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I thought this version was better than the one made in 1994 by Woody
Allen, the show's writer. Jackie Gleason is the entire movie and he has
some hilarious bits as a caterer from New Jersey suspected for being a
spy behind the Iron Curtain in "Vulgaria." Everyone around him is
quirky, crazy or incompetent and Gleason fills up the screen
(literally!) with slow burns, explosions and sarcasm. His Walter
Hollander is a far more formidable character than Woody Allen's take on
I also enjoyed Ted Bessel ("Donald" from "That Girl") as the bumbling embassy attache', Axel McGee--the only man in the Foreign Service to be hanged in effigy by the staff of his own embassy.
I was surprised years later to find that this movie was directed by Howard Morris who was "Ernest T. Bass" on the "Andy Griffith Show."
Gleason shines in this cold-war comedy.Gleason and his family are mistaken
for spys in a communist style country and chased into an American
embassy.The Laughs are often and the cast excels,especially
Gleason,"Krojack" and "Father Drobney".The movie is hardly a masterpiece but
if your in the right frame of mind its Hilarious!
It's much better than the later remake with Woody Allen which was harsh,cynical and forced.And produced much less laughs also.
Its just Good Clean Fun!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Woody Allan wrote DON'T DRINK THE WATER in the late 1960s, and it had a
nice run on Broadway. It became the first of his plays to make it to
the big screen, though the second (PLAY IT AGAIN SAM) was a better
work. A later tragic-comic piece, THE FLOATING LIGHT BULB, has not made
it as yet.
The story is set in the mythical Eastern European country of "Vulgaria". This is not the only film set in this land. The musical CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG was also set in "Vulgaria", when it was a pre-World War I principality run by Gert Frobe. History swept little "Vulgaria" up with it's neighbors. In the late 1960s it is a communist state.
A plane is hijacked to Vulgaria by a lone gunman, fleeing impending arrest after a Vulgarian spy known as "the Grey Fox" was arrested in the U.S. On the plane is the Hollander family from Newark, New Jersey: Walter (Jackie Gleason), his wife Marion (Estelle Parsons) and their daughter Susan (Joan Delaney). Walter is a very successful caterer, who really wanted to take his annual vacation in Miami, but was talked (much against his will) by Marion into a European trip to London, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, and Athens. It was to Athens that their plane was headed when hijacked.
Parsons is the enthusiast in the couple, and when she hears that the passengers can stretch their legs outside the plane for about twenty minutes, she pushes a dubious Walter to take photos of the guards surrounding the plane, and of the surrounding buildings of the airport. Unfortunately, Walter has noted that there is barbed wire in the areas that Marion suggests he photographed, and figures it must be restricted. But the local secret police man Krojack (Michael Constantine), sees Walter taking movies, jumps to the conclusion that Walter is a spy and orders his men to arrest the Hollanders. Fortunately for the Hollanders just before they had their adventure the American Ambassador McGee (Howard St. John) left for a conference in Washington. His son Axel (Ted Bessell) had driven him to the airport, and is on hand with the embassy's limousine to drive the Hollanders to the sanctuary of the embassy.
The play follows the topsy turvy situation the Hollanders find themselves in, worsened by the well-intentioned, but somewhat stupid, Axel. Axel, confronting Krojack, makes a common-sensical comment that both countries are always spying on each other. Yes, it's common-sensical, but it is something no diplomat every mouths, and Krojack tape records the message to use when later talking with Ambassador McGee.
Axel and Susan soon are falling in love, which does not meet with the approval of Walter. Nor is Walter (who has to get back for a special catering job in four days) happy to hear that the other political refugee in the embassy, Father Drobney (Richard Libertini) has been there for six years! Nor is Walter really thrilled that Drobney has picked up a new hobby - he's a magician now.
There are nice touches in the film, jabbing at both sides. Krojack is talking to Ambassador Magee on the phone, when one of his assistants asks to know how the Stock Market did (he has some mutual shares). Krojack puts down the phone and orders someone to break the idiot's legs (this is, after all, a communist "paradise"). Later it is the Americans who get the jab: the Ambassador is ferociously looking for a way of winning a governorship at home, and is willing to sell out anyone he can to get it.
A good cast is aided by the director, Howard Morris (WHO'S MINDING THE MINT?) and turns out a better than average comedy. Not as good as most of Woody's later films, but it was a promising start.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you can get past the credits without feeling yourself going blind,
you may want to pull out sunglasses for the sight of Jackie Gleason in
a very loud black and white striped jacket with a colorful scarf that
looks like something more out of "Boys in the Band" than something that
Ralph Kramden would wear. But this certainly isn't as bizarre as some
of the things he was forced to wear in Otto Preminger's disastrous
"Skidoo" (made the same year) and in place of Carol Channing as his
spouse, he gets Estelle Parsons, not screaming here as she did in her
Oscar Winning role as Blanche in "Bonnie and Clyde", but spoofing the
perfect wife and mother, overly cheerful at every moment, as they
prepare to take off from Newark Airport to head to Europe for a nice
family vacation. Of course, this was during a whole series of planes
being hijacked, so no sooner are they sitting on the plane (grabbing a
nut out of a tray passing by) than the plane lands in Vulgaria, that
fictional European country first visited in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang",
and now obviously under a communist regime. Taking this chance to get
off the plane for home movies, Gleason, Parsons and their daughter
(Joan Delaney) are chased by machine gun carrying military and end up
in the American Embassy, protected by none other than "That Girl's" Ted
Bessell and accused of being spies. As they wait for their accusers to
learn the truth, Gleason insults world leaders, Parsons waxes the
entire mansion's floor, and a romance ensues between Delaney and
Bessell. When the opportunity arises for these unfortunate out of
towner's to return to the quite life of Newark, New Jersey, it still
isn't easy, and like the Griswalds of the "National Lampoon's Vacation"
series and Sandy Dennis and Jack Lemmon of "The Out of Towners", the
results are dangerously wacky to say the least.
This Woody Allen play was a huge hit on Broadway, and its movie version uses every odd late 1960's cliché for its structure. However, while Allen wrote the screenplay, he didn't direct it, that job being given to T.V. veteran Howard Morris who gives it a rather strange pacing, sometimes frenetic and sometimes too frantic to catch everything going on. Gleason, though, milks every laugh for what its worth, particularly in a scene where he finds him holding onto an obvious bomb. Parsons manages to be funny with her eternal smile, good nature and dim-witted reactions to everything going on, never once giving any indication that she fears her life might actually be in danger. Some really funny character performances help this along, particularly Richard Libertini who could always take the most generic line and turn into something hysterical. Not a perfect comedy (and certainly extremely dated), it still gives an interesting look back to a time in film history where traveling the globe really proved that it was indeed a mod, mod world.
With this version of Don't Drink The Water, you get Jackie Gleason (who
throws 100% of himself into his character), as well as a script that
occasionally sparkles with witty Woody Allen one liners. Add Estelle
Parsons as the always-calm-in-the-presence-of-a-hysterical-husband
wife, and Ted Bessell in his trademarked 1970's bumbler role, and
you've got a pretty nice weekend afternoon of entertainment.
I was particularly intrigued by Joan Delaney as the couple's beautiful daughter and Ted Bessell's love interest. She had a very interesting face, nice appearance and style, and did a good job of maintaining her own presence opposite some of the great scene stealers of that era (Gleason, Parsons, Michael Constantine, Avery Schrieber). I've tried to do a little "whatever-happened-to" search on the internet, but Delaney seemed to have disappeared from the acting scene without a trace after the early 1970's. That's a shame.
In any event, I'm a big Jackie Gleason and Woody Allen fan, and this movie seems to be the closest they ever came to teaming up (although there is little evidence that Woody Allen had anything to do with this film beyond having written the script for the Broadway play). Their participation pushed this movie up to the seven-star range for me.
Don't Drink the Water (1969) was based upon a play by Woody Allen. I saw
this film on the idiot box a few years back. I wasn't that impressed with
the movie. Basically it's a Jackie Gleeson movie, you have the honor of
watching him mug in front of the camera doing those unamusing eye tricks,
blinks and boggles. On the other hand it wasn't dreadful or ghastly. Just
your average comedy from that time period. Woody Allen remade the film
several years ago for the tiny screen. I never had the chance to watch it.
Oh well. It has to be better than the first film adaptation. I recalled an
interview with Woody Allen, the interviewer asked him what was his
impression of the film. He said something to the effect that at least they
paid him. My thoughts exactly.
"Don't Drink the Water" is an unbelievably bad film. It's based on a 1966
Broadway play by Woody Allen. It stars Jackie Gleason, the comic genius
behind "The Honeymooners". The director, Howard Morris, has appeared in
several Mel Brooks comedies (Life Stinks, High Anxiety, Silent Movie)and
made a mark in animation (characters he has voiced include Gopher from
"Pooh", Jughead (Archie)and Beetle Bailey) What went wrong?
I think the problem is that the premise is played out too seriously to work effectively. Allen's original play was tongue-in-cheek, which is why it worked on Broadway and in Allen's 1994 remake. The screenplay by R.S. Allen and Harvey Bullock beats the premise to death and makes too many changes from the original play. Making Gleason's wife an airhead in this version when she was a headstrong woman in the original is just one example of why this doesn't work.
The acting isn't much better. Gleason does the best he can with the material, but he can't save this. Gleason was a comic genius , but also a fine actor as he demonstrated in "The Hustler" and "Soldier in the Rain". His abrasive personality could have worked here, but the lousy script doesn't even give him a chance. Too bad. Estelle Parsons' airhead wife will drive you nuts after 20 minutes. See how soon it'll take for YOU to want to strangle her. That is also a shame because she is also a fine actress, having turned in two exceptional performances in "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Rachel, Rachel" None of the other actors do particularly well either.
Woody Allen hated this film so much that he remade the film in 1994 with himself and Julie Kavner (Marge Simpson) in the leads. They manage to hit all the right notes and the film itself is a comic masterpiece. It's finally on video after a long battle over rights. Do go out and find that version. All the 1969 original is good for is clearing out unwanted guests who overstay their welcome.
1/2* out of 4 stars
Seeing as Woody Allen was the credited writer and there was a talented director and cast involved, Don't Drink the Water had much potential. But while it is nowhere near as bad as some have said it could have been much better. It does have a fair few bright spots. It is not a bad-looking film, even if very 60s, the fashions are lovely to look at and give a real sense of nostalgia. Jackie Gleason does his absolute best but while he can be a little too abrasive he is very amusing. Richard Libertini also looks as if he's having fun, making his dialogue funnier than they deserved to be, and Michael Constantine gives very skilled support. There are a few good gags and pieces of dialogue, like Gleason and Constantine's confrontation, the spontaneous riot against the US embassy, "do you think it was a place that sold, guns, guards and barbed wire?" and the ahead of its time "that's the state department for you". Estelle Parssons is a mixed bag, she has moments where she's charming and her chemistry with Gleason is reasonably good but I do agree actually that she does come across as too much of an airhead. Ted Bussell is little more than a charmless dunce and the rest of the cast have nothing to do and can't do anything to make them shine. The film also feels very pedestrian, with a ridiculously overlong introduction, a story that can drag and be bloated and has some slack editing that really hurts the timing of most of the gags. The script has moments but for Allen, due to how much is changed, it lacks the sharpness, bite and wit that you associate with Allen to the extent it didn't sound like Allen's writing. It also didn't feel farcical enough, there was need of more energy, the humour was uneven and it could be too serious and not broad enough. The music sounded tacky and forgettable and really dated the film. All in all, there are some bright spots and there's much worse out there but Don't Drink the Water to me was rather average. 5/10 Bethany Cox
Estelle Parsons and Jackie Gleason are perfect together as a Jewish couple from Newark, New Jersey who are going to travel to Europe together with their adult daughter, Susan. Somehow, the trip is more of a disaster where they are considered by Vulgarians to be American spies or infidels. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite Woody Allen's script, the movie never really flows or develops to it's potential. Despite the premise, you can't help but enjoy the sparring nature of Parsons and Gleason on screen as a middle aged couple. Gleason is a Kosher caterer from New Jersey and she's his housewife. The time spent in Vulgaria is at the American embassy during the cold war in Eastern Europe. Despite some good laughs, the film could have been better with this cast of characters. I enjoyed Parsons and Gleason together.
I have to side with those who find this version of Woody Allen's play
much inferior to the remake by Allen himself which, ironically, has a
greater right to be called the original since it was Allen's attempt to
show the story as he envisioned it. I think much of the problem lies in
the fact that at the time this version was made Allen wasn't yet a
respected director and no one worried much about preserving the "Woody
Allen touch" --- except Woody Allen, of course.
Interesting note on the comparison between Jackie Gleason's take on the lead character with Allen's own portrayal years later. If you were to combine the physical bellicosity of Jackie Gleason with the sardonic Jewish humor of Woody Allen you might get someone like the recently deceased Lou Jacobi --- who originated the part on Broadway and who was, in Allen's opinion, largely responsible for the success of the play.
(By the way, I stole the line in my summary from Harpo Marx, who used it to describe the phenomenally successful Broadway production of ABIE'S IRISH ROSE.)
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