Two men decide to cash in on the end of Prohibition by selling watered down beer.



(original story), (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

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Complete credited cast:
Elmer J. Butts
Jimmy Potts
Roscoe Ates ...
Schultz (as Rosco Ates)
Phyllis Barry ...
John Miljan ...
Butch Lorado
Henry Armetta ...
Edward Brophy ...
Spike Moran
Charles Dunbar ...
Charles Giblyn ...


Although he has never met her, Elmer Butts loves Hortense secretly and from afar. He dreams of making a million dollars so he can buy her a Rolls automobile and marry her. With prohibition apparently on the verge of ending, Elmer's friend Jimmy Potts gets an idea to make them both rich by opening a brewery just before the legalization of alcoholic beverages. Their timing is off, and the police raid them, but their inept brewing has created a beer with no alcohol, so they are let off. But it has also resulted in a cheaply made beer, and bootlegger Spike Moran realizes that he can vastly increase his profits by partnering with Elmer and Jimmy. But none of them reckons with the competitor, another bootlegger, gangster Butch Lorado. Butch has a girlfriend....Elmer's dream girl, Hortense. Written by Jim Beaver <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


THE NATIONAL LAUGH-FEST! (original herald - all caps) See more »








Release Date:

10 February 1933 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

What! No Beer?  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Featured in So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM (2004) See more »


Happy Days Are Here Again
(1929) (uncredited)
Music by Milton Ager
Played by a band at the end
See more »

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User Reviews

Money from Foam with Elmer J. Butts
15 December 2013 | by (Kissimmee, Florida) – See all my reviews

WHAT! NO BEER? (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1933), directed by Edward Sedgwick, is a prohibition-era comedy that marked the closing point to Buster Keaton's career as a star comedian for MGM. Having come a long way since becoming the studio's contract player starting with THE CAMERAMAN (1928), WHAT! NO BEER? far from being prime Keaton, ranges from disappointing to enjoyable. Of the Keaton talkies, WHAT, NO BEER? appears to be his better known movie title, particularly by beer drinkers, naturally. It also pairs Keaton once again with Jimmy Durante for the third and final time, here sharing equal billing above the title, being more of a showcase for Durante rather than Keaton himself.

The story introduces Elmer J. Butts (Buster Keaton), a taxidermist, closing shop to attend a political rally as campaigners march down the street holding a sign reading, "Vote for Horace Frisby, the People's Choice." While in attendance, Elmer is smitten by the presence of Hortence (Phyllis Barry), a companion of mob boss and bootlegger, Butch Lorado (John Miljan). Jimmy Potts (Jimmy Durante), a neighborhood barber and Elmer's best pal since babies in a cradle, returning home from a fishing trip, comes upon a get-rich-quick scheme of being the first to open a brewery and sell beer once Prohibition is repealed. Elmer finances Jimmy $10,000 to open up an abandoned brewery where the two go to work manufacturing beer with the assistance of three homeless men (Roscoe Ates, Henry Armetta and Charles Dunbar) they've found flopping about inside the building. As the election voters put an end to Prohibition, it's still not yet outlawed, causing Elmer and Jimmy to encounter further problems with authorities and rival gangsters, Lorando and Spike Moran (Edward Brophy) the latter with the intent of cutting in on their business, creating a gang war in the process.

Considering the numerous times Keaton acquired the "Elmer" name during his MGM years (1928-1933), this would be the only time he assumed the exact same name from another movie, FREE AND EASY (1930). Whether Keaton's character name of Elmer J. Butts from WHAT, NO BEER! is the same one from FREE AND EASY is uncertain. It might very well be two different characters bearing the exact same name played by the very same actor since there's really no evidence of this being a sequel. In FREE AND EASY, Keaton's Elmer is a garage owner who happens in Hollywood where he unintentionally becomes a comedy actor. In WHAT, NO BEER! he's now a taxidermist who keeps portions of his fortune inside stuffed animals. Yet, on the surface, this appears to be the same Elmer J. Butts three years later. His lovesick "Elmer" character could very much be Elmer from DOUGHBOYS (1930) or Homer in SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK (1931). In Keaton tradition, there's a series of pratfalls to get a few laughs. Though many consider Durante a mismatch for Keaton, somehow they work favorably together here, even though Durante gets most of the attention with both his schnozzola with constant catch phase of "hotchichacha!"

With gag material few and far between, the most notable sequence turns out to be the rolling of the barrels down the hilly street, a scene reminiscent of rolling boulders from Keaton's masterpiece, SEVEN CHANCES (Metro, 1925). The boulders from the silent classic is classic Keaton. The re-enactment here makes more sense, though this new sequence, quite short, works much better in silent comedy than in sound comedy. Other minor highlights consist of Keaton and Durante's struggle at the voting booth; Keaton's day in the park with Hortense, and occasional amusing Durante one-liners. Hotchichacha!

The editing and pacing are tightly done, with certain scenes ending in sudden blackouts or gag material in abbreviated form. Released at 66 minutes, it leaves indication WHAT! NO BEER? to have been initially longer. In release form, however, it plays like an extended comedy short. Take notice that the aerial view of office workers used in one scene is one lifted from director King Vidor' THE CROWD (MGM, 1928).

Not revived in many years, WHAT! NO BEER? saw its rediscovery where this, and other classic movie titles from the MGM library, aired on Turner Network Television starting in 1988. As classic film titles slowly phased out from TNT in favor of more contemporary ones by 1991, WHAT! NO BEER? turned out to be one of its longer surviving oldies, ending its run by 1993 before becoming part of the Turner Classic Movies line-up which began in 1994. Distributed to home video, it's currently found in the DVD format. Next time it turns up on TCM, have some beer, sit back and watch the movie, compliments of Keaton and Durante. If beverage is unavailable, simply say, "What! No Beer?" (**1/2)

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