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The final part of the Ken Burns series on Prohibition is aptly entitled
A Nation Of Hypocrites. The hypocrisy right up to the highest levels of
power in the land was breathtaking.
There is a reference in the film to the Wickersham Report and that was the report issued by a Committee convened by President Herbert Hoover on the problems of enforcement of the Volstead Act. That by the way was the standard method by which Hoover addressed problems, he appointed commissions to study it. The Wickersham Committee documented in great detail the onerous and impossible difficulties of enforcing a law the majority didn't want then concluded we have to try harder and Prohibition should be continued.
One result of Prohibition still with us today is the syndication and organization of crime in the USA. Organized crime grew out of the various local criminal elements and the rivalries therein to control the illegal booze traffic. Liquor is legal but criminals to this day find other outlets for their activities. Al Capone in Chicago was the most widely known, but every metropolitan area had their criminal gangs looking to control the illegal traffic.
The Depression may have been the biggest single factor in bringing about the end of Prohibition. Gangsters may be colorful tabloid fodder in good times, in bad times when people are jobless and wondering when the next meal was coming, flaunting wealth was not a good idea. People might not be able to afford much, but a nickel beer was welcome.
Also the fact that illegal liquor was sometimes laced with wood alcohol and other unhealthy substance was a national tragedy. Maybe people couldn't handle their liquor before, but you were not going to go blind, get paralyzed or die with only one drink.
It was a colorful era, but a nightmare as well, foisted upon us by people who always seem to know what's best for the world. In the final chapter Ken Burns documents its welcome end.
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.
This final part of the three-part series on Prohibition concerns the disintegration of the popular support for Prohibition. As the episode begins, while there is quite a bit of non-compliance with the law, the country still is behind the law. After all, the country is going well, life is good and most Americans seem willing to back the status quo. When Al Smith runs on an anti-Prohibition platform, he's savaged by the combined forces of Prohibition, anti-Catholicism and anti-immigration movements. It's hard to imagine that within a decade, the public would be rather solidly behind repeal of the law. Other topics covered in the show include the rise and fall of Al Capone, the FDR election, the complete inflexibility of the Prohibitionists and how this led to the downfall of the law and the subsequent women's movement for repeal.
Part Three is well made and interesting throughout--and another worthy episode that wraps up the topic quite well. Worth seeing and well-crafted.
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