Whisky Galore Blu-ray Review
The Ealing classic ‘Whisky Galore’ washes ashore on to UK Region B locked Blu-ray with a ‘somewhat variable’ looking black-and-white 1080p VC1 encoded transfer, framed in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio. There may only be two years between the release of ‘Whisky Galore’ and ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’ but in terms of picture quality the latter looks at least a decade ahead. I chose the words ‘somewhat variable’ carefully as they seemed the fairest way to describe the image on ‘Whisky Galore’. Some shots look good - particularly close ups – but others lack the sharpness we’ve come to associate with a High Def picture. There’s a thin veil of grain throughout, reflecting the film stock of the era, which doesn’t look too bad. Contrast looks fine in most daytime shots, but in some night shots we have a dense grey with no shadow detail instead of black. The film was restored using the best original 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 together with image flicker due to density fluctuation. I almost feel that I’m being too harsh here as I have such affection for the movie and taking into account the age and physical condition of the original materials, the digital restoration team really didn’t have their troubles to seek.
The fact is, this is the best version of ‘Whisky Galore’ I have ever seen and I sincerely doubt if we’ll ever see it looking much better due to the costs involved to achieve marginal improvement. To sum it up, the film wasn’t made yesterday so don’t go expecting a pristine result and you won’t be disappointed, but it’s significantly better than any DVD version out there.
The Audio on ‘Whisky Galore’ has the original mono soundtrack duplicated on the left and right channels of the LPCM 2.0 carrier. It’s clear that a good deal of work has been done to remove age related hiss, snap, crackle and pop. The dialogue has an optical sound quality to it, yet it remains clear and intelligible throughout. It does boom on occasion, such as when Captain Waggett starts to bluster at high volume and the music is obviously of the period. At times you can hear that distortion is only just being kept under control. All the same, it’s not too bad for a film that was made just after the Second World War.
Introduction by George Perry (SD, 5 mins) - Film historian and author of 'Forever Ealing' George Perry appears locked on to the Autocue as he provides some background to the story and a brief summary of the film’s production problems.
Audio Commentary by John Ellis - John Ellis, Producer of the documentary ‘Distilling Whisky Galore’ provides the commentary that relies heavily on the writings of others. It’s pretty monotonous and with long periods of silence while at other times a bit like a dissertation with quotes from reference books as he attempts to dissect the film. As most people involved in the production have passed away, I suppose this is the best we could hope for. A brave stab by Mr Ellis and not an easy thing to carry off.
Distilling 'Whisky Galore' (SD, 52 mins) - A nice, chunky TV documentary that covers everything from a dive on the wreck of the S.S. Politician to its link with the film and Compton McKenzie’s book. We even hear from an 80 year old Sandy MacKendrick as the doco lifts the lid on the production of ‘Whisky Galore’. This is probably the most ‘in depth’ doco ever made about the making of the movie - which Ealing comedy fans will thoroughly enjoy.
The Real 'Whisky Galore' with Angus Campbell (SD, 20 mins) - An interview with islander Angus Campbell ( those south of Watford might struggle to understand him) who was involved in liberating the whisky from the S.S. Politician and who recounts his adventures here. It’s painfully slowly told but it’s the real McCoy.
Hilary Mackendrick in Conversation with Anthony Slide (SD, 37 mins) - An interview with Sandy Mackendrick’s widow (recorded in America back in 2005) who looks very uneasy in front of the camera, but she takes us back to the early days of Ealing and her husband’s involvement with the film. It’s a rather laboured affair with some of the worst camerawork and direction I’ve seen in years. The poor lady doesn’t know whether to look at the camera or the interviewer. It also looks like they had two cameras when they really needed three to do the job properly.
Photo Gallery - A nice set of B/W production stills from the movie shot on the island of Barra.
The 100% proof Ealing comedy ‘Whisky Galore’ is poured on to UK Region B locked Blu-ray with a ‘somewhat variable’ looking 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer, framed in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Problems with the source materials prevent it from being a pristine restoration, but for a film released in 1949 it’s not too bad.
The LPCM 2.0 audio carries the cleaned up original mono soundtrack which is perfectly serviceable with clear dialogue and period music.
A 52 minute ‘Making of’ documentary and an interview with director Sandy Mackendrick’s widow, Hilary, are the high points of the bonus material.
As a film, this subtle comedy from the golden days of Ealing - about the islanders of Todday liberating a boat load of whisky for their own use – has been often imitated but never bettered. A true classic.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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