Nowadays, there’d be a credit at the beginning of the Ealing Studios classic, “Whisky Galore!”
But nobody’s needed that rider on this most Scottish of comedies. The people who know that true whisky is spelled without an “e” know that this Alexander Mackendrick farce “feels” true, hews close to the national identity as whisky inventors and whisky drinkers.
In short, If the stereotype fits, it must be wit.
I hadn’t seen this beloved comedy, beautifully restored for a new Blu-ray issue, since my grad school film society days. But it’s aging well, a gentle reminder of comedy before the coarseness that set in 20 years ago, a movie that inspired the likes of “Waking Ned Devine” and “A Fish Called Wanda,” “Local Hero” and quirky character romps the world over.
The story — freighter carrying 50,000 crates of fine Scottish whiskies to Allied troops fighting abroad shipwrecks off the Scottish Isle of Todday, so far north that “to the West, nothing but America” remains.
The locals, dry for four years of World War, no longer “The tightest little island in the world,” spring into action. They’ll row out and salvage the abandoned wreck.
But “Not on the Sabbath.” Oh now. Midnight Sunday it is, then.
The fly in the Scottish ointment? That would be Captain Waggett (Basil Radford), the scarred WWI vet who heads the local “Home Guard,” a drills-happy martinet who figures its his duty to guard the wreck and help the government recover the supplies, or contraband.
Come on, now. It’s 1943. The threat of German invasion is long past, the war has turned against Gerry. And the fishermen, shopkeepers, cranky doctor (James Robertson Justice) and momma’s boy teacher (Gordon Jackson) have been good — for so long.
Spare us a dram, man!
With a comedy this old, the laughs are comfort food, the giggles coming from the cheek-pinching adorability of the character “types,” officialdom “foiled” in its pursuit of “rules” and “orders.”
For a film fan, there aren’t many black and white comedies as beautifully shot as this, with gorgeous “day for night” shots, each a work of art.
Mackendrick went on to film “The Sweet Smell of Success,” one of the late glories of Hollywood black and white cinema, and “The Ladykillers,” another delirious romp from the first Golden Age of British comedy.
MPAA Rating: unrated, alcohol use and abuse.
Cast: Basil Radford, Joan Greenwood, James Robertson Justice, Henry Mollison and Gordon Jackson. Narrated by Finlay Currie.
Credits: Directed by Alexander MakKendrick, script by Angus MacPhail and Compton MacKenzie, based on Mackenzie’s book. A Film Movement release.