By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
A few weeks ago I watched my first Alexander MacKendrick film- the scathing noir Sweet Smell of Success. Granted, that film came after Whiskey Galore!, but I was still halfway expecting a dark, violent tale of desperate men in the time of Prohibition when I sat down to watch.
Or the most dapperly titled addiction drama ever
Whiskey Galore! Is a delightful comedy about a Scottish island town’s worst nightmare- no more whiskey! However, when a ship with a prodigious cargo of whiskey wrecks just offshore, salvation is in sight. All they must do is overcome English militia officers, domineering mothers, and the Sabbath, and balance will be restored.
First off, to that title. If only there were such a world. Let’s raise our glass to the very idea!
Yesh, a toast me darlings!
This movie loves its whiskey as much as we do, and the fact that such a celebration of the “water of life” would never be made as exuberantly today makes it all the more precious. However, what Whiskey Galore does best is deliver on its raison d’etre- comedy. This movie is hilarious, particularly when it documents the idiosyncrasies of its Scot’s Hebrides population and how it clashes with the austere sensibilities of the English officials on the island.
MacKendrick also subverts the conventions of melodramas and adventure films to great comedic success, as the strings rise and the camera focuses on the deep tragedy of a Scotsman parted from his whiskey. Later, when the recovered whiskey must be preserved at all costs from the Englishman who’d like to take it away in the name of order, we get thrilling chase scenes and tense searches where we find just how talented at hiding whiskey these folk truly are.
After Sweet Smell of Success, Whiskey Galore! brings into sharp focus just how talented, and supremely underrated, a filmmaker MacKendrick was. While he certainly didn’t have a career of the length and prestige of somebody like Billy Wilder, with those two films he proved he was every bit as talented.
There are several quality comic performances on display here, although the MVP for me is Jean Cadell’s overbearing mother character, who is so militantly full of conviction that every slander and argument out of her mouth is pure gold. Also, that wedding is awesome. Whiskey, white people-style dancing, bagpipes? Sign me up.
Music to my ears! No, really!
A tip o’ the tipple to the film’s sly ending, where, of course in 1940s Production Code England, you couldn’t let a celebration of vice end happily. Instead, MacKendrick slaps on a rushed, half-assed ending that has precisely the opposite effect. Cleverly done.
Perhaps if you’re an 80 year old Scot, you’ll catch some subtext or nuance, but 60 years later, this only plays as breezy, somewhat broad fun.
This lively Scottish comedy will be especially poignant to anyone who’s ever walked to the liquor store only to find it closed five minutes ago. A drinking movie classic that couldn’t be more up MovieBoozer’s alley if it tried.
Take a Drink: whenever someone bemoans a lack of liquor.
Take a Drink: when marriage is mentioned.
Take a Drink: for the struggle between religion and whiskey.
Do a Whiskey Shot: because, obviously.