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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
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the "The Wet Parade" message no doubt contributed to the passage of the 21st Amendment the following year (1933), which repealed nationwide prohibition.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.
One of my favorite movies mostly because I'm a Jimmy Durante fan and he
plays, of all things, a treasury agent during prohibition! True, that
doesn't stop him from being somewhat funny, cracking jokes and displaying
his comedic talents, so anyone who likes Durante will enjoy his
participation in this movie. There is also some fine ensemble acting from
the large cast as we see some of the evils of liquor both before and during
prohibition. And there's a great scene showing bootleggers making phony
whiskey using wood alcohol and printing labels saying it was pre-prohibition
liquor or from Canada.
I noticed two onscreen credit errors: Frederick Burton is listed as playing Major Randolph, and Reginald Barlow is listed as playing Judge Brandon. The character names were erroneously interchanged.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As Maltin notes in his yearbook: this film manages to be both anti-liquor and anti-prohibition. Presumably the viewer is supposed to conclude that moderate drinking is OK. There are some really good performances: both Lewis Stone and Walter Huston are superb in their respective halves of the film: Stone as a too-convivial Southern gentlemen, and Huston as the proprietor of a run-down hotel who cadges drinks or even steals to support his habit. We see both die as a result of their consumption. Then, having persuaded us of the evils of alcohol and shown us the arguments for government control, we see how prohibition, with its bootleggers,speakeasies and phony liquor made America's drinking habit worse; which is probably true. All the performances are good, especially Neil Hamilton as the southern son following in his father's footsteps. The one curiosity is Jimmy Durante, under contract with MGM at the time, which wasn't doing many musicals or comedies (his teaming with Buster Keaton achieving only modest success)as a federal agent, and to see him struggling to keep down his Ha-Cha-Cha routine. He even got to do a deathbed scene; and not too shabbily. It is a two hour movie that tries to do too much, and could easily have been cut down to one and a half hours. But Stone and Huston, with good supportm make this an eight for me.
It's difficult to find old movies that I haven't already seen, so it was with great anticipation that I watched The Wet Parade, 1932, for the first time. It was like taking a vicarious time machine journey that landed smack in the middle of one of America's less memorable self-righteous escapades: The Prohibition. The best part is that this intensely dramatic flick was made a full year before prohibition ended, so the full flavor of the alcohol-soaked theme really hits home. It includes some historically accurate details, which were still very fresh in everyone's minds when the movie was produced. It also depicts some of the darker details of desolation and desperation the general public wrestled with after losing complete access to drinkable alcohol. Walter Huston, one of Hollywood's most convincing actors of his era, outdoes himself in this movie. Young Robert Young is quite dashing in his role, although the sight of him paired up with the gregarious Jimmy Durante might prompt a quick reality check if you're not prepared for this early "odd couple" concept.
Wet Parade (1932)
A heavy social message movie but really well made, with some touching, in fact moving scenes. There is the first layer of drinking and the damage heavy drinking does (with some dramatic examples!). Then there is a political level, with electioneering and a kind of lobbying by the charactersand the movieregarding drinking.
The year it begins is 1916, more or less, and it's the cusp of the beginning of Prohibition, just a year before the U.S. enters WWI. (The war is a side issueone character wisely says, "War has no good side.") The acting is quite realisticthis is a truly serious and large dramaand so the events take on poignant significance. Even if it might, sometimes, seem to preach (barely), it always puts it in human terms, and human costs.
"I never did take it up," says one main character, to explain his not drinking. It makes it seem like a drug ("I never did take up pot") and that's really the underlying attitude on both sides. Of course, there are lots of scenes of drunks and parties leading to good old drunkenness. One of the reasons for voting for Prohibitions is shown as economic50 million bushels of wheat and rye were going to making drink, and in war time this was wrong.
Remember that the movie was made in 1932 just as Prohibition was being repealed. I don't think it was simply a reminder to the audience of the history of the whole 14 year experiment in teetotaling. Progressive (Democratic) President Wilson did not approve the idea, but the states went ahead and ratified the amendment (not including some notable hold outs like Kentucky, home of great Bourbon).
So, as a movie, there is a lot going on. Before the first hour is up we have one plot transform into another and then yet another. In a way it's quite remarkable. Director Victor Fleming is seven years away from his glory year (1939) and yet is showing a sustained intelligence and narrative savvy. And the camera keeps moving with engaging fluidity, the light varies greatly from night to day to night, and the editing is fast and intelligent. This is, technically, a superb movie.
Now you might object to a certain level of moralizingthe drinkers are often cads or losersbut there is enough complexity of message to make this work overall. There is a sense that everyone (nearly) admits that Prohibition is a hopeless, and maybe senseless cause. As the plot moves toward its dramatic mobster climax, it feels more about pure crime than a moral issue, which got lost along the way.
But that's perhaps what happened to the country, too, back in the long dry years of the 1920s. Which were not so dry after all, for many. Hypocrisy and irony abound. A truly interesting movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is an oddity but it says volumes about the evils of both drink and prohibition. There is great harm done by liquor, but almost greater harm brought about by the prohibition. With frightening details of how the boot leg liquor was made, it's a wonder more people did not die from bad booze. My mother actually knew someone who went blind from bad liquor. The acting is above and beyond the call of the script, which is really what kept me engaged- especially if you can get past the first twenty minutes. Robert Young gives a standout performance and if he doesn't break your heart, you probably never had a heart to break to begin with. Packed with stars for all movie buffs to spot including Myrna Loy. And all MST3K fans will recognize John Miljan from episode #507 "I Accuse My Parents". Worth a viewing for a peek into the social dilemma of 1920-1933.
I loved The Wet Parade and gave it a 10. I loved it because it clearly depicts the pain and suffering caused by the loss of free will, whether through addiction or government imposed sanctions. I found the film to be as relevant today as it was when it was released in 1932, just months before the repeal of Prohibition. There is no attempt to provide a solution, just a vivid picture of the problem. A problem which continues to grow in magnitude.
If I had one piece of advice for people wanting to try out films of the
1930s, it would be to check out any movie with Walter Huston in it.
From Gabriel Over the White House to Kongo to The Beast of the City and
more, the man was in some of the weirdest and most interesting films of
the period. Here we have a film about the dangers of alcohol, made a
year before prohibition ended. The film seems to be both anti-alcohol
and anti-prohibition, which makes for some fascinating think-work about
what the movie is really trying to advocate.
The film starts with Lewis Stone's Colonel Sanders-looking Southern patriarch, whose daughter (Dorothy Jordan) is trying to get him to quit drinking. After a short while we move North to a fresh-faced Robert Young and his lush of a father Walter Huston. The two stories eventually intersect as Young falls in love with the daughter. Prohibition passes which leads to a tragedy for Young, who decides to become a treasury agent and is partnered with Jimmy Durante (!). From here the movie hits a bit of a lull as we get a fairly typical T-man story until the final minutes, which are exciting.
The film offers some great moments such as the haunting image of Lewis Stone's final fate or the powerful scene where Walter Huston's wife confronts him about his bootleg liquor. The cast is excellent. The performances are melodramatic but in the best way. In addition to the stars already mentioned, we also have Neil Hamilton, Myrna Loy, and Wallace Ford. Not a bad lineup.
As an entertainment piece, I think it's solid. But it has added value as a historical curio, allowing modern audiences to get perspective on the thoughts and feelings at the time regarding an important period in our history.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This was obviously a stellar production from MGM, designed to showcase
it's roster of young up and coming stars. Dorothy Jordan had been
around since 1930 and she was pretty and sweet and had played enough
waifs, kid sisters and even Latin ladies to be considered for the lead.
Playing opposite her was a young actor who MGM was grooming - Robert
Young. Myrna Loy (in a pretty thankless role), Joan Marsh, Wallace Ford
and Neil Hamilton rounded out the cast and they were ably helped by two
stage and screen veterans - Lewis Stone and Walter Huston. Taken from a
book by social commentator novelist Upton Sinclair, it tried to show
how Prohibition was the cure that was worse than the disease. The story
tells of two families, the Chilicotes from the South and the Tarletons
from the North and how their lives are affected by drink.
Sweet "Persimmon" Chilicote (Dorothy Jordan) is determined to keep her distinguished father (Lewis Stone) away from the booze that is turning him into the town laughing stock. When, in a fit of the D.Ts., he leaps to his death Persimmon makes an impassioned speech to her father's "friends" that she would love to see the day when alcohol is poured into the gutters (shades of Prohibition).
Little does she realise that her brother, budding playwright Roger (Neil Hamilton) is following in their father's footsteps. He is staying up North at a friend Kip Tarleton's (Robert Young) hotel. Kip is in the same boat as Persimmon, his father's alcoholism is tearing the family apart. Tarleton Snr. (a madly overacting Walter Huston) is a political campaigner for the Democrats, who believes Wilson will not only keep them out of the War but also vote against Prohibition as well. He is wrong on both counts as America goes to War and the Pure Food Act is signed, signalling the start of Prohibition. I think the movie strives to put across that Prohibition wasn't the answer, that people who had been seasoned drinkers before were now at the mercy of unscrupulous bootleggers, whose toxic additives to the brew eg methylated spirits, were, in some cases, sending some drinkers insane. There is a telling scene that shows the true meaning of the phrase "Bonded in Canada". From the time the poisonous menthol is poured into bottles, to the phoney Canadian bags that are doused in water, then rubbed in sand to make them look authentic, it is a real eyeopener!!!
Kip sees his father kill his mother (Clara Blandick) while under the influence of bootleg liquor and is inspired to become a Federal Agent - he has already met Persimmon and she encourages him in his determination. His partner is played by Jimmy Durante - "I've got a million of them"!! - whose presence really lightens the movie. Neil Hamilton is also a cut above his part as he espouses "War has no right side" and cynical remarks about prohibition. Every alcoholic cliché is thrown in, including the one about drinking bad whiskey will make you go blind - that happens to Roger and sends callous Eileen (Myrna Loy) running from the building. A big plus, for me, in this movie is that neither Jordan nor Young deviate from their "right" paths. Young's Kip has so many opportunities, even his boss (played by John Miljan) almost throws in the towel and thinks of joining the "baddies".
MGM found in Young an all purpose leading man and his career didn't vary, until he did a handful of Noirs at the end of the 40s. Funnily enough, in the 50s, he confessed to being an alcoholic but had sought help.
Produced at a time when America was having second thoughts about the 18th Amednment, this is an interesting period piece that shows the effects of alcohol on two families as well as the unintended consequences of Prohibition. Unfortunately, the movie runs too long as the plot tries to develop the eventual interconnection of the two families. However, it does treat the effects of Prohibition in an evenhanded manner. Neil Hamilton has the best roll as the upright son of the Southern family who descends into alcoholism, despite having seen the effects of booze on his father. Robert Young, who has the corresponding position in the city family, remains "dry", but comes across as somewhat of a prude. Jimmy Durante is totally miscast as a Treasury Agent.
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