Review: Under the Volcano (1984)

>> Friday, December 28, 2007

USA-Mexico/C-112m./Dir: John Huston/Wr: Guy Gallo/Cast: Albert Finney (Geoffrey Firmin), Jacqueline Bisset (Yvonne Firmin), Anthony Andrews (Hugh Firmin), Ignacio Lopez Tarzo (Dr. Vigil), Rene Ruiz 'Tun-Tun' (Dwarf)

The specter of death hangs over Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney), an ex-British consul staggering through the Day of the Dead festival in a small Mexican town in 1938. Although he has given up his government post, Firmin prefers to remain in Mexico, drinking himself to death over his separation from his wife Yvonne (Jacqueline Bisset), who he adores more than life itself. When Yvonne returns Mexico, she finds Geoffrey in the latter stages of alcoholism--more clear-headed when drunk than when sober--but she still holds out hope of mending their broken marriage. However, her past infidelity with Geoffrey’s brother (Anthony Andrews) stands as an obstacle between them.

John Huston’s adaptation of Malcolm Lowry’s novel is a strange mix of the old and new. The themes of alcoholism, sex, and death found in Under the Volcano are more complex and adult than those in Huston’s classic films. However, the direction and camerawork often seems rooted in methods used in the days of the studio system. This artificial technique often feels at odds with the realistic material. That said, the script and acting are excellent.

While Bisset and Andrews turn in first-rate performances, this is really Finney’s show, and his Oscar-nominated portrayal of Geoffrey Firmin ranks with the greatest screen drunks of all time. From the opening frames to the bitter end, there is not a moment when Finney’s character is not inebriated to some extent, yet the performance is incredibly varied and nuanced. Although Firmin is a greatly depressed character, Finney manages to make him warm, witty, and likeable--the twinkle is never far from his eye--even in his blackest moments. His performance manages to buoy the entire film, keeping it from submerging beneath maudlin sentiment.

While not without its flaws, Under the Volcano is essential viewing for soused cinema enthusiasts. Like Leaving Las Vegas (1995), it’s not as depressing as it sounds. In fact, the two films would make an excellent double feature.

Drinks Consumed--Tequila, mescal, brandy, whiskey, anis, champagne, gin, and colone

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, stumbling, slurred speech, sneaking sips, delirium tremens, memory blackouts, the shakes, public disturbance, brawling, and physical violence

Potent Quotables--HUGH: Geoff, what possesses you?
GEOFFREY: Sobriety, I’m afraid. Too much moderation. I need drink desperately--get my balance back.

Video Availability--Under the Volcano DVD (Criterion)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--John Huston directed Richard Burton in The Night of the Iguana (1964), another film about a drunk in Mexico nearing the end of his rope.


Booze News: It's Our First Birthday!

>> Thursday, December 27, 2007

One year ago today, Booze Movies was born with the express purpose of shedding a light on the major role that alcohol has played in the history of the movies. Of course, the last thing a booze-soaked subject should be is dry, so I hope you've found my soused cinema reviews and features as enjoyable to read as they have been for me to produce.

With sixty-seven reviews completed, I see no end in sight. There are numerous major and obscure alky titles left to cover--Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966), The Struggle (1931), Sideways (2004), The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947), The Bad News Bears (1976), The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933), Trees Lounge (1996), Nightmare Alley (1947), Breakfast With Hunter (2003), etc--so I'm going to be at this for some time to come. Stay tuned. It's going to be fun.

Over the course of the year, the size of my reviews nearly doubled in length. Consequently, in upcoming weeks, I will return to some of the films that I reviewed during the first couple of months , such as Arthur (1981) and National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), to give those classics the expanded write-ups that they deserve. Withnail and I (1987) and My Little Chickadee (1940) have recently undergone that kind of touch-up.

Of course, new reviews will also continue to appear. In fact, I'll be back later this week with my overview of Under the Volcano (1984).

I'd like to thank everyone who has posted comments to the blog and sent me emails over the past year. Your feedback and encouragement has been invaluable. I especially appreciate movie suggestions--the more obscure the better. I've enjoyed a number of lesser known titles due to your recommendations, so please keep them coming!



Booze News: 1st Annual Cocktail Film Fest

>> Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mark your calendars--On March 21st and 22nd, Tales of the will be hosting the 1st Annual Cocktail Film Fest at the W Hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans! The shindig will be hosted by none other than Miss Charming herself, Cheryl Charming. Three films will be screened, and corresponding food and drinks will be served. The scheduled movie lineup is:

* Casablanca (1942)

* The Seven Year Itch (1955)

* Guys and Dolls (1955)

I'll post more info as it becomes available, as I'm sure will the two sites linked above.



Review: Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947)

>> Monday, December 17, 2007

USA/B&W-103m./Dir: Stuart Heisler/Wr: John Howard Lawson & Lionel Wiggam/Cast: Susan Hayward (Angelica Evans Conway), Lee Bowman (Ken Conway), Eddie Albert (Steve Nelson), Marsha Hunt (Martha Gray), Charles D. Brown (Mike Dawson)

With its wonderfully melodramatic title, flashback structure, and “baby in danger” scenes, Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman is in many ways a prototype for today’s Lifetime Made-For-TV movies. Susan Hayward stars as Angie Evans, a rising nightclub singer, who gives up her career, when the fortunes of her songwriting crooner husband, Ken Conway (Lee Bowman), begin to ascend. Ken rockets to the big time with a hit record, and gives Angie a butler and a nanny for their baby; but with nothing to do and her husband constantly away, Angie begins to hit the bottle hard. Plunging deeper into paranoia and despair with each cocktail, Angie’s marriage hits the skids--eventually leading to the “smash-up” of the title.

If you can slog through the first half hour in which Hayward and Bowman take turns warbling the same three or four songs over and over again, Smash-Up begins to spark some interest. As soon as Angie starts slugging whiskey (and this gal can slug), the lovely Susan Hayward is absolutely magnetic. Whether giddy on joy juice or wallowing in self-pity and depression, Hayward is believable and entertaining without fail. It’s easy to see why her performance was nominated for an Oscar and how she used that success to stake out a career as a leading actress in dramatic weepies.

The script, based loosely on the alcoholic decline of Dixie Lee, Bing Crosby’s first wife, also received an Academy Award nomination. However, that nomination is harder to fathom. The story is soapy and predictable--all the way to the incongruous, upbeat ending (which was more or less required of alky films of the time). Still, the dialog is occasionally sprinkled with wonderfully sharp bits of droll, unsentimental dialog (possibly due to the involvement of Algonquin wit Dorothy Parker during story development), which keeps the material from becoming too maudlin. Although the soapy scenarios are sometimes unintentionally funny, Smash-Up is rarely boring, and it is well worth a view for Susan Hayward’s towering performance.

A note: Check out the “Cinematic Cocktails” section of the blog for information on the “Stone Fence,” a cocktail Hayward throws together in the film.

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey, brandy, absinthe, Cointreau, gin, and unnamed cocktails
Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, staggering, stumbling, sneaking sips, nightmares, hangover, memory blackouts, brawling, and physical violence

Potent Quotables--STEVE: You’re going to Elliot’s party tonight. Remember?
ANGIE: Oh murder. Well in that case, I better have a little drink. Make me something. Will you?
STEVE: Did you run out of double features?
ANGIE: Ah, Steve, you look as low as I felt when I got up this morning. Come on, we’ll both have one--an Old Fashioned, only no sugar, no vegetables, and go light on the ice. Why corrupt good liquor?

Video Availability--Smash Up: Story Of A Woman is available in a few blurry, public domain DVD releases (Alpha Video, Reel Enterprises, and VCI).

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Susan Hayward hit the bottle again as Lillian Roth in the biopic I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955).


Cinematic Cocktails: The Stone Fence

In Smash-up: The Story of a Woman (1947) Susan Hayward takes a brief breather from her swift alcoholic decline in order to expound upon the wonders of a very potent cocktail known as a “Stone Fence.” She even begins to dictate the recipe while mixing up a batch.

Unfortunately, the scene fades out before the mixture is complete, but what we do learn about this power-packed concoction is intriguing enough to add it to our list of cinematic cocktails. Here is the dialog taken directly from the film:

ANGIE: Hey, do you know what a stone fence is?
MIKE: You mean a stone wall.
ANGIE: I mean a stone fence, brother. It’s sort of like an ice cream soda with conviction. Bartender, would you please give me a cocktail shaker with some shaved ice, and some brandy, and some absinthe, and some Cointreau. This is something special.
MIKE: Insidious, isn’t it, Angie?
ANGIE: What, Mike?
MIKE: All this leisure. So much of it makes you realize what work really meant. Isn’t that so?
ANGIE: You mean I could miss singing my lungs out in those gin mills? That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. What you need, Mike, is a stone fence. It’s just about the most colossal drink you’ve ever drunk--drank. It-it puts poise in apathetic people, if you know what I mean, and after the second one your spine turns to solid platinum. You take one part brandy, and two parts rye… (Fade out)


Review: Superbad (2007)

>> Sunday, December 9, 2007

USA/C-118m./Dir: Greg Mottola/Wr: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg/Cast: Jonah Hill (Seth), Michael Cera (Evan), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fogell), Bill Hader (Officer Slater), Seth Rogen (Officer Michaels)

Movies about horny teens obsessed with sex and alcohol are a dime a dozen. Good movies about horny teens obsessed with sex and alcohol are rare gems. Superbad is a gem. It’s also the funniest film to hit theater screens since Bad Santa (2003).

The film chronicles 24-hours in the lives of unpopular and codependent high-schoolers, Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera). The duo are nearing graduation and the disconcerting prospects of being separated (due to acceptance to different colleges) and failing to score before the end of their senior year. When Seth is invited to an end-of-the-year blowout, he sees it as an opportunity to hook-up with the girl of his dreams. His plan hinges on obtaining alcohol to impress the girl and to loosen her inhibitions. Evan goes along with the scheme and enlists the help of Fogell, an even more unpopular classmate who happens to have a fake I.D. (albeit a pretty unconvincing one). Over the course of the evening, the boys encounter numerous obstacles in their attempts to obtain joy juice, including multiple run-ins with a couple of inept cops (played by writer Seth Rogen and SNL vet Bill Hader).

The first fifteen minutes of Superbad features some of the coarsest language ever committed to film, and while it is extremely funny, more sensitive viewers may find it repellent. However, this movie is much more than a vulgar comedy. It has a tremendous heart, and by the time you reach the note-perfect ending, you’ll realize you’ve witnessed one of the sweetest and most truthful teen comedies ever made.

The script by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg is filled with laugh-out-loud dialog that perfectly captures the insecurities and urges of high school boys; and in the character of Seth, the screenwriters have crafted the role of a lifetime for Jonah Hill. Seth is uproariously funny and crass, and it is to Hill’s credit that the character also comes across as lovable and sympathetic. Michael Cera is equally excellent as Evan. Evan could have simply been played as Seth’s straight man, but Cera’s gawky line readings are wonderfully comic. Of course, Arrested Development fans know that no one plays awkward discomfort better than Michael Cera.

Superbad isn’t a perfect film. Some of the scenes with the cops are played too broadly in relation to the more realistic high school scenes. However, the film is so hilarious you’ll hardly mind any minor flaws. Pour yourself a green beer and enjoy.

Drinks Consumed--Beer (straight and mixed with detergent), tequila, whiskey, and vodka

Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, staggering, stumbling, vomiting, public disturbance, brawling, physical violence, drunk driving, passing out, memory blackouts, and soused sex

Potent Quotables--EVAN: I should buy Becca alcohol?
SETH: Yeah, it’ll be pimp. That way you know she’ll be drunk. You know when you hear a girl sayin’, “Ah, I was so shitfaced last night. I shouldn’t have fucked that guy.” We could be that mistake!

Video Availability--Superbad is available on DVD and Blu-ray (Columbia/Tri-Star) in both the theatrical and unrated versions. There is virtually no difference between the theatrical and unrated cut--a couple of added minutes of dirty dialog.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Alcohol plays a major part in Katherine Heigl getting Knocked Up in Seth Rogen’s other 2007 comedy.

Superbad: The Drawings (Hardcover)


Booze News: Templeton Rye

This post is slightly off-topic, being that there is no film-related content. However, this whiskey is too good to keep quiet about.

I just tried Templeton Rye this weekend, and I think I'm in love. This legendary prohibition-era whiskey was known as "the good stuff" and was a favorite of Al Capone. All I can say is Alphonse knew good booze when he tasted it. This rye is dark, thick, spicy, and remarkably smooth. It also has a mild, pleasant after-burn.

Even if you aren't a fan of rye whiskey, Templeton may change your mind. If you live in Illinois or Iowa (the only two states this fine whiskey is currently available), you owe it to yourself to pick up a bottle.

Check out the Templeton Rye Website for more info on this amazing liquor-->Link.


P.S. - Have no fear, movie lovers. I shall soon return with a review of Superbad (2007).


Review: Cuckoo On A Choo Choo (1952)

>> Sunday, December 2, 2007

USA/B&W-15m./Dir: Jules White/Wr: Felix Adler/Cast: Larry Fine (Larry), Shemp Howard (Shemp), Moe Howard (Moe), Patricia Wright (Roberta), Victoria Horne (Lenore), Reggie Dvorack (Carey, the canary)

During the Three Stooges years at Columbia, they produced 190 short subjects. Some were comic gems (Three Little Pirates, Punchy Cowpunchers), while others were groaners (most of the Joe Besser shorts), but the very bottom of the barrel was Cuckoo On A Choo Choo. Unfortunately, since Shemp Howard spends almost the entirety of this so-called comedy schnokkered from the contents of his little brown jug, Cuckoo On A Choo Choo is one of the few Stooge shorts that I am obligated to review.

In a parody of A Streetcar Named Desire, Larry plays a Marlon Brando-type (ripped t-shirt, bad attitude, and all) who has stolen a railroad car named “Schmow.” He shares the boxcar with his girlfriend Roberta and her overly emotional sister Lenore. Larry wants to marry Roberta, but she refuses to go through with the ceremony until Larry can convince Shemp to marry her sister. Unluckily for Larry, Shemp is a dedicated drunkard who wants nothing to do with the union. Instead, he prefers getting stinko on joy juice and dancing with a giant canary that only he can see (a parody of the invisible rabbit in Harvey). Railroad agent Moe wedges himself into the party in order to bring the boxcar thieves to justice, but his plans change when he realizes that the love of his life, Lenore, is amongst the miscreants.

Although it was understandable for the Columbia shorts team to look towards popular culture for ideas for new Stooge vehicles, it is hard to imagine anyone thinking that a send-up of A Streetcar Named Desire would be a good vehicle for the boys. Few laughs are to be had in this comic misfire. Larry Fine is over his head in trying to burlesque Brando, and Moe (who was usually the engine that propelled the story and comic business) is given little to do. Only Shemp manages to garner a few giggles with his drunk shtick, and the fact that he was able to milk a little mirth from this weak material is proof of his considerable comic talents.

While not recommended, those brave enough to endure Cuckoo On A Choo Choo may find some enjoyment for the shear weirdness of the short--especially the scenes with Carey, the invisible canary. It is an odd film indeed in which Larry Fine’s Brando imitation is not the strangest sight on display.

Drinks Consumed--Unnamed booze (likely whiskey) and beer

Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, hiccups, harmonizing, physical violence, and seeing things

Potent Quotables--SHEMP: (after being hit) I’m shot!... or half shot, or I ought to be shot. Oh, I guess, I’ll have a shot. (He takes a long drink from his bottle) Horrible, but I like it.

Video Availability--Not yet available on DVD, but Columbia has plans to release all 190 Stooge shorts in chronological box sets over the next couple of years.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Moe, Larry, and Shemp are at their most stewed in Love At First Bite (1950).

The Three Stooges: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the Most Popular Comedy Team of All Time


Review: Sir Henry At Rawlinson End (1980)

>> Sunday, November 25, 2007

UK/B&W-73m./Dir: Steve Roberts/Wr: Vivian Stanshall & Steve Roberts/Cast: Trevor Howard (Sir Henry Rawlinson), Patrick Magee (Reverand Slodden), Denise Coffey (Mrs. E), J.G. Devlin (Old Scrotum), Harry Fowler (Buller Bullethead), Sheila Reid (Lady Florrie Rawlinson), Vivian Stanshall (Hubert Rawlinson/Narrator)

Ranging from merely eccentric to downright strange, Sir Henry At Rawlinson End defies description, but I will make an attempt just the same. Bombastic aristocrat and dedicated dipsomanic, Sir Henry Rawlinson (Trevor Howard) shares his manor with the ghost of his dead brother Humbert (Vivian Stanshall), who Henry killed in a drunken duck hunting accident. Humbert can not go to his eternal rest, because he isn’t wearing any trousers; so he spends his time walking a toy dog and diluting Henry’s brandy with dog urine. This becomes too much for Henry. Consequently, he sends for a corrupt priest (Patrick Magee) to exorcise the spirit before the Blazing, a festival which involves pulling an Excalibur-ish sword from the muck and hacking limbs off the local peasants. While this is going on, two German soldiers, which Henry has locked inside his personal POW camp, are planning an escape, and Henry’s housekeeper rambles incessantly about her husband’s tapeworm. If anything, that description makes the film sound a lot more coherent than it actually is.

Sir Henry sprung from the mind of Bonzo Dog Band’s bipolar madman, Vivian Stanshall, who initially spun stories of Rawlinson End in the form of radio broadscasts and record albums. Stanshall’s writing combined the madness of Spike Milligan, the impenetrable abstraction of Samuel Beckett, and the knotted wordplay of Lewis Carroll--which would make one think that the material would be unfilmable. Director Steve Roberts answered the challenged by creating an off-kilter, sepia toned word, which was the visual equivalent of Stanshall’s nonsense poetry. The A-list cast appear to be having the times of their lives, and although the story isn’t easy to follow and the editing is pretty haphazard, one can’t help but smile throughout the proceedings.

Of course, this bizarre cocktail is not for all tastes. Those looking for logic or coherence in the narrative are in for a hard slog. However, if you just let the film wash over you like a grand drunk, you will find humor and enjoyment aplenty.

A word of warning--Since Sir Henry’s character is an amalgam of bad attitudes and outdated opinions, he is a terrible bigot. He often spouts racial slurs and even disguises himself in blackface during one scene. However, being that the film is obviously satirizing these backwards attitudes, most will not find it offensive.

Drinks Consumed--Brandy, ale, sherry, and wine

Intoxicating Effects--Belching, boasting, staggering, harmonizing, physical violence, and hangover

Potent Quotables--SIR HENRY: If I had all the money I’d spent on drink, I’d spend it on drink.

Video Availability--Unfortunately, Sir Henry is only available on DVD in Region 2 (Digital Classics). If you own an all-region player and are adventurous enough to view this oddity, I’d suggest watching it with the subtitle option on. Due to the thick accents, muddy original recording, and complexity of the prose, you’ll need the subtitles to catch many of the jokes.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--The inhabitants and guests of an English country house are rude, lewd, and stewed in Futtock's End, a near-silent comedy from 1969.

Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (CD)
Sir Henry at Rawlinson End [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2&4 Import - Australia ]


Review: Black Angel (1946)

>> Thursday, November 15, 2007

USA/B&W-80m./Dir: Roy William Neill/Wr: Roy Chanslor/Cast: Dan Duryea (Martin Blair), June Vincent (Catherine Bennett), Peter Lorre (Marko), Broderick Crawford (Captain Flood), Constance Dowling (Mavis Marlowe), John Phillips (Kirk Bennett)

Lost Weekend-type boozing and edge-of-your-seat suspense combine in Black Angel, a forgotten noir mystery that deserves to be better remembered. Based upon a novel by pulp scribbler Cornell “Rear Window” Woolrich, the film tells the story of Marty Blair (Dan Duryea), a full-time drunk and part-time songwriter who goes on a colossal bender when his chanteuse wife rejects him on their anniversary. The next morning, Marty’s spouse is found straggled, and an unlucky sap who discovers the body is mistaken for the murderer. When the innocent man is sentenced to death, his wife (June Bennett) enlists Marty’s help to track down the real killer. The key to proving the condemned man’s innocence lies in finding a missing broach, possibly in the possession of a mysterious nightclub owner (Peter Lorre); but the larger mystery is whether Marty can stay sober long enough to piece the puzzle together.

For a low budget flick, Black Angel boasts excellent direction, imaginative camerawork (including a spectacular opening shot and a flashback photographed as if through a drunken haze), and solid performances. June Vincent makes a fine female lead, and always reliable supporting actors Lorre and Broderick Crawford make the most of their screen time. However, the film really belongs to Dan Duryea, who shines in a rare lead performance. With his slightly weather-beaten look, Duryea was usually relegated to playing heavies or character parts. Black Angel finally provided him the opportunity to carry a film, because his hangdog appearance was just what was required for the sad sack character of functional souse Marty Blair. Duryea acquits himself nicely in the romantic scenes, but his acting is really outstanding in the sequences where Marty wallows in drunken despair. Marty’s alcoholism is never played for laughs, and Duryea’s performance rivals that of Ray Milland’s celebrated work in The Lost Weekend (which only preceded Black Angel by a few months).

While not exactly essential viewing for fans of film noir or of soused cinema, Black Angel is a solid entry in both genres. You won’t regret taking a taste of this rarely sipped cocktail.

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey, beer, wine, and unnamed cocktails

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, passing out, hangover, public disturbance, brawling, physical violence, and bar tossed

Potent Quotables--JOE: (speaking of Marty): When is he gonna learn you can't drink it as fast as they make it?
JANITOR: Well, it's his stomach.

Video Availability--Black Angel DVD (Universal Noir Collection)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Anne Baxter goes on a drinking binge that ends in murder in Fritz Lang’s similarly themed The Blue Gardenia (1953).


Review: The Shooting of Dan McGoo (1945)

>> Saturday, November 10, 2007

USA/C-8m./Dir: Tex Avery/Wr: Heck Allen/Cast: Bill Thompson (Dan McGoo), Uncredited (Lady Lou), Uncredited (Wolf)

Animation’s craziest director, Tex Avery, produced perhaps the most supremely sauce-soaked short in cartoon history with The Shooting of Dan McGoo. This parody of the popular Robert W. Service poem, “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” takes place in the frozen North of Coldernell, Alaska, where the population of 324 (and dropping) keep themselves warm by downing colossal amounts of beer and beating each other senseless. Only one patron refrains from taking part in the boozing and roughhousing--Dan McGoo (played by Avery’s most popular character, Droopy), a tough hombre with an eye for the saloon’s showgirl Lady Lou (Avery’s familiar redheaded showgirl). Into the bar enters a dangerous looking Wolf, who buys drinks for the house and ogles the McGoo’s gorgeous lady love. When the interloper tries to snatch the girl and run off, he infuriates McGoo. Of course, anyone who has spent any portion of their youth watching cartoons knows it is never a good idea to make Droopy mad.

Like most of Tex Avery’s work, The Shooting of Dan McGoo is very thin on plot, but true Avery fans watch his shorts for the gags rather than the story. Avery developed an “anything-for-a-laugh” style at Warner Brothers, which came into full bloom when he moved to Fred Quimby’s animation department at MGM. The Shooting of Dan McGoo is actually a loose remake of an Elmer Fudd short that Avery produced at Warner Brothers, Dangerous Dan McFoo. However, the MGM remake is faster, funnier, and much more firewater-filled. The alcohol gags fly by fast and furiously in this cartoon--from customers drinking on the roof when it’s announced that the drinks are on the house to barflies’ ghosts continuing to drink after they have been shot. The Shooting of Dan McGoo is one of Tex Avery’s very best shorts, and fans of both animation and booze movies should find it to be madcap fun.

Drinks Consumed--Beer and whiskey

Intoxicating Effects--Brawling, physical violence, and destruction of property

Potent Quotables--WOLF: (to bartender): Straight whiskey. (After downing the drink, the Wolf shoots to the ceiling like a Roman candle.) This stuff’s been cut!
MCGOO: Whattya want for 10 cents? Gasoline?
WOLF: ‘Taint funny, McGoo. What corny dialog.

Video Availability--Available on DVD as part of the box set Tex Avery's Droopy: The Complete Theatrical Collection (Warner Brothers). It can also be viewed in its entirety below.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Although this short features numerous canines drinking themselves silly, cats are no slouches when it comes to downing the sauce. Watch Felix the Cat tie one on in Felix the Cat Woos Whoopee (1928).


Review: The Nutty Professor (1963)

>> Sunday, November 4, 2007

USA/C-107m./Dir: Jerry Lewis/Wr: Jerry Lewis & Bill Richmond/Cast: Jerry Lewis (Professor Julius Kelp/Buddy Love), Stella Stevens (Stella Purdy), Del Moore (Dr. Warfield), Katherine Freeman (Millie Lemmon), Howard Morris (Elmer Kelp)

Jerry Lewis must have driven the studio bosses to drink when he announced that he wanted to tamper with his proven formula for The Nutty Professor. For the first time in his career, the funnyman set aside his recognized “kid” persona, creating an entirely new character with a different voice, different posture, and different look. The film was different as well. Instead of a loosely connected group of blackout gags, The Nutty Professor featured a storyline that was both more coherent and more adult than anything Lewis had previously directed.

Jerry portrays Julius Kelp, a buck-toothed, near-sighted, accident-prone science professor. Kelp is smitten with Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens), a curvaceous undergrad, but he is too timid to approach her. After being humiliated by a bully in front of Stella and the rest of his class, the professor decides to bulk up, but physical exercise fails to improve his physique. His only other option is chemistry, and before you can say “Jekyll and Hyde,” Kelp whips up a potent cocktail that transforms the nerdy academic into Buddy Love, a conceited, ill-mannered lothario. Despite his bad behavior, Buddy sweeps Stella off her feet and becomes the idol of the collegiate set, who adore him for his singin’, swingin’, and swillin’. Of course, the charade can only last so long.

Over the years, The Nutty Professor has become Lewis’ most celebrated film, but few critics have noted the major role that alcohol plays in the narrative. Once the professor transforms into Buddy Love, he becomes a big-time boozer, leading to two of the best-remembered scenes in the history of soused cinema. The first occurs immediately after the professor’s initial transformation into Buddy Love. Kelp’s newly released alter ego makes a beeline for the local watering hole, The Purple Pit, a popular hangout for Stella and the other college students (most of who appear to be in their mid-forties). Buddy wastes no time in ordering a drink, the “Alaskan Polar Bear Heater,” a beverage of near-lethal potency. After dictating the cocktail recipe to the Purple Pit’s bartender (Buddy Lester), he allows the mixologist to take a sip of the dangerous drink. The bartender finds the concoction palatable, but then freezes in place as if stricken by Medusa. Buddy is unfazed and has no qualms about downing the rest of the cocktail.

The Nutty Professor also contains the single greatest hangover scene of all time. Showing up late for class, wearing tinted glasses, Professor Kelp suffers the aftermath of Buddy’s bacchanalia. Lewis amplifies every sound in the scene to allow the audience to experience what the character is going through. As he shuts the classroom door, the accompanying slam sounds like a cannon shot; chalk rubbing against the blackboard sounds like the scraping of metal upon metal; and liquid dripping into a test tube sounds like the beating of a kettle drum mixed with the crashing of waves upon the shore. It is an inspired scene--the best in the entire film.

While The Nutty Professor isn’t the funniest film Jerry Lewis ever made, it’s probably his best all around film. Like all of the movies directed by the comedian, the jokes are uneven and the story occasionally descends into sappy sentimentality. At the same time, Jerry’s gifts as a filmmaker were never displayed to greater effect. From the bizarre transformation scene to the lovely close-ups that display Stella Stevens at her yummiest, this film is a candy-colored delight.

Drinks Consumed--Beer, whiskey, various unnamed cocktails, and the “Alaskan Polar Bear Heater

Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, staggering, stumbling, passing out, and hangover

Potent Quotables--BUDDY LOVE: I’ve decided that I shall not continue the flight on the gas I got, so give me a boilermaker, and heavy on the boil.

Video Availability--The Nutty Professor is available as both a stand-alone DVD or as part of the Jerry Lewis: The Legendary Jerry Collection (Paramount).

Similarly Sauced Cinema-- Daffy Duck and Bob Hope encountered drinks of “Alaskan Polar Bear Heater”-type potency in Drip-Along Daffy (1951) and Son of Paleface (1952).

(For a supersized version of this review, click HERE.)


Cinematic Cocktails: The Alaskan Polar Bear Heater

Many movies have featured hard-kicking cocktails, but The Nutty Professor's “Alaskan Polar Bear Heater” may be the most infamous. Below is the recipe taken verbatim from the film:

“Two shots of vodka, a little rum, some bitters, and a smidgen of vinegar… a shot of vermouth, a shot of gin, a little brandy, lemon peel, orange peel, cherry, some more scotch. Now mix it nice, and pour it into a tall glass.”
Why the recipe calls for “some more scotch” at a point when there is no scotch in the cocktail is a mystery to me. I can only assume that Jerry was ad libbing the recipe on the spot. By the way, I’ve never been brave enough to drink one myself--the vinegar has always been the deal breaker for me. However, a good friend of mine filmed himself mixing one up and downing it (the video can be found HERE). He described the cocktail as tasting like “bitters-soaked ass.” When I commented that a lot would depend upon whose ass was soaked in bitters, he responded, “Ernest Borgnine’s ass.” You have been warned.


Review: My Favorite Year (1982)

>> Monday, October 29, 2007

USA/C-92m./Dir: Richard Benjamin/Wr: Dennis Palumbo/Cast: Peter O’Toole (Alan Swann), Mark Linn-Baker (Benjy Stone), Jessica Harper (K.C. Downing), Joseph Bologna (King Kaiser), Bill Macy (Sy Benson)

Some comedies elicit huge laughs, while others are simply smile-inducing. My Favorite Year definitely falls within the “smile” category. However, it is more noteworthy than most “smile comedies,” due to Peter O’Toole’s memorable turn as the cognac-guzzling, past-his-prime movie star, Alan Swann.

In the year 1954, swashbuckler Swann is scheduled as a weekly guest star on King Kaiser’s Comedy Cavalcade, a live variety show modeled after Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. Showing up tardy and woozily wasted on his first day, Swann is nearly fired. However, Benjy Stone (Linn-Baker), a junior comedy writer on the show who idolizes the actor, talks his bosses into letting Swann keep the gig. Of course, there’s a catch--Stone is given the responsibility of chaperoning the drunky dramatist for the remainder of his engagement. Over the course of the week, the pair learn valuable life lessons from each other, punctuated with minor misadventures, lightweight comedy, and several drained bottles of cognac.

Mel Brooks, who wrote for Your Show of Shows, produced My Favorite Year; and although it’s difficult not to like the film, one wishes the comedy had more of the edge of Brooks’ (and Sid Caesar’s) own work. Not only are most of the film’s situations predictable, much of the humor is obvious or corny. However, the supporting cast of pros--Bill Macy, Joseph Bologna, Lainie Kazan, Selma Diamond, Adolph Green, and the great Lou Jacobi--really know how to sell a line, so much of the time, you don’t notice how lame the jokes actually are.

The performances are the real reason to watch My Favorite Year. Mark Linn-Baker does fine work in the lead, but this is really O’Toole’s show. The character of Alan Swann was obviously modeled after Errol Flynn, a celeb known for his swashbuckling charm and liquor-fueled misbehavior. Few actors could have pulled off both the cavalier charisma and drunken slapstick required of the role, but O’Toole’s performance is a triumph. It is reason enough to make My Favorite Year required viewing for soused cinema enthusiasts.

As a side note, although Swann is primarily based on Errol Flynn, the “this is for ladies” bathroom scene was based upon a legendary incident often recounted about legendary lush John Barrymore.

Drinks Consumed--Cognac

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, stumbling, passing out, slurred speech, vomiting, and memory blackouts

Potent Quotables--BENJY: Mr. Swann, I think I’m going to be unwell.
SWANN: Stone, ladies are unwell. Gentlemen vomit.
STONE: Mm-hm.
SWANN (to a random gentleman): Alfredo, you needn’t wait. We shan’t need the car any more. We’re going to throw up in the park and then walk home.

Video Availability--My Favorite Year DVD (Warner Brothers)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--The real Errol Flynn played an alky in John Huston’s Roots of Heaven (1958).

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About Me

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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