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Sprawling story of Prohibition set against two families and how they are affected by booze. The stories come together when two young people (Robert Young, Dorothy Jordan) join in a common fight against liquor because it has destroyed their families. Both pros and cons are presented, but the screenplay definitely sides with the abstainers. The fathers destroyed by demon rum are played by Walter Huston and Lewis Stone, and look for Jimmy Durante as a bearded federal agent! Written by
Victor Fleming's "The Wet Parade" (1932) would be an appropriate double feature companion to "Reefer Madness". But while it shares that film's exaggerated (insert hysteria here) style, it is a much higher budget production and ultimately delivers a balanced and well- reasoned message.
It also has an all-star cast, although many of them are very early in their careers. The story centers around an old southern family, the Chilcotes; Lewis Stone, Dorothy Jordan, and Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon on television's "Batman" series). Other name actors included Walter Huston, Robert Young, and Myrna Loy, Wallace Ford, and Jimmy Durante.
The film is almost an epic as it covers a 15-year span from 1916 to 1931. During WWI Congress expands federal regulation with a wartime measure called the Food Control Act (regulating grain among other things). This leads to the ill-advised Volsted Act and the 18th Amendment outlawing liquor (insert nationwide "Prohibition"). But prohibition curtails only legal drinking, and gives criminal elements a huge base of potential customers. Although much of the demand is met by smuggling (especially from Canada) and domestic distillation, there is quick money to be made with bogus product. Criminals simply take bulk denaturated (meaning unfit to drink) cleaning fluid ( a mix of ethyl alcohol and methanol) and package it as a name brand product. The film shows an excellent sequence of this process.
The film also shows the consequences of consuming this product; blindness or death.
The intention of the film is not to promote drinking but to illustrate a bigger evil, the unintended consequences of the government's ill-advised attempt to prohibit the activity. "The Wet Parade" was a rare example of mainstream Hollywood's willingness to openly take a side in a political issue. In doing so they risked alienating a huge potential audience (the President had vetoed the original legislation and it took legions of pietistic voters to pass the 18th Amendment). The effectiveness of the "The Wet Parade" message no doubt contributed to the passage of the 21st Amendment the following year (1933), which repealed nationwide prohibition. Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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