Don Marquis was the author of 'The Sun Dial', a popular humour column in the New York newspaper the Sun. This column had several recurring characters, all of whom are now forgotten except for the (lower-case) archy and mehitabel, who inspired the Broadway musical 'Shinbone Alley'. That fellow archy was a cockroach poet -- or a human poet reincarnated in cockroach form -- who chronicled the exploits of himself and alley cat mehitabel by flinging himself headfirst onto the keys of Marquis's manual typewriter. archy types his missives in lower-case only, because he can't operate the typewriter's shift key. The tales of archy and mehitabel are so clever that it pains me to report that Don Marquis copied this premise from an earlier author: John Kendrick Bangs had previously used the idea of an insect who communicates with humans via typewriting.
Equally as popular in his day as archy and mehitabel, but now forgotten, is another 'Sun Dial' character: Rip Hawley, alias the Old Soak. (Renamed Clement Hawley for this movie.) Hawley was a bibulous philosopher who spent his days propping up the bar at Jake Smith's saloon, until Prohibition came along. Now that booze is illegal, the Old Soak spends so much time searching for a drink that he's got no time left to work. But he finds the time to offer boozy wisdom such as 'Prohibition makes you want to cry into your beer, and then denies you the beer to cry into.'
The IMDb website has classified 'The Old Soak' as a crime drama. In fact this film is a comedy, with a subplot involving a theft, and an action climax as the Old Soak squares off against the thief. The latter (no mystery here) is Webster Parsons, played by perennial movie villain William V Mong. Much of the comedy stems from the Old Soak's encounters with his crony Al, the former bartender at Jake Smith's who is now a bootlegger. Less amusing and more contrived is the comedy byplay of Annie, the hired girl. The funniest sequence occurs when Al supplies Hawley with some bootleg hooch that he can't trust, so he tests it on his wife's parrot Peter. The parrot sups the booze, bursts into song, and then lays an egg. Lucy Beaumont gives an understated performance as the Old Soak's long-suffering wife Matilda. I'll rate this character-driven comedy 5 out of 10.
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