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Tight Little Island

At the Brattle

By Bryce E. Nelson

"Tight Little Island" pretty effectively spoofs a number of things, but in doing so also satirizes man's almost complete dependence on the most valuable manufactured product of the civilized world--alcohol. Although the film takes the only supportable position, derision of the teetotalers, it does not sufficiently revere alcohol's place in the modern world.

The inhabitants of the tight little island, located in the Outer Hebrides 100 miles from the English mainland and "To the West, there is nothing--but America," would agree with Harry Stack Sullivan, famous American psychiatrist. Sullivan once said about alcohol, "I do not see how mankind could exist without this most marvelous of chemical compounds." One native echoes him, "It is a well-known medical fact that some men are born two drinks below normal."

Most islanders are at least normal until 1943, when a catastrophe worse than any posed by the German threat befalls them: their supply of liquor is cut off. This evokes an almost island-wide form of the sickness unto death, until Providence, in the form of a floating distillery, intervenes. A ship loaded with 50,000 cases of what the islanders call Usquebaugh, the Water of Life, hangs up on rocks near the island.

Due to the coincidence of the Sabbath, the inhabitants cannot, of course, help salvage the ship. Under the cover of night however, they helpfully remove excess cargo before the ship sinks. The film revolves around this incident and has little other plot. "Tight Little Island" merely follows the consequences of the whiskey ship's wrecking, which, by the way, is supposed to have actually happened.

But the situation is humorous, and the spoof of prudery is carried off well. The local home guard captain feels it his duty to protect the morals of the people and a typically severe Calvinist mother tries to prolong her son's abstention. Happily, neither can alter human nature. Basil Radford as the self-important captain and Jean Cadel as the silver-cord keeping mother, are quite adequate, as is Joan Greenwood, who provides the film's sexual interest.

This movie has been kicking around the States since 1950, when it was imported from England. Time has improved neither the originally poor lighting of the black-and-white film nor the fuzziness of the sound. The latter condition, along with the thickness of the accents, might even make sub-titles desirable Even though "Tight Little Island" is not often uproariously funny, seeing it is a pleasant enough way to spend an evening.

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