Whisky Galore! (1949)

January 22, 2009

I’ve always felt that ‘Whisky Galore!’ gets a little unfairly overshadowed by ‘Kind Hearts And Coronets’ and ‘The Ladykillers’ in the Ealing canon.  They’re both marvellous movies but without the lightness of tone that makes this film- and ‘Passport To Pimlico’ to be fair- such perfect entertainment.  Alexander Mackendrick- who I lauded recently for his ‘Sweet Smell of Success‘- directs and the cast are on great form.  Especially Basil Radford as the uptight Englishman Captain Waggett who has great fun with lines like “They don’t do things for the sake of doing them like the English”. And where else will you see the wonderful James Robertson Justice as a Doctor who not only recommends that his bedridden patient smokes, but furnishes him with a pipe to do so when he learns that the patient has none?

One of the things that I really love about Ealing comedies, which this film demonstrates perfectly, is the way that they pit a small group of like-minded individuals against intransigent bureaucratic obstacles and see them come out on top.  The film generates a real sense of them and us with Captain Waggett as the pompous, blustering stuffed-shirt who follows a legally right, morally wrong path that leads him into conflict with the islanders with genuinely hilarious results.

And there’s that word- hilarious.  This film is at times laugh out loud funny- most famously in the narrated introduction where a description of the Island of Todday (where the film is set) recounts how there is no cinema and no music hall but describes the islanders as “A happy people, with few and simple pleasures” just as a family of about thirteen small children come running out of the house.

Charming, funny and genuinely heartwarming with interesting characters and great comic performances.  In many ways this is a perfect comedy movie, I absolutely adore it- 10/10.


Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

January 15, 2009

As snappy as the clicked fingers on the hip jazz soundtrack, this film peels away the layers to reveal the seedy side of the glamorous New York scene.  It looks fantastic, moves like a great Billy Wilder film, has a heart and conscience and wit, great dialogue and a neatly complete storyline.

There is a saying that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ and that runs to the heart of this film.  Both lead characters are slimy, Machiavellian and unprincipled but only the one with authority appears irredeemable.  I’ve said before that I usually don’t like Burt Lancaster and in this film, there are and aren’t reasons why: his delivery of dialogue is horrible, a mish-mash of abrupt glottal stops and lingering esses at the end of sentences and this can render some snappy lines as rehearsed and implausible.  On the other hand his brooding, muscular, arrogant-yet-insecure screen presence is perfect for the part of J. J. Hunsecker.

The star, though, is Tony Curtis- again an actor I’ve little time for, other than his tongue-in-cheek cameo in ‘Paris When It Sizzles’- but here he really comes into his own as the aspirational press agent who is prepared to use his charm, good lucks and even to pimp out his sometime girlfriend to get to where he wants to be.  The restaurant scene where he stands up to Hunsecker and then relents when a juicier carrot is dangled is the key scene in the movie with both men at their best.

I loved the New York at night skyline and the razor-sharp black and white cinematography that made this film-noir at its best (in spirit if not necessarily structure) too.  All in all an impressive film from Alexander Mackendrick 8/10.