Home Video Hovel: Whisky Galore! & The Maggie, by David Bax
In the present day, when the “Ealing comedies” are invoked, the movies that come first to mind for most of us are Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Man in the White Suit and The Ladykillers. In other words, the ones with Alec Guinness in them. But half of those were also directed by Alexander Mackendrick. Now, in a new Blu-ray release from Film Movement Classics, Mackendrick’s other two Ealing comedies–Whisky Galore! and The Maggie, both taking place in Scotland, the country where the director was raised–are available in one handsome package.
Whisky Galore! was released in 1949 but takes place six years earlier, in the middle of the Second World War. The isolated Scottish island village of Todday is mostly untouched by world events. Until, that is, rationing leads to them running fresh out of whisky (spelled with no ‘e,’ Scottish-style). When a cargo ship carrying thousand of cases of the stuff capsizes off the coast, townsfolk execute an illegal midnight pilfering mission before the vessel sinks. Then they spend the rest of the film finding clever ways to hide their contraband from the persnickety Englishman (Basil Radford) who heads up the Home Guard. In a sense, Whisky Galore! is one of the earliest examples of the British “village movie,” those charming little films where citizens of a small, picturesque hamlet band together to do something endearingly scandalous (The Full Monty, Saving Grace, Calendar Girls, etc.).
If the target of Whisky Galore!‘s ribbing is the stuck-up Englishman, The Maggie (originally released stateside as High and Dry, which would’ve also made a good alternate title for Whisky Galore!) sets its sights on a bellowing, self-centered American–Paul Douglas, in this case, as businessman Calvin B. Marshall. Mr. Marshall needs to transport some furniture and quick but there are no reputable ships to be hired. So Captain MacTaggart (Alex Mackenzie) of the creaky old cargo boat The Maggie, offers his services in ways that aren’t entirely forthcoming because he needs the cash. When Marshall finds out his stuff is aboard The Maggie and not a more respectable vessel, he sets out after them. MacTaggart and his scrappy crew dodge him as long as they can, even when once he manages to get on board. It’s even more overtly a caper film than Whisky Galore! but it has the same gruff respect for the humble folk of Scotland.
Beneath that, though, what both films also have in common is a nearly anarchic disrespect for rules and authority. Whether it be government bureaucrats like Radford’s Captain Waggett or bullying capitalists like Marshall, there’s no love lost for those who personify any institution larger than the pub. Whisky Galore!‘s villagers are, ultimately, good folks who just want a hard earned drink. But Mackendrick allows no illusions that the crew of The Maggie are anything but criminals. Yet he affords them the same respect. Drunks and thieves are all welcome as long as they’re not telling anyone else what to do.
Both transfers are good; any shortcomings in the look of Whisky Galore! can probably be chalked up to its being a lower budget production. In a handful of scenes, though, The Maggie has some thin vertical lines, almost like streaks running up the shot. I have no idea what would cause that. The mono audio sounds great, which is good because you’ll need to make out those Scottish accents (even the fake ones).
Only Whisky Galore! has bonus features, which include a commentary by John Ellis, a documentary on the film and an interview with an authentic Scottish islander. The booklet contains notes by film scholar Ronald Bergen.