Whisky Galore! (1949) is an Ealing Comedy directed by Alexander Mackendrick and produced by Michael Balcon, adapted from a novel by Compton MacKenzie. It stars Basil Radford, Bruce Seton, Joan Greenwood and Gordon Jackson. Running time: 82 minutes.
Whenever you read about treasure turning up on a beach, one of the best-loved British movies can spring to mind, evoking a warm-hearted nostalgia for more innocent times.
However, the Scottish island folk of Whisky Galore! are even more determined than the hordes who plundered washed-up containers. They take boats out to a stricken vessel lying off the (fictitious) Isle of Todday and unload as many of the 50,000 cases of booze on board as they can, seconds before the ship capsizes, and then play cat-and-mouse with Customs and Excise officers for days.
That said, it's hard to begrudge the islanders their loot. Whisky provides one of only two distractions in a Calvinist community so strictly Sabbatarian that they wait a whole day before rowing out to the ship. (The other "simple pleasure" is alluded to as a smiling couple watch their nine children running out to play.)
Director Alexander Mackendrick, US-born but raised in Scotland, deftly translates Compton MacKenzie's novel – based on a real-life wartime incident in the Outer Hebrides – on to the big screen. The sunny, windswept locations are gorgeous, the black-and-white photography lending them a stark purity (this despite appalling shooting conditions which meant that the production went way over budget).
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The first-rate cast includes foxy Joan Greenwood as a spirited local girl toying with the emotions of an English soldier, James Robertson Justice as the cantankerous village doctor, and a fresh-faced Gordon Jackson weak with love for the shopkeeper's daughter.
If many of the locals bear a strong resemblance to John Laurie's dour, lugubrious Private Frazer in Dad's Army, Basil Radford, as the Englishman in command of the island's Home Guard brigade, is an uncanny pre-echo of Arthur Lowe's pompous, spluttering Capt Mainwaring.
Whisky Galore! was one of three Ealing comedies released in 1949 (the others were Passport to Pimlico and Kind Hearts and Coronets), and remains by far the sharpest, freshest and most resonant.