|Starring||Basil Radford, Joan Greenwood|
Ealing studios is responsible for projecting an image of Britain -- most famously in their unbroken string of near-perfect comedies produced in the decade between 1947 and 1957 -- that helped define the national character in those post-war years. It represented an idealized Britain where the little guy always overcomes the big, bad forces of autocracy and where patience, wit and kindness rule. But in 1949, Alexander Mackendrick made a movie at Ealing whole heartedly celebrating petty larceny, class warfare and rampant alcoholism.
No other movie believes so firmly and sincerely that drinking matters. WHISKY GALORE! is about the thirsty inhabitants of a remote Scottish island, distraught by a wartime alcohol shortage, who are secretly intent on plundering the cargo of a whiskey-laden merchant ship that has wrecked on their shores. Basil Radford plays the pompous Englishman in command of the Home Guard who the islanders courageously defy in his efforts repossess their precious whiskey. "Once you let people take the law into their own hands," he warns, "it's anarchy. Anarchy. Anarchy!" This story of a teetotaling English outsider failing to come to terms with a tight-knit community of inebriated Scots places its loyalties firmly with the drinkers. How can we possibly look down on a sickly old man who just wants one more dram before joining his wife in death, even if he is complicit in deceit, cruelty and blackmail.
WHISKY GALORE! revels in the idea that anyone, young or old, rich or poor, is willing and capable of becoming a criminal. While it shares the Ealing Studios identity by being quirky, local, human and indulging the dream of the little man, it is also subversive, cruel and clever. In one unforgettable sequence after the islanders have successfully looted the ship and are joyfully celebrating, they suddenly receive warning that the British excise officers are on their way to crack down. With an urgent sense of intuitive teamwork, the community guards its pleasures by hiding every bottle of whiskey wherever they can, sticking them in gutters, pouring them into pots and tanks , concealing them in cash registers and pie crusts and babies' diapers. Alcohol is the glue that binds this community together and gives them the strength for defiance. What greater, more unabashed love letter to drinking could you ask for? Whiskey helps us endure. (Tommy Swenson)