The Wet Parade (1932) Poster

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The evils of liquor before and during prohibition is nicely dramatized.
Arthur Hausner6 February 2000
One of my favorite movies mostly because I'm a Jimmy Durante fan and he plays, of all things, a treasury agent during prohibition! True, that doesn't stop him from being somewhat funny, cracking jokes and displaying his comedic talents, so anyone who likes Durante will enjoy his participation in this movie. There is also some fine ensemble acting from the large cast as we see some of the evils of liquor both before and during prohibition. And there's a great scene showing bootleggers making phony whiskey using wood alcohol and printing labels saying it was pre-prohibition liquor or from Canada.

I noticed two onscreen credit errors: Frederick Burton is listed as playing Major Randolph, and Reginald Barlow is listed as playing Judge Brandon. The character names were erroneously interchanged.
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A Good History Lesson
aimless-466 April 2007
Victor Fleming's "The Wet Parade" (1932) would be an appropriate double feature companion to "Reefer Madness". But while it shares that film's exaggerated (insert hysteria here) style, it is a much higher budget production and ultimately delivers a balanced and well- reasoned message.

It also has an all-star cast, although many of them are very early in their careers. The story centers around an old southern family, the Chilcotes; Lewis Stone, Dorothy Jordan, and Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon on television's "Batman" series). Other name actors included Walter Huston, Robert Young, and Myrna Loy, Wallace Ford, and Jimmy Durante.

The film is almost an epic as it covers a 15-year span from 1916 to 1931. During WWI Congress expands federal regulation with a wartime measure called the Food Control Act (regulating grain among other things). This leads to the ill-advised Volsted Act and the 18th Amendment outlawing liquor (insert nationwide "Prohibition"). But prohibition curtails only legal drinking, and gives criminal elements a huge base of potential customers. Although much of the demand is met by smuggling (especially from Canada) and domestic distillation, there is quick money to be made with bogus product. Criminals simply take bulk denaturated (meaning unfit to drink) cleaning fluid ( a mix of ethyl alcohol and methanol) and package it as a name brand product. The film shows an excellent sequence of this process.

The film also shows the consequences of consuming this product; blindness or death.

The intention of the film is not to promote drinking but to illustrate a bigger evil, the unintended consequences of the government's ill-advised attempt to prohibit the activity. "The Wet Parade" was a rare example of mainstream Hollywood's willingness to openly take a side in a political issue. In doing so they risked alienating a huge potential audience (the President had vetoed the original legislation and it took legions of pietistic voters to pass the 18th Amendment). The effectiveness of the "The Wet Parade" message no doubt contributed to the passage of the 21st Amendment the following year (1933), which repealed nationwide prohibition. Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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The Wet Parade Marches Into the Past
xtine44520 December 2011
It's difficult to find old movies that I haven't already seen, so it was with great anticipation that I watched The Wet Parade, 1932, for the first time. It was like taking a vicarious time machine journey that landed smack in the middle of one of America's less memorable self-righteous escapades: The Prohibition. The best part is that this intensely dramatic flick was made a full year before prohibition ended, so the full flavor of the alcohol-soaked theme really hits home. It includes some historically accurate details, which were still very fresh in everyone's minds when the movie was produced. It also depicts some of the darker details of desolation and desperation the general public wrestled with after losing complete access to drinkable alcohol. Walter Huston, one of Hollywood's most convincing actors of his era, outdoes himself in this movie. Young Robert Young is quite dashing in his role, although the sight of him paired up with the gregarious Jimmy Durante might prompt a quick reality check if you're not prepared for this early "odd couple" concept.
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Fine performances do not a great film make
sryder@judson-il.edu30 March 2004
Warning: Spoilers
As Maltin notes in his yearbook: this film manages to be both anti-liquor and anti-prohibition. Presumably the viewer is supposed to conclude that moderate drinking is OK. There are some really good performances: both Lewis Stone and Walter Huston are superb in their respective halves of the film: Stone as a too-convivial Southern gentlemen, and Huston as the proprietor of a run-down hotel who cadges drinks or even steals to support his habit. We see both die as a result of their consumption. Then, having persuaded us of the evils of alcohol and shown us the arguments for government control, we see how prohibition, with its bootleggers,speakeasies and phony liquor made America's drinking habit worse; which is probably true. All the performances are good, especially Neil Hamilton as the southern son following in his father's footsteps. The one curiosity is Jimmy Durante, under contract with MGM at the time, which wasn't doing many musicals or comedies (his teaming with Buster Keaton achieving only modest success)as a federal agent, and to see him struggling to keep down his Ha-Cha-Cha routine. He even got to do a deathbed scene; and not too shabbily. It is a two hour movie that tries to do too much, and could easily have been cut down to one and a half hours. But Stone and Huston, with good supportm make this an eight for me.
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More than just history--a dramatic, well made human story, as well.
secondtake7 September 2014
Wet Parade (1932)

A heavy social message movie but really well made, with some touching, in fact moving scenes. There is the first layer of drinking and the damage heavy drinking does (with some dramatic examples!). Then there is a political level, with electioneering and a kind of lobbying by the characters—and the movie—regarding drinking.

The year it begins is 1916, more or less, and it's the cusp of the beginning of Prohibition, just a year before the U.S. enters WWI. (The war is a side issue—one character wisely says, "War has no good side.") The acting is quite realistic—this is a truly serious and large drama—and so the events take on poignant significance. Even if it might, sometimes, seem to preach (barely), it always puts it in human terms, and human costs.

"I never did take it up," says one main character, to explain his not drinking. It makes it seem like a drug ("I never did take up pot") and that's really the underlying attitude on both sides. Of course, there are lots of scenes of drunks and parties leading to good old drunkenness. One of the reasons for voting for Prohibitions is shown as economic—50 million bushels of wheat and rye were going to making drink, and in war time this was wrong.

Remember that the movie was made in 1932 just as Prohibition was being repealed. I don't think it was simply a reminder to the audience of the history of the whole 14 year experiment in teetotaling. Progressive (Democratic) President Wilson did not approve the idea, but the states went ahead and ratified the amendment (not including some notable hold outs like Kentucky, home of great Bourbon).

So, as a movie, there is a lot going on. Before the first hour is up we have one plot transform into another and then yet another. In a way it's quite remarkable. Director Victor Fleming is seven years away from his glory year (1939) and yet is showing a sustained intelligence and narrative savvy. And the camera keeps moving with engaging fluidity, the light varies greatly from night to day to night, and the editing is fast and intelligent. This is, technically, a superb movie.

Now you might object to a certain level of moralizing—the drinkers are often cads or losers—but there is enough complexity of message to make this work overall. There is a sense that everyone (nearly) admits that Prohibition is a hopeless, and maybe senseless cause. As the plot moves toward its dramatic mobster climax, it feels more about pure crime than a moral issue, which got lost along the way.

But that's perhaps what happened to the country, too, back in the long dry years of the 1920s. Which were not so dry after all, for many. Hypocrisy and irony abound. A truly interesting movie.
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I'm Too Drunk to Taste This Chicken
utgard142 November 2013
If I had one piece of advice for people wanting to try out films of the 1930s, it would be to check out any movie with Walter Huston in it. From Gabriel Over the White House to Kongo to The Beast of the City and more, the man was in some of the weirdest and most interesting films of the period. Here we have a film about the dangers of alcohol, made a year before prohibition ended. The film seems to be both anti-alcohol and anti-prohibition, which makes for some fascinating think-work about what the movie is really trying to advocate.

The film starts with Lewis Stone's Colonel Sanders-looking Southern patriarch, whose daughter (Dorothy Jordan) is trying to get him to quit drinking. After a short while we move North to a fresh-faced Robert Young and his lush of a father Walter Huston. The two stories eventually intersect as Young falls in love with the daughter. Prohibition passes which leads to a tragedy for Young, who decides to become a treasury agent and is partnered with Jimmy Durante (!). From here the movie hits a bit of a lull as we get a fairly typical T-man story until the final minutes, which are exciting.

The film offers some great moments such as the haunting image of Lewis Stone's final fate or the powerful scene where Walter Huston's wife confronts him about his bootleg liquor. The cast is excellent. The performances are melodramatic but in the best way. In addition to the stars already mentioned, we also have Neil Hamilton, Myrna Loy, and Wallace Ford. Not a bad lineup.

As an entertainment piece, I think it's solid. But it has added value as a historical curio, allowing modern audiences to get perspective on the thoughts and feelings at the time regarding an important period in our history.
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In 1932 the "War On Drugs" was called Prohibition.
psyclone-329 July 1999
I loved The Wet Parade and gave it a 10. I loved it because it clearly depicts the pain and suffering caused by the loss of free will, whether through addiction or government imposed sanctions. I found the film to be as relevant today as it was when it was released in 1932, just months before the repeal of Prohibition. There is no attempt to provide a solution, just a vivid picture of the problem. A problem which continues to grow in magnitude.
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Odd but engaging
marsharmony26 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This is an oddity but it says volumes about the evils of both drink and prohibition. There is great harm done by liquor, but almost greater harm brought about by the prohibition. With frightening details of how the boot leg liquor was made, it's a wonder more people did not die from bad booze. My mother actually knew someone who went blind from bad liquor. The acting is above and beyond the call of the script, which is really what kept me engaged- especially if you can get past the first twenty minutes. Robert Young gives a standout performance and if he doesn't break your heart, you probably never had a heart to break to begin with. Packed with stars for all movie buffs to spot including Myrna Loy. And all MST3K fans will recognize John Miljan from episode #507 "I Accuse My Parents". Worth a viewing for a peek into the social dilemma of 1920-1933.
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When the Cure Was Worse Than the Disease
kidboots21 February 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This was obviously a stellar production from MGM, designed to showcase it's roster of young up and coming stars. Dorothy Jordan had been around since 1930 and she was pretty and sweet and had played enough waifs, kid sisters and even Latin ladies to be considered for the lead. Playing opposite her was a young actor who MGM was grooming - Robert Young. Myrna Loy (in a pretty thankless role), Joan Marsh, Wallace Ford and Neil Hamilton rounded out the cast and they were ably helped by two stage and screen veterans - Lewis Stone and Walter Huston. Taken from a book by social commentator novelist Upton Sinclair, it tried to show how Prohibition was the cure that was worse than the disease. The story tells of two families, the Chilicotes from the South and the Tarletons from the North and how their lives are affected by drink.

Sweet "Persimmon" Chilicote (Dorothy Jordan) is determined to keep her distinguished father (Lewis Stone) away from the booze that is turning him into the town laughing stock. When, in a fit of the D.Ts., he leaps to his death Persimmon makes an impassioned speech to her father's "friends" that she would love to see the day when alcohol is poured into the gutters (shades of Prohibition).

Little does she realise that her brother, budding playwright Roger (Neil Hamilton) is following in their father's footsteps. He is staying up North at a friend Kip Tarleton's (Robert Young) hotel. Kip is in the same boat as Persimmon, his father's alcoholism is tearing the family apart. Tarleton Snr. (a madly overacting Walter Huston) is a political campaigner for the Democrats, who believes Wilson will not only keep them out of the War but also vote against Prohibition as well. He is wrong on both counts as America goes to War and the Pure Food Act is signed, signalling the start of Prohibition. I think the movie strives to put across that Prohibition wasn't the answer, that people who had been seasoned drinkers before were now at the mercy of unscrupulous bootleggers, whose toxic additives to the brew eg methylated spirits, were, in some cases, sending some drinkers insane. There is a telling scene that shows the true meaning of the phrase "Bonded in Canada". From the time the poisonous menthol is poured into bottles, to the phoney Canadian bags that are doused in water, then rubbed in sand to make them look authentic, it is a real eyeopener!!!

Kip sees his father kill his mother (Clara Blandick) while under the influence of bootleg liquor and is inspired to become a Federal Agent - he has already met Persimmon and she encourages him in his determination. His partner is played by Jimmy Durante - "I've got a million of them"!! - whose presence really lightens the movie. Neil Hamilton is also a cut above his part as he espouses "War has no right side" and cynical remarks about prohibition. Every alcoholic cliché is thrown in, including the one about drinking bad whiskey will make you go blind - that happens to Roger and sends callous Eileen (Myrna Loy) running from the building. A big plus, for me, in this movie is that neither Jordan nor Young deviate from their "right" paths. Young's Kip has so many opportunities, even his boss (played by John Miljan) almost throws in the towel and thinks of joining the "baddies".

MGM found in Young an all purpose leading man and his career didn't vary, until he did a handful of Noirs at the end of the 40s. Funnily enough, in the 50s, he confessed to being an alcoholic but had sought help.

Highly Recommended.
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Interesting history and VERY sappy melodramatics
MartinHafer7 April 2008
THE WET PARADE is the sort of old fashioned film that looked old and out of date even when it came out in 1932. In so many ways, this film is a carryover from the early silent anti-drinking melodramas of the first decade of the twentieth century--complete with ridiculously one-dimensional characters and a very heavy-handed message. In fact, the message is so heavy-handed that I seriously doubt if the anti-alcohol message had much effect on audiences--other than to elicit laughter! This is all very sad because very few films have ever addressed the impact of alcohol on its many victims (most of which aren't even the drinkers themselves)--too bad this was handled so poorly.

Why do I say it was handled poorly? Well, many of the drunks portrayed in the film are totally one-dimensional and the actors overact so much as they portray them. This was pretty apparent with Lewis Stone's character, but compared to the ridiculous guy played by Walter Huston, he was downright subtle. As for Huston, he seemed more like a Tourette's sufferer than anything else, as he REPEATEDLY twirled his handlebar mustache and grunted (some actual symptoms of the disorder--seriously). However, most in the audience today may not recognize him, but this character acts almost exactly like those from melodramas of 30 years earlier--widely exaggerating EVERYTHING and chewing the scenery! In many ways, he seemed like a drunk version of Snidely Whiplash! Now when it comes to the impact on those around these ridiculous drunks, the film did a much better job. The co-dependent family members and enabling friends were excellent touches--but still weren't enough to make up for the awful characters played by Stone and Huston.

Other than these silly drunks, the film also chronicled the history of the prohibition movement--and this was mildly interesting from a historical point of view. What I learned from the movie is that what really helped this anti-liquor crusade was WWI and moves to stop the production of intoxicants in order to feed our troops and starving Europeans. An interesting tidbit amongst the "sledgehammer symbolism" throughout this entire film.

If anyone knows of a movie to SERIOUSLY address alcoholism from this era, let me know--as for THE WET PARADE, it's practically cartoon-like in its generalizations and bad characterizations. It's good for a laugh and maybe a brief history lesson buried within, but that's about all.

FYI--The director of this film, Victor Fleming, was himself an extremely heavy drinker according to several biographies I've read (including CLARA BOW: RUNNING WILD). And, ironically, if you read the biography for Huston on IMDb, he apparently was the master of ceremonies at a brewery party the night Prohibition expired!!
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Booze blues.
dbdumonteil7 February 2004
Warning: Spoilers
There are movies which were made a long time ago and which seemed today as relevant as they were then;"the wet parade" is not one of them: it oddly blends melodrama with social comment and a touch of film noir thrown in.

The first part is a muddled one,very confuse ,and the characters are not really interesting.Its purpose is to make us understand the heroine's daddy died because of the booze :she becomes hysterical as she screams -when his friends are drinking to her late father's memory- that whiskey and other liquors should be thrown in a cesspool ,no less.

Second part involves a love affair between her and Robert Young,who also lost his father because... (well you get the picture)and a second one between her brother and Myrna loy who keeps a speakeasy during the prohibition.In parallel,Young and his pal Durante - who provides the film with the comic relief it did need - become some kind of Eliott Nesses.Durante is the stand-out of the movie.

The movie ends with a long moral speech about the generation to come:God help 'em and preserve 'em from the devil's liquor.
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Interesting historical piece
lshelhamer22 November 2013
Produced at a time when America was having second thoughts about the 18th Amednment, this is an interesting period piece that shows the effects of alcohol on two families as well as the unintended consequences of Prohibition. Unfortunately, the movie runs too long as the plot tries to develop the eventual interconnection of the two families. However, it does treat the effects of Prohibition in an evenhanded manner. Neil Hamilton has the best roll as the upright son of the Southern family who descends into alcoholism, despite having seen the effects of booze on his father. Robert Young, who has the corresponding position in the city family, remains "dry", but comes across as somewhat of a prude. Jimmy Durante is totally miscast as a Treasury Agent.
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A message picture from MGM.
JohnHowardReid15 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
In Victor Fleming's "The Wet Parade"), Joan Marsh manages to steal a scene from the shimmering, well-gowned Myrna Loy, who looks great, but is wasted in a nothing role.

One of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's few "message pictures", The Wet Parade was obviously made to re-enforce the then current debate for the repeal of Prohibition. Thus, the film ends somewhat abruptly, but it does have some great dramatic scenes mixed in with the message and the dull speechifying.

The music score, directed by Oscar Radin, also merits attention.

As for the acting, Walter Huston is allowed to walk off with the script. He talks and talks, but he has a scene that is one of the most horrifying ever presented in a Hollywood movie.

Dorothy Jordan, alas, makes a weak heroine, although she starts off effectively, while Jimmy Durante makes both a late entrance and a surprising exit. Robert Young lacks color, but then so does his role!

Victor Fleming's direction is at its best in the action episodes, the semi-documentary bits such as the elaborate manufacturing of the hooch, and montage scenes like that in which Lewis Stone succumbs to the siren call of the saloon. The Scooter DVD rates at least a 7 out of 10.
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Prohibition: The Epic
Jimmy L.17 December 2011
This Hollywood production takes a staunch (if peculiar) anti-alcohol, pro-Prohibition stance. It condemns the exaggeratedly tragic effects of alcohol consumption, as lives are torn apart by the mere existence of the Demon Drink. The film was released while Prohibition was still law, and it preached its Dry message directly at the 1932 audience.

In a sense, THE WET PARADE (1932) does for alcohol what TELL YOUR CHILDREN (1936) does for marijuana. What sets this film apart is its compelling story and excellent cast.

The film chronicles the rise of Prohibition out of World War I and the effects of its enforcement. It's an interesting take on the subject, showing the political and moral motivations behind the Dry movement, the last-minute hoarding of booze before the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect, the rise of speakeasies and bootlegging, and the government crackdown on liquor. The government men are portrayed like secret agents in enemy territory, infiltrating speakeasies undercover and gathering evidence before a raid. Saving the public from themselves.

The movie even touches upon some of the negative consequences of Prohibition (poisonous bootleg liquor, organized crime, etc.), placing the blame not on the law, but the insatiable appetite for alcohol among deviant Americans.

The cast assembled for this Prohibition epic is impressive. The leads are second-rate (Robert Young and Dorothy Jordan), but they are joined by some A-list supporting actors like Lewis Stone, Walter Huston, Wallace Ford, Jimmy Durante, John Miljan, Neil Hamilton, and even Myrna Loy.

In hindsight, decades after the repeal of Prohibition in the U.S., it seems the filmmakers may have been a bit misguided in their didacticism, although, to be fair, the movie is based on a book. And the film was only discouraging activities which were illegal at the time.

Still, the movie's crusading stance goes a little over-the-top. There's one scene near the end where John Miljan speaks right into the camera, directing his anti-booze rant at the viewers in the theatre. A noble gesture by MGM, supporting law and order, but it's a bit silly nowadays.
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