Vintage Sleuth: Whiskey Galore (1949) - Reviewed


Whiskey Galore takes place during WWII in the Hebrides, a cluster of islands off of mainland Scotland. Often called the water of life, whiskey is the drink of choice for many inhabitants of the multiple island community. Simply put, it is the lifeblood of happiness. Like many commodities during WWII, the war had a severe effect on the production and transportation of goods. While the islanders were aware of the war, the small village lifestyle provided an isolation to the big worldly problems of the mainlands. That is until the disastrous day the county runs dry and the bartender of the local pub declares there is no whiskey.

Shane MacGowan: 1949
Based on an amazing true story, Whiskey Galore is a humorous look at a town in need of a drink. The film captures many of the charming customs of 21st century Scotland. It’s so rooted in Scottish culture it takes a minute or two to adjust to some of the heavy accents. Once the whiskey runs dry the film slows considerably. It starts to drag a bit, much like life without whiskey. There is no fun to be had. 

Days come and go. There are a few humorous scenes, but the melancholy darkness of sobriety dominates all, mirroring the misery of the terrible situation. It seems a few more laughs would have helped this portion of the film, but then again, having no whiskey is no laughing matter. That all changes on a foggy night when a ship accidentally runs aground and becomes stranded just off the island coast. Its cargo: 50,000 cases of whiskey! Based on the Compton Mackenzie novel published in 1947, the story is based on the miraculous real life event that occurred in 1941. Mackenzie, who provided the screenplay, had a small role in the film as Captain Buncher. The film stars Basil Radford, who appeared in a handful of Alfred Hitchcock's early films.  

After weeks of dealing with sobriety due to wartime rationing, the villagers see the stranded ship as a godsend opportunity. From this point the film suddenly becomes animated and joyful. The events that follow are full of hilarious shenanigans. Just like a night full of whiskey, Whiskey Galore is a good example of classic old time alcohol on screen, and is reminiscent of its depiction in film during that era. Early films were one sided when it came to alcohol. It was used for laughs and comedic relief. People gathered, drank, sang and danced. While there is a dark side to obsessive consumption, it's fun to revisit older films such as this where alcohol was primarily used for comedy. It’s much like the on screen depiction of love during the same era, sweet and full of feeling. Just like whiskey. Overall Whiskey Galore is an enjoyable watch. As mentioned, the accents are very thick, and it may take a minute or two to adjust. The film does drag a little at times, but the ending is a riot and more than makes up for any shortcomings you may encounter. 



Lee L. Lind