Ealing, but the hilarious frenzy, the poignant social observations, the authentic shots of life on the Scottish islands and the delightful acting of the actors are still convincing. The seductive Joan Greenwood stars as the flirty daughter of post office owner and bar owner Macroon (Wylie Watson), and Scottish actors James Robertson Justice, Gordon Jackson and narrator Finlay Currie also perform superbly. The universal power of authority-subverting humor lies in the idealization of a remote village full of weirdos, pretty girls and down-to-earth people who shred the inflated pretensions of their bureaucratic opponents. The (American-born) Scottish Mackendrick, who also directed Ealing’s gems “The Man in the White Suit” (1951) and “The Ladykillers” (1955), would later in his career reap success directing serious . For example, in 1957, when he returned to the United States, he created his masterpiece “Sweet Smell of Success”.

Mackendrick was a master of visual storytelling. “Whiskey Galore!” May be his first film, but with the beautiful deep focus photography and the beautiful play with light and shadows, he immediately delivers his business card. But “Whiskey Galore!” Is not just a showcase for the director, it is above all a fine example of British humor. Britons do not hesitate to put their own weaknesses into perspective. Here they quench their eternal thirst for alcohol. For the islanders, whiskey is a kind of miracle drink, a gift from god. Sick people get better, shy people get more self-confidence. Without their beloved whiskey, they just get lost. Everything with a very cool wink, of course. In addition, the film underscores the feeling of togetherness that arose in Great Britain after the Second World War. “Whiskey Galore!” May lack the melancholy of “Kind Hearts and Coronets” and make do without a star of the caliber of Sir Alec Guinness, this classic piece of British humor is still rock solid!

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