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What - No Beer? (1933)

Passed  |   |  Comedy  |  10 February 1933 (USA)
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Ratings: 5.5/10 from 306 users  
Reviews: 14 user | 3 critic

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


A New Deal for the "Speakeasily" boys as they chase the dames with dough...the master brewers of joy! 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 Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow (1987) 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

What! No Laughs?
21 July 2014 | by (Greenwich, CT United States) – See all my reviews

Buster Keaton's last starring Hollywood feature is all about the joy of unrestricted boozing, but leaves a sour aftertaste.

Taxidermist Elmer J. Butts (Buster) decides to invest his life savings on what pal Jimmy Potts (Jimmy Durante) calls "the idea of a century...a bonzana," namely brewing beer to satisfy the public's appetite after voting down Prohibition. "A hundred and twenty cracked lips are straining at the leash," Jimmy says. The problem is Prohibition is not yet officially repealed, putting Elmer and Jimmy in the gunsights of both gangsters and the police.

Durante and Keaton had already made two comedies together, and while at least one of them, "Speak Easily" (despite the title, not about Prohibition or drinking) is modestly amusing, "What! No Beer?" is a painful demonstration of their lack of chemistry, and Keaton's poor condition as divorce and drink took their toll. Keaton is almost inanimate for much of the movie, while Durante overcompensates with his signature malaprops and heavy body English.

In one scene, Elmer and Jimmy try to make beer in an abandoned brewery with the help of some hobos. By now, Buster's screen persona had been reduced to fey simpleton. Told to add a can of malt extract to their mixture, he throws the entire can into the tub. Later, he tries to cap bottles with a hammer, crushing them into shards. There's also a fire hose that gets everyone wet.

Later on, Elmer and Jimmy face some angry cops about to put them away for their illicit brewing. While Jimmy rants up a storm, Buster struggles silently to keep his balance, handcuffed to his friend. It's supposed to be funny because Buster falls down a lot, but it hurts to watch him so badly used as a prop.

Was Buster drunk through the entire film? One suspects he was at best hung over, as his facial reactions are frequently slow and unsteady. Facing the steamroller that was Durante, he seems resigned to his sad fate most of the way. One scene, where Jimmy explains he is only making fake "St. Louis Beer," exposes Buster in clearly soused condition. He is in no shape here to make the kind of comedy Keaton was a master of, even when the subject is alcohol. Potts is the one character in this film we are supposed to think is not a drinker.

Durante's material is little better. Apparently, the creative team just let him rip with his "hot-cha-chas" and hoped audiences would be forgiving. Told by Elmer that one of the stuffed animals is a kangaroo, "a native of Australia," Jimmy smacks his forehead and exclaims: "My sister married one of them!"

However weak the joke, someone at M-G-M must have liked it, as it gets three callbacks later in the movie.

Director Edward Sedgwick was the credited helmer of "The Cameraman," Buster's great comedy made just five years before. It's hard to believe Sedgwick could do no better for his old star than recycle quality gags from "Seven Chances" and "Spite Marriage" in diluted form. But that's what happens here.

I enjoyed one line of Durante's, when he tells Elmer that they don't have to come up with real money to buy their brewery: "This is high finance. You don't have to pay cash." Phyllis Barry reminds me of Kay Francis and delivers some sexy presence late in the film, but she did no better than Buster as her Hollywood career sank after this.

In the end, there's a big build-up that comes out of left field to save our heroes, followed by a rare bit of political commentary from M-G-M when Durante proclaims Prohibition's coming end. It's one valid moment in a painfully contorted affair; Buster's sad fate here offers ample evidence how Prohibition only worsened the condition of problem drinkers.

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