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This is the latest documentary series from Ken Burns--the docu-god for
Public Broadcasting. Not surprisingly, with his amazing reputation for
perfection, he was able to once again get many of America's top actors
to provide their voice talents to the shows--such as Tom Hanks, Sam
Waterston and Blythe Danner. And, like so many PBS documentaries, Peter
Coyote narrates more than capably.
Part Two of the three-part series begins with Prohibition as the law of the land. However, despite some jubilation at the new law, it soon became apparent that there was a severe problem with enforcement as well as defiance of the law. The government didn't have the forces or the will to do anything to interrupt the proliferation of stills and smuggled alcohol. But, most importantly, the law DID encourage the growth of organized crime and many small-time hoods grew to become mob bosses because of bootlegging. There were also loopholes in the law that made home brewing and wine making--all which further weakened the law. And, on top of that, arrests for public intoxication INCREASED despite Prohibition! Clearly the law was NOT working as it had been intended.
Well-written, interesting and highly polished--this is yet another spectacularly well made episode of a Ken Burns series. Well worth your time and about the best film on the subject you can find.
After detailing in Part one of Prohibition the efforts and confluence
of events that led to the passage of the 18th Amendment and the
enforcement law, the Volstead Act part two tells us how the citizenry
went at lengths to flout an unwanted law. The creativity of people
trying to get a drink went to unimaginable lengths. Not that it was
totally necessary, but we have to keep up appearances.
Part Two tells can be simply broken down by saying, you now have your Prohibition law, go enforce it. A very good point is made that in the year of 1920 when Prohibition took affect a presidential election occurred where small government Republicans took over. Plus in Warren Harding you had a president who privately didn't believe in it and at his famous poker parties at the little green house on K Street, the legal pre-Probition liquor flowed freely.
Another fascinating point is that the rich who saw it was coming stockpiled the booze they could get so they could ride out the storm. They never seriously were affected, one of the richest men in the world was Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon who also never believed in Prohibition in any event.
One who did was Harding's Attorney General Harry Daugherty who saw lucrative opportunities for kickbacks and patronage in the Prohibition Enforcement Bureau. On the take politicos lined up for those jobs and got rich. Daugherty got fired by Harding's successor Calvin Coolidge and his successor AGs were personally honest, but the pattern was set.
This part of Ken Burns's epic work shows how people do not like to be forbidden in their behavior by force of law. A lesson some just never learn.
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