Tight Little Island (Rank; Universal-International). To the rugged inhabitants of the mythical Hebridean island of Todday, off the Scottish coast, the middle of the war brought a calamity "wor-r-rse than Hitler-r's bombs": there was no more whisky. Then a U.S.-bound vessel carrying 50,000 cases of Scotch ran aground off Todday's craggy harbor. All that stood between the parched islanders and a joyously illegal salvage job was the bumbling Englishman (Basil Radford) who, as the island's Home Guard captain, felt constrained to enforce the letter of the law.
Out of this excellent idea, which less skilled hands might have reduced to farce, the British moviemakers have spun a tight little comedy of pure gold. Like Scotch whisky, it is a peculiarly British product with strong transatlantic appeal. Filmed entirely in the Hebrides, where the faces are as roughhewn as the landscapes, its comedy is rooted in characterboth national and individualand nurtured gently with ingenuity and unfailing good taste.
What lifts Tight Little Island above its own high mark of insular drollery, and turns its chuckles into laughs, is its mastery of the visual gag. The picture moves quietly but surely until the islanders make a rendezvous with the derelict Scotch. Then, in picturing their celebration, their efforts to hide the loot from customs raiders and a chase to rescue the biggest cache of whisky, the camera goes on an inspired spree. For lightness, comic movement and inventive detail, these sequences are worthy of Rene Clair.
They seem even more impressive as the work of a new director, Alexander Mackendrick, on his first feature assignment. Director Mackendrick has some expert allies: the players, besides Radford, include Wylie Watson, Gordon Jackson and a fetching blonde named Joan Greenwood. Best of all, he has an unerring screenplay, based on Compton Mackenzie's novel, Whisky Galore, and written by Mackenzie and Angus Macphail. The script savors the cream of the jest, wastes not a drop and ends gracefully with a wry concession to the moral superiority of teetotalers.