by Allan Fish
(UK 1949 82m) DVD2
Aka. Tight Little Island
Mourning for a departed spirit
p Monja Danischewsky d Alexander Mackendrick w Compton Mackenzie, Angus MacPhail novel Compton Mackenzie ph Gerald Gibbs, Chick Waterson ed Joseph Sterling m Ernest Irving art Jim Morahan
Basil Radford (Capt.Waggett), Bruce Seton (Sgt.Odd), Joan Greenwood (Peggy Macroon), Gordon Jackson (George Campbell), Jean Cadell (Mrs Campbell), James Robertson Justice (Dr MacLaren), Catherine Lacey (Dolly Waggett), John Gregson (Sammy MacCodrun), Wylie Watson (Joseph Macroon), Gabrielle Blunt (Catriona Macroon), Morland Graham (The Biffer), Duncan Macrae (Angus MacCormac), Henry Mollison (Farquharson), Compton Mackenzie (Capt.Buncher), Finlay Currie (narrator),
Alexander Mackendrick’s directorial debut often gets overlooked these days in examinations of Ealing comedies. Just one glance at the DVD box set in 2004 will show that while the likes of the uninspiring The Magnet is included, Galore gets left out. It’s a film influenced by the mystical feel of Michael Powell’s The Edge of the World, and in the opening sequence Flaherty’s Man of Aran, and which has been influential itself to the varied likes of The Maggie, Local Hero, Hamish Macbeth, The Wicker Man and even Breaking the Waves. This is the Scottish islands as we know and love them.
During the war a cargo ship, the SS Cabinet Minister (a wonderful alias for the real life wreck of the SS Politician on the isle of Eriskay that inspired the book and film) gets shipwrecked on the ragged coasts of the remote Hebridean island of Todday. The island in question is in great sorrow following the complete absence of whisky on the island due to the wartime rations, but the islanders soon buck up when they realise that the SS Cabinet Minister’s cargo was 50,000 cases of whisky.
The tone is marvellously set by the uncredited narration of the wonderful Finlay Currie; “in 1943 disaster overwhelmed this little island. Not famine or pestilence nor Hitler’s bombs or the hordes of an invading army, but something far, far worse….” A wee dram of whisky is everything to these islanders, their life’s blood, and they’ll be damned if they are going to let anyone interfere with their good fortune. Who can forget the look on Morland Graham’s face when he is told of the cargo, double-taking like Father Jack Hackett glimpsing the eternal? In the opposite corner to the islanders, fighting alone, playing the game for the sake of playing the game, is Basil Radford’s prototype Captain Mainwaring, Paul Waggett. Determined to stop the islanders from committing what he sees as a larceny of revenues, despite the protests of his sergeant and his colonel, whose response to the recovery of some of the cargo is to get him some. Radford is magnificent as Waggett, blustering in the face of insurmountable odds, simply because he feels he has to, a broken man by the end as a prince of ironies sees him carted off to the customs office for smuggling whisky himself. He’s a figure of ridicule, or humiliation, and it’s most definitely Radford’s finest hour.
Yet to single out Radford is to overlook the rest of the cast, with Greenwood – complete with lilting Scots accent – sublime as the island temptress, Watson living up to his name as the wily postmaster, Justice imperious as the local doctor and Gregson, Macrae and Jackson perfect as various island stereotypes. Chuck in Lacey’s delicious laughter at husband’s Radford’s defeat, Mollison’s sarcastic, cynical customs inspector and Cadell as the sort of battleaxe to strike fear into the hardiest Viking until she melts after taking a dram herself, and we have a mixture as intoxicating as the eponymous spirit. For this is a spiritual movie in more ways than one, exemplified in the locals refusing to touch the cargo when the hour of the Sabbath chimes, but ingenious in their hiding of the precious liquid when they come a-searching (bottles in the roof gutter anyone?). Open a bottle of Haig, grab a glass, settle down and enjoy one of the most beloved of British comedies.
How Whisky Galore made the Top 100:
No. 27 Bill Riley
No. 44 Jon Warner
No. 55 Allan Fish
No. 55 Sam Juliano
No. 58 Maurizio Roca