Whisky Galore! (1949) starring Basil Radford, Catherine Lacey, Bruce Seton, Joan Greenwood, Wylie Watson, Gabrielle Blunt, Gordon Jackson, Jean Cadell, James Robertson Justice directed by Alexander Mackendrick Movie Review

Whisky Galore! (1949)   4/54/54/54/54/5

James Robertson Justice, Gordon Jackson and Bruce Seton in Whisky Galore!

Toddy Time on Todday

When you talk about Ealing Studios one movie often crops up, that movie is "Whisky Galore!" which whilst an Ealing Studio production was made as far away from the Studio as you could get whilst still being in Britain. Why does it so often crop up well to be honest because even now it is one very funny, old fashioned caper which gets the audience on its side because of the tale of crafty locals getting one over on the authorities. But I will say one thing, for a movie which barely scrapes in over the 80 minute mark it is a movie which is slow going for at least the first half.

When they run out of whisky on the Island of Todday the local men become depressed that there is no more of their favourite tipple. But that all changes when one night the SS Cabinet Minister runs aground with a cargo of Whisky. Taking the law into their own hands the men loot the ship of as much Whisky as they can carry before it sinks and start enjoying life again. But leader of the home guard Captain Paul Waggett (Basil Radford) believes that what the men have done is criminal and brings the authorities over to the island, but before they arrive the locals get warning and so try to outsmart them before there illegal booty is confiscated.

Wylie Watson and Joan Greenwood in Whisky Galore!

Now many will know this but for those who don't "Whisky Galore!" is based upon Compton Mackenzie's novel which itself is based upon a true story, that of the SS Politician which in 1941 ran aground off of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides and the locals decided to take it's cargo as their own. Now not only have names been changed but so has Compton's original tale in the adaptation but it is not a problem as the heart of the story is still the same. And as such the main part of "Whisky Galore!" is the humorous locals looting the ship for its whisky and then outsmarting not only the head of the home guard but also officials from the main land who try to take back the stolen whisky.

But here is the thing, and to be honest this is my only negative, the first half of the movie almost seems like padding, setting up a lot of history. So we learn that when the whisky runs out on Todday the men become depressed, we also learn about post master Joseph Macroon and his two daughters who are getting engaged and we also learn about various characters. Basically the first half of "Whisky Galore!" spins its wheels as it sets everything up till we get the foggy night and then the amusingly named SS Cabinet Minister running aground.

It is the second half of "Whisky Galore!" which is where it is at its funniest and it starts with the men upholding the Sabbath by not looting the abandoned ship. But the real fun of the second half is the amusing way these men try and hide their stolen booty from the officials who come looking from bottles stashed in gutters and rabbit holes to it being poured into hot water bottles and water tanks in the attics. And then there is the comedy chase as the men rush to empty the cave where the majority of the whisky is stored before the officials get there ahead of them. As such whilst we may have a story about the Macroon girls being engaged everything really revolves around the wonderful comedy of the islanders outwitting the officials and Captain Waggett the head of the home guard.

What is kind of amusing is the final narration which states that when the looted whisky ran out the men of Todday lived forever unhappy as legal whisky was too expensive to buy. And I say it amusing because this is obviously tagged on to appease those who would have otherwise found the tale of men finding happiness in the bottle to be morally wrong.

What this all boils down to is that "Whisky Galore!" is a wonderfully funny movie, even now over 60 years after it was released. It does have a slow first half but it is worth it for the wonderful second half and just for the amusing ways the islanders not only try and hide their loot but also get one over on the authorities.