Director: Alexander MacKendrick
I just watched the strangest little film, Whisky Galore! The premise is an extremely simple one – a tiny island situated in the Outer Hebrides runs out of whisky during World War II sending the locals into a spate of depression. This depression is unexpectedly lifted when a cargo ship en route to America, the SS Cabinet Minister, is ship wrecked. It’s cargo? Thousands of bottle of whisky of course! “The story, immortalized by writer Compton MacKenzie, was inspired by the true ‘disappearance’ of 50,000 cases of whisky after a cargo ship was wrecked off the Isle of Eriskay” (243, Angel Errigo, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
The remainder of the film revolves around the locals doing everything within their power to liberate the shipment. A task somewhat impeded by the rule-abiding tee-total commander of the Home Guard, resulting in an amusing film.
“Whisky Galore! is more dated than some of the other Ealing comedies, though the quaint charm is countered by the film’s hectic hilarity, the affectionate and astute social observation, the authenticity of Hebridean life, and the delightful performances.” (243) What makes this film enjoyable is the fact that no matter what the locals remain one step ahead of Captain Waggett at every turn with some really ingenious hiding places for their illicit plunder.
“Along with Passport to Pimlico and Kind Hearts and Coronets (both also 1949), Whisky Galore! was in the first vintage of celebrated postwar comedies from Britain’s Ealing Studios under producer Sir Michael Balcon. Universally admired, the film was key in establishing the distinctive, self-deprecating, and understated satiric tone of those following as well as the theme of defiant little people triumphing over those more powerful.” (243) Whisky Galore! really highlights the power working as a community has over a single entity. Waggett is hindered at every opportunity by the very skills and exercises put in place by the Home Guard in the event of invasion. Equally the soldier on the island aides with the deception – an action enhanced by his interest in marrying one of the postmasters’ daughters.
The locals are everything you expect of an island dwelling in the Outer Hebrides with an adherence to religion you rarely find these days. They actually obey the Sabbath, resulting in their pillaging being postponed for an entire day. And then there is George’s mother – the archetypal Scottish matriarch. She is determinedly still running George’s life with an iron fist despite him being a grown man, even sending him to his room the morning of the Sabbath. Strict would be an understatement when describing her character.
And after all the escapes of requisitioning hundreds of bottles of whisky, which managed to tide them over until the rations returned on a regular basis, the price of the drink rose until no one could afford it and the island was in the same situation it had been at the beginning of the film.
I was pleasantly surprised by the enjoyment I got out of Whisky Galore! as I really had no expectations going into the film. It has a much drier and less obvious humor to it but I still found myself chuckling in a number of places.