Whisky Galore! on Blu-ray

Monday, 08 August 2011 00:00

Here I am again trawling through the classics of British cinema, being brought our way on new shiny disc Blu-ray technology by Optimum Home Entertainment.  This time it’s the 1949 movie “Whisky Galore!”, telling a true tale from what at the time was just eight years before. Some say this is a movie which will chime with those on our little island as modern day austerity measures kick into action.  If the global collapse really kicks in, then rationing won’t be far behind.

Whisky was obviously at a premium in wartime, and still was so in 1949 when this film was released.  The Blu-ray and DVD extras included on this release reveal the sorry tale that the movie backers didn’t have much faith in the original cut of the film. It was up to Charles Crighton, later to become one of our most famous Directors, to jump aboard the project and effectively turn around the fortunes of the film in the editing suite (all nicely detailed in person by Charles in one of the extras).

Whisky Galore! A Blu-ray gemDirected by Alexander Mackendrick, this was his first attempt at being ‘in the chair’, and circumstances at the studios dictated that it all had to be filmed on location.  The scenery is lovingly rendered, and the love of the area comes through. It just needed Crighton’s hand to steer it towards greatness.

Even this early in the 20th Century, there are a couple of recognisable faces in the likes of James Robertson Justice (the “Doctor...” films) as Dr Maclaren, and Gordon Jackson (later to be Hudson in Upstairs Downstairs, and Cowley in The Professionals) as the soon-to-be-blushing bridegroom George Campbell, whose woman in waiting is called Catriona (Gabrielle Blunt – who has been seen in a whole host of stuff since this, her debut – Shadows of Fear, Spy Trap, Crown Court, Crossroads, Inspector Morse, London’s Burning, One Foot in the Grave, The Fast Show, The Strangerers and Heartbeat, to name but a few).

Based on a true story, told by the author Compton McKenzie, there was a real ship which went aground on 5 February 1941 – the SS Politician, carrying stocks of various whiskies across the Atlantic. Having left Liverpool two days prior, and heading for Jamaica, it sank outside Eriskay in The Outer Hebrides of Scotland. It had been atrocious weather, and contained a quarter of a million bottles of whisky. The locals gathered as many bottles as they could, before the authorities arrived. Even today, bottles are found in the sand or in the sea all the time.

The fictional ‘Todday’ becomes the location, and the ship is renamed in a very clumsy style as the ‘SS Cabinet Minister’! Fleshing out the tale is Sergeant Odd (Bruce Seton – a regular guest star in ITC swashbucklers of the likes of The Adventures of Robin Hood, Sir Lancelot and William Tell) who has returned to Todday it seems to turn a blind eye to events, and chase after Catriona’s sister Peggy (Joan Greenwood – already a star, who would go on to feature in “Kind Hearts and Coronets” the same year, and later on TV in the likes of Wainwright’s Law, Triangle and Girls on Top). Greenwood was quoted in 1948 as saying “My films have all been unhappy ones, and I'm longing to do a comedy for a change” – “Whisky Galore!” was the answer to that prayer.

Skipper of the stricken ship, Captain Paul Waggett (Basil Radford – already a screen star since 1929, who would die just three years later in 1952, at the age of 55), alongside the officers from Customs and Excise, are constantly one step behind the islanders as they play the game of hiding their recovered booty from their investigating gazes. This is where the majority of the fun of the movie comes in to play. Catherine Lacey (guest star in the likes of Maigret, Gideon’s Way, The Human Jungle and Paul Temple) plays Mrs Waggett.

Watch out for John Gregson, too, as Sammy MacCodrun – Gregson would go on to star in the ITC police series Gideon’s Way (the episode with Catherine Lacey being “Staet Visit”).

Extras on this release include the following:

  • Introduction by George Perry (6 min)
  • Audio Commentary by John Ellis (83 min)
  • “Distilling!” - Original TV Documentary (52 min)
  • “The Real Whisky Galore!” with Angus Campbell (20 min)
  • Hilary Mackendrick in Conversation With Anthony Slide (37 min)
  • Photo Gallery

It ought to be noted that it was released in the USA under the title “Tight Little Island”, amongst fears that the God-fearing areas of middle-America would have a problem with the concept of whisky being seen as such an aid to the lives of the islanders. Slight amendments were made to placate potential problems on this front (all explained in the extras).

The film has received a cinematic release of this restoration, and premiered as part of the Edinburgh Film Festival 2011, at the Edinburgh Filmhouse from 29 July 2011.

“Whisky Galore!” is rendered in its original aspect ratio of 1:37:1 with mono 2.0 sound. It was restored in high definition for this release, using the best original film materials available. Unfortunately, some technical issues remain in the form of occasional printed-in dirt and scratches, periodic softness and instability of picture caused by film shrinkage, and image flicker caused by density fluctuation. These issues are all as per the original film source materials and reflect both the nature of the original film production and the physical state of the materials. None of this, however, detracts from this being the best ever quality version to be released.

“Whisky Galore!” is out now, with a running time of 85 minutes approx, a ‘PG’ certificate, and RRPs of £19.99 (Blu-ray) and £15.99 (DVD), or get either format for less at www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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