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Five reasons to see the films of Alexander Mackendrick

The director of Whisky Galore! and Sweet Smell of Success is the subject of a retrospective

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Five reasons to see the films of Alexander Mackendrick

1. It’s the centenary of the birth of the Scottish-American filmmaker who became one of Ealing studios’ greatest directors. Born in Boston, Massachusetts to Scottish immigrant parents, Mackendrick moved back to Glasgow with his grandfather when he was just seven years old. Mackendrick began his career in advertising before cutting his teeth as a filmmaker working on propaganda films during World War II. He subsequently took at job at Ealing where he worked as a screenwriter and production designer until, less than a year later, he directed his first feature, Whisky Galore!, which is widely considered to be the best Scottish comedy of all time.

2. Mackendrick made a total of five films for Ealing between 1949 and 1955: Whisky Galore!, The Man in the White Suit, Mandy, The Maggie and The Ladykillers. The first, second and fifth of those are generally recognised to be among the very best films made at Ealing, and certainly their delightful combination of eccentric humour and anti-authoritarianism make them quintessential Ealing films.

3. The Man in the White Suit has been given a full digital restoration and now looks as brand spanking new as the titular dirt-proof two-piece invented by Alec Guinness’ boffin. And like the suit that never gets dirty and never wears out, Mackendrick’s second film for Ealing, a cutting comedy about commerce that secured BAFTA and Oscar nominations, really stands up to repeated viewings.

4. Following the sale of Ealing studios to the BBC in the late 1950s, Mackendrick found himself out of work and moved back to America where, in 1957, he made Sweet Smell of Success. The acerbic tale of slimy press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) and a powerful newspaper columnist JJ Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) remains one of the greatest, most influential Hollywood film noirs of all time.

5. The Mackendrick retrospective also features several rarities: the three films – Sammy Going South, A High Wind in Jamaica and Don’t Make Waves - he directed during the 1960s plus the 1937 British thriller he scripted, Midnight Menace. It’s a shame Mackendrick never got to make his version of Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros with Tony Hancock and Barbara Windsor (!?), but we should be grateful that he gave us at least four enduring masterpieces.

The Man in the White Suit has been digitally restored and is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Mon 19 Nov. The Alexander Mackendrick retrospective is at BFI Southbank until Fri 30 Nov and is at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse from Wed 12 Dec.

Whisky Galore

Sweet Smell of Success

  • 1957
  • US
  • 96 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Alexander Mackendrick
  • Written by: Ernest Lehman (novelette), Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman
  • Cast: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis

Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman scripted this brilliant study of the destructive effect of power. 'Sweet Smell of Success' tells the story of Sidney Falco (Curtis), a slimy publicist worming his way to the top via venomous newspaper columnist J.J Hunsecker (Lancaster). The two leads are brilliantly cast against type…

The Man in the White Suit

  • 4 stars
  • 1951
  • UK
  • 85 min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Alexander Mackendrick
  • Written by: John Dighton, Roger MacDougall, Alexander Mackendrick
  • Cast: Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker

A dishwasher in a textile mill invents a fabric that never wears out or gets dirty. Mackendrick adds a touch of acidity to the Ealing comedy formula and Guinness is spectacularly good, exploiting his trademark smarminess to great effect.

Whisky Galore!

  • 1949
  • UK
  • 82 min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Alexander Mackendrick
  • Written by: Compton MacKenzie (also novel), Angus MacPhail
  • Cast: Basil Radford, Bruce Seton, Joan Greenwood, Gordon Jackson

Much-loved Ealing comedy by the late Sandy Mackendrick. A ship carrying a cargo of whisky is shipwrecked off a Scottish island during wartime, so the locals decide it's time to quench their thirst. Full of wit and charm that others can only hope to emulate.

The Maggie

  • 1953
  • UK
  • 92 min
  • U
  • Directed by: Alexander Mackendrick
  • Written by: Alexander Mackendrick (story), William Rose
  • Cast: Alex Mackenzie, Paul Douglas

A rich American proves easy fodder for the crew of a Scottish cargo boat in Mackendrick's Ealing comedy, which lacks some of the sparkle of Whisky Galore.

The Ladykillers

  • 1955
  • UK
  • 97 min
  • U
  • Directed by: Alexander Mackendrick
  • Written by: William Rose
  • Cast: Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers, Danny Green, Jack Warner, Katie Johnson

Classic, brilliant Ealing heist comedy in which a bunch of criminals pretend to be travelling musicians in order to hide out in an old lady's house. The only trouble is that the old lady is a little bit more of a handful than they expected. Guiness, Lom and Parker were rarely better than here and the young Sellers shows…

Sammy Going South

  • 1963
  • UK
  • 114 min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Alexander Mackendrick
  • Cast: Edward G Robinson, Fergud McClelland, Constance Cummings

A chance to see a restored version of Mackendrick's 1963 film based on newly orphaned 10-year-old Sam (McClelland). The young boy sets off to find his only relative and meets a host of characters and criminals along the way.

Midnight Menace

  • 1937
  • UK
  • 77 min
  • Directed by: Sinclair Hill
  • Written by: Alexander Mackendrick, Roger MacDougall, G.H. Moresby-White, D.B. Wyndham-Lewis
  • Cast: Charles Farrell, Margaret Vyner, Fritz Kortner

A political cartoonist unmasks his colleague's killers by putting obscure clues in his cartoons.

A High Wind in Jamaica

  • 1965
  • UK
  • 103 min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Alexander Mackendrick
  • Written by: Stanley Mann, Ronald Harwood, Denis Cannan
  • Cast: Anthony Quinn, James Coburn, Lila Kedrova

When pirates board a ship full of kids, one of the children forms a bond with pirate captain Chavez. As tragedy strikes, their relationship takes a fateful twist.

Don't Make Waves

  • 1967
  • US
  • 97 min
  • Directed by: Alexander Mackendrick
  • Cast: Tony Curtis, Claudia Cardinale, Sharon Tate, Robert Webber, Dave Draper

Featuring Sharon Tate's first proper Hollywood role, this sex comedy is Mackendrick's final film.

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