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Friday, 2 August 2013

Water, Water, Everywhere, But Where's the Feckin' Whisky?

Reviews: now with an introductory poster.
You get a lot of people nowadays who seem to be a little spoiled by colour. Talking to someone about movies, I often hear the same phrase when the conversation moves to older fare: "Oh, I don't like black and white films." The fuck? Are you film racist or something? That's like going for a weekly shop and insisting that you only buy food that is small, round and purple. You're drastically restricting your choice in diet with a sweeping statement that will just make any poor sod who has to spend time with you hate your ignorant, purple-tinted guts.

That said, a diet of nothing but Parma Violets is a diet worth trying.
If you happen to be one of said people who "don't like" black and white, go drown in a bucket of eel hearts, because God made a whoopsie while dragging you into existence. Once you've done that, sit down, preferably on a towel so as not to ruin your sofa with eel juice, and watch any of Psycho, Casablanca, Brief Encounter, Nosferatu, Metropolis, the entirety of George Méliè's back catalogue, Citizen Kane and more. 

If you also refuse to believe that an old film can be good, only watching movies that have come out since Macaulay Culkin's been alive, go shove one of the eels up your own arse and watch one of the modern examples of black and white cinema like Clerks, Eraserhead, Schindler's List, The Artist, La Antena, Young Frankenstein and I think I've made my point.

You may now remove the eel from your anus by doing whatever this guy is doing out of the shot.
Seeing as we've cleared that up we can get onto the film for this week, Whisky Galore! Made in 1949 (that's, like, really old) it tells the true story (with the usual tweaks for artistic licence) of a ship that sank in 1941 near a small island in the Outer Hebrides, carrying thousands of crates of whisky. The locals of the island, on hearing about the cargo, took the opportunity for some free booze and set about nicking it from the ship before it sank.

That's about the gist of the film as well, and although it's funny and has bucket-loads of charm, there is nothing more special to be found here than an hour and a half of plain old fun. If there's nothing special about it, why bother reviewing it? Because of the aforementioned charm, that's why, my good friend. And for the unmissable opportunity to ruin all of the jokes for you.

There's not a bit of this movie, from the utterly fabulous reaction of the islanders to the sudden whisky shortage (dramatic close ups and doom music abound) to the frantic moment when the drink must all be hidden before the army arrives for a surprise inspection, with bottles slipped into violin cases, grandfather clocks and stacked in the guttering, that you won't be able to watch without a massive grin on yer ugly mug. There's something universally appealing about watching a load of islanders leading a merry chase all for a bottle of whisky.

A bit like watching celebrities die, but without the betting pool.
Whisky Galore! also does a fine job of getting you to know the locals; every character is adorably northern with that little tinge of inbred quirkiness you only find in the harder to reach parts of Scotland. For those of you unaware, island mentality essentially boils down to a small loss in IQ due to alcohol abuse and inadequate schooling being made up for with Casper levels of cheerful friendliness and the uncanny ability to smell tomorrow's weather. That's not really a good description to be honest, the best thing to do would probably be to go visit these places for yourself; the ways of the islanders cannot be done justice with mere words.

Actions really do speak a lot louder.
I don't think there's a person on this island that you can't help but like, even the crotchety old barman who rats on where the whisky is being stored just so he doesn't lose business is still endearing in his own way. But the sweetest soul by far must be the poor bed-ridden old man who wants nothing more than one last dram before he "joins the old woman". This guy is the embodiment of the entire population of the island: simple, honest folk ("honest here meaning wily as old nick himself" - Fiona) with simple needs and simple lives, and this single five minute scene pretty much ensures that we are firmly on the side of the islanders when it comes to the dilemma of whether or not stealing the whisky is a good idea.

If he waits to get one more drink then kicks it with the empty glass in his hand
I'll cry myself to sleep for the rest of my life.
While we're on this guy, actually, you might be wondering who the other bloke in the picture is. It would be the island's only doctor, and he must be the single most irresponsible doctor to ever be portrayed on film, and Hannibal Lecter has had three movies (we don't count Hannibal Rising, because...well, it's Hannibal Rising). The only two points in the film where he asserts his medical authority are in the above scene and one other. In this scene, he insists that our kindly old gentleman take his pipe and some tobacco in order to puff away, only saying that he was sorry he "couldn't bring a wee dram too". This man is encouraging, nay, actively insisting that this poorly gentleman partake in both smoking and alcohol consumption, the two biggest causes of death in the modern world. That said, maybe this is actually the island's only hospital bed and he's just trying to free up room for someone else with acute liver failure or lung cancer.

In the other scene, he is in the company of a young man, hammered on a few glasses of the water o' life, who is about to confront his own mother (think the one from Carrie, but Scottish. So about 300% more terrifying). The doctor's only advice to him is that he should have just one more, so that he'll be "in the ring in the peak of condition", before pouring a large glass and assuring him it's the "right dose". This would all be ok if everyone laughed about it, but they take his word as gospel, being the resident doctor and all, so he essentially spends the entire film finding new ways to horrifically abuse his medical licence

"I mixed up all the prescription bottles again. Take this and let me know what it does to you."
It's all in good humour though, and they didn't know much better then anyway, what with drilling holes in skulls to let out the demons and such...that was back in the 40's right? Speaking of old ways that have long since been lost to the ages, the very devout religious views of the islanders lead to one of the best moments in the film. The boat is wrecked, the crew having abandoned it and been taken to the mainland, the men have gathered together on the shore to go grab the loot when suddenly the clock strikes midnight. One man turns round with despair to look at the others. It's the Sabbath. 

They have no choice but to go home and wait for the day to end while the head of the Home Guard on the island, and resident Scrooge, Captain Waggett, tries to get a band of soldiers together to protect the cargo, a task also made all the more difficult by the holy day, as his second in command isn't allowed to use the telephone by his mother. 

It's the culmination of all of these moments and more that makes Whisky Galore! a joy to watch; wonderfully staged situational comedy mixed with ridiculous small-town traditions and a rag-tag bunch of memorable characters. There's romance. There's comedy. There's car chases. There's booze. There's suspense. And every last minute of it is utterly wonderful to watch.

He even gets his dram and lives beyond the credits.

Overall Ben Equivalence Rating

Listening to Stories About Your Grandad - 
Ridiculous, over the top, alcohol-fuelled tales of illegal romps through wartime Britain that you could listen to a hundred times over. And every last bit of them is true.

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