The story of the American activist struggle against the influence of alcohol, climaxing in the failed early 20th century nationwide era when it was banned.

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Won 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 3 nominations. See more awards »



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Series cast summary:
 Himself - Narrator (3 episodes, 2011)
Pete Hamill ...
 Himself - Writer (3 episodes, 2011)
Catherine Gilbert Murdock ...
 Herself - Historian (3 episodes, 2011)
Michael Lerner ...
 Himself - Historian (3 episodes, 2011)
 Himself - Writer (3 episodes, 2011)
Noah Feldman ...
 Himself - Legal Scholar (3 episodes, 2011)
Jack Roche ...
 Himself - Resident of Chicago (3 episodes, 2011)
William Leuchtenburg ...
 Himself - Historian (3 episodes, 2011)
 Reader / ... (3 episodes, 2011)
 Reader / ... (3 episodes, 2011)
 Reader (3 episodes, 2011)
 Reader (3 episodes, 2011)
John Paul Stevens ...
 Himself - Resident of Chicago (2 episodes, 2011)
Jonathan Eig ...
 Himself - Writer (2 episodes, 2011)
Margot Loines Wilkie ...
 Herself - Resident of Massachusetts (2 episodes, 2011)
Martin Marty ...
 Himself - Theologian (2 episodes, 2011)
Jack Clarke ...
 Himself - Resident of Chicago (2 episodes, 2011)
Ruth Proskauer Smith ...
 Herself - Resident of New York (2 episodes, 2011)
Edwin T. Hunt Jr. ...
 Himself - Resident of Seattle / ... (2 episodes, 2011)
Joshua Zeitz ...
 Himself - Historian (2 episodes, 2011)
 Reader (2 episodes, 2011)
Kevin Conway ...
 Reader (2 episodes, 2011)
 Reader (2 episodes, 2011)
 Reader (2 episodes, 2011)


Throughout American history, heavy alcohol consumption has been a pervasive part of its national social character. However in the 1800s, a growing Temperance movement arose determined to oppose the destructive habit by any means necessary. This series tells the story of this crusade until it achieved its ultimate goal of passing the 18th Amendment of the US Constitution which imposed prohibition. After that victory, the series covers this social reform's disastrous unintended consequences that encouraged clandestine drinking and organized crime while undermining civil liberties and society's respect for the law in ways that still reverberate today. Written by Kenneth Chisholm (

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


How did a nation founded on rights ever go so wrong?


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Release Date:

2 October 2011 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Förbudstiden i USA  »

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Aspect Ratio:

16:9 HD
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Featured in CBS 11 News: Episode dated 17 August 2011 (2011) See more »

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User Reviews

Ken Burns' latest docu: goes great with ice and a twist of lime
5 March 2012 | by (Cherry Hill, NJ) – See all my reviews

Daniel Okrent's "Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition" and Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's "Prohibition" mini-series were two similar projects that began together resulting in two different end products. Together, both provide a rather detailed account not only of Prohibition's place in American history, but the events leading up to such, the results of repeal and the long-lasting societal impact of the entire matter. Separate, both are still strong, informative and entertaining yet each tend to focus on different themes that sometimes do not intermingle and the result is noticeable.

Ken Burns, in his trademarked fashion, intermingles fantastically- original photos and video with colorful interviews from subject-matter experts and first-hand histories over-laced with celebrity voice-overs, makes learning hip and brings about a passion for a dark, but necessary, time in American history. Burns' documentary was too light in certain instances where a deeper look at American history would have benefited the story. Okrent's novel definitely fills in such details that Burns either ignored or edited out but was definitely too heavy at times with whole sections coming across as a historical text book rather than an entertaining narrative.

Burns, and Okrent as well, enlighten 21st-Century audiences to the fact that Prohibition, what can be now considered a silly arrangement, was not only responsible for the rise of Jazz, the introduction of mixed drinks and the invention of speed boats but also led to very beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement and the outright success of Women's Suffrage.

Naturally, Burns provides much attention to that of the gangsters of the era, particularly Chicago's Al Capone. But again, he provides just enough details for a satisfactory display of information yet fails to get deeper. Similarly, this occurs when discussing the role of the Church and the Prohibition movement. Dry Congressmen and Senators knew how to convince their Baptist and Methodist ministers to use the pulpit to condemn the evils of alcohol, particularly in the Mid-West states.

Likewise, Prohibition was an outcry not just against alcohol but also against the rise of poor immigrants filling America's urban centers. The Irish, the Germans, the Italians, all known for enjoying wine and spirits, and all Catholics, became a scary threat for "decent, Protestant country folks". Cutting off immigrants from their alcohol was a way to ensure that these new Americans were productive members of society, not a burden of filthy drunkards. Burns did not spend too much time on these ideals.

However, Burns attention to detail and crafting of a narrative tale is shown in his vision and with what is presented. He does keep entertainment at the forefront of his documentary, much like what he has done in the past, especially with his must-see Baseball series. Some indirect humor is presented with history playing the comedian to a more naïve time. Burns does get political with some of his views, but at no time are such views sobering enough to prevent the viewer from seeking out a drink.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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