Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Whisky Galore! (1949)

            Whenever one is down with either an illness, stress, or if it is just raining outside, there is nothing like a good cozy movie to make time flow like water, the wind, or a nice glass of Scotch. The perfect comfort movie is almost the same as the perfect bedtime story: it is simple, relaxing, and fun until the very end, rather than lulling the viewer to sleep with deliberate pacing. Save the heavy slow cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky for the truly hopeless nights. In contrast, Whisky Galore! is the epitome of the cozy movie, a raucous and classic booze comedy that will please likes of Powell & Pessburger fans and fans of Edgar Wright. Whisky Galore! is a film that will make one laugh ever minute from the crassness of it all but also swoon by its gentle rebelliousness.
            The story begins almost like a bedtime story, as a narrator talks about the Scottish Isle of Todday, a delightfully pastoral place that thrives on the whisky at the local pub, until the Second World War caused the distilleries to run dry. The town’s ennui is so ridiculously bleak that some of the older townsfolk literally die from the news. More than just die, they die on their bed as they hear the unseen angel choir whisks them away, which somehow lures the camera into the heavens. This movie is so bombastic it is amazing. It is one thing for a film to have someone melodramatic say “I’ll literally die!” and Whisky Galore! just shows that happen, because why not commit to the hyperbole?! The film is loaded with imaginative comic bits like this, which are more than just absurd, they are simply epic. Sure it lacks the opulence of a Hollywood Musical or the tranquility of say A Canterbury Tale, but Whisky Galore! is a comedy that is far more dynamic than what the typical comic films were ever doing at the time. More than ahead of its time, it feels very at home in today’s film landscape.
            Back to the plot, this film is essentially a heist movie where the devilish crooks are awkward, polite, old Christian Scotsmen who just need a bloody drink who find salvation when a whisky freighter crashed on the rocks. Thus, they must rob the doomed ship and hide the whisky amongst the stuffy British Captain, either under their beds or in their gullets. It is easy to see why this film still resonates so much, as it places the scrappy and fun locals against the tragically sober British Navy. Even so, the fact that the film promotes the awesome powers of whisky is so delightfully wrong that it feels even more naughty. Even now, to watch this film feels like one is getting away with something devilish, a fun little indulgence.
            These silly old folks are the silly glue that keeps this film together, which is impressive in how inherently obscure the cast is on paper. Sure, Basil Radford and Joan Greenwood are delightful and deserve their top billing, but this film paid the angel’s share for a solid dramatic ensemble that tears it up for brilliant comedy. This includes James Robertson Justice as the blustering town doctor who could make Dr House nervous; Wylie Watson as the ringleader who can somehow plot and scheme whilst pounding shot after shot; but most of all Duncan Macrae, whose Angus MacCormac is so legendarily clueless that is a wonder he does not light the whole island on fire. This film has no classic comedy troupe but a perfect storm of character actors who create into distilled comic gold. They are the base spirit of a cocktail of that is good on every sip.
            Every moment of Whisky Galore! is a delight, even the bizarrely forced moment where the film warns the audience about the dangers of alcohol, as if it would or had ever stopped anyone from drinking. It is defiant without being cruel and grounded without ever being dull. The film is an experience that invites the viewer to sit back, relax, and laugh along with a drink, all the way to the end, which is what makes it so comforting. Whisky Galore! is like grandpa’s ‘medically prescribed’ Hot Toddies, it might not actually be healthy but it certainly warms up the soul. So whenever the chance is given, take a shot at this film, it will go down smooth.  

            This post is part of the Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon, hosted by Rick of the Classic Film and TV CafĂ© in celebration of National Classic Movie Day, which I just learned was a thing. So that’s cool. Anyway, check out his blog for more links to other cool bloggers who are writing about fun and laid back classic movies.


  1. It was pure delight to read your review of Whisky Galore, a movie I have literally not seen in decades. Ontario television used to be a fine spot for classic (old) British films. I'm going to need a drink to tide me over until I can get to the island again.

  2. One of the first Ealing films I saw (shown on US TV as TIGHT LITTLE ISLAND)! No one made these kinds of comedies better than the British. The sequel is fine, too, but as good.

  3. This is new one to me. One of the nice things abut this blogathon is finding out about new-to-me films that delight writers. Thanks for a new film to add to my list of must-sees.

    1. I agree. I'm not familiar with this film, either, and I'm excited to learn about it. Thanks to you, Lonely Critic, for the heads up!

  4. Thank you all for the kind comments, if you're looking to see Whisky Galore! right now the best way to see it is on Filmstruck (before it expires on July 14), or a region B Blu-ray. Its not the easiest film to find but its worth the trouble.

  5. What an interesting film! You wrote a very entertaining review. I thought that it sounded a little odd for an American picture, so I wasn't surprised when someone mentioned in the comments that it is British. You are a good writer. I look forward to reading more of your articles.

    By the way, I would like to invite you to join "The Second Annual Great Breening Blogathon." This blogathon, which will be taking place on October 12-17, is a celebration of the Code, its Era, and its enforcer, Joseph I. Breen. We are using this blogathon to honor Joseph Breen on his 130th birthday, which would have been on October 14. However, we are extending the blogathon to October 17 to celebrate the second anniversary of PEPS, which was founded on October 17, 2016. You can participate by breening a film that is not from the Breen Era (1934-1954) or by analyzing a Code films. You can also discuss an aspect of the Code, its influence on Hollywood, or Mr. Breen itself. You can find out more and join here:

    I would also like to invite you to join a blogathon which my sister, Rebekah, is hosting in November. On November 9-11, PEPS is hosting the Claude Rains Blogathon in honor of this marvelous actor's 129th birthday on November 10. You can read the announcements and sign up here:

    I hope that you'll be able to join! We could really use your talents.

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan