Review: The Wet Parade (1932)

>> Friday, July 13, 2007

USA/B&W-118m./Dir: Victor Fleming/Wr: John Lee Mahin/Cast: Robert Young (Kip Tarleton), Dorothy Jordon (Maggie May “Persimmon” Chilcote), Lewis Stone (Col. Roger Chilcote), Walter Huston (Pow Tarleton), Neil Hamilton (Roger Chilcote, Jr.), Jimmy Durante (Abe Shilling)

A forgotten film based on a forgotten novel, The Wet Parade is probably best forgotten. This creaky relic from the early sound era serves up heaping ladles of maudlin drama as it spins a moralistic tale that demonizes alcohol and simultaneously condemns the practice of forced prohibition. The ramshackle narrative barely holds together. Worse yet, the movie is mawkish, preachy, and overlong. Still, as contradictory as it may sound, I kinda liked it.

The film opens in 1916 with Lewis Stone as a southern gentleman (in full Col. Sanders whiskers) with an unquenchable thirst for bourbon. Less than a half-hour in, the old boy offs himself after squandering the family fortune on liquor and games of chance. At that point, the flick takes a disorienting jump to New York City to tell the story of Kip Tarleton (Robert Young), a teetotaler with an alcoholic father (Walter Huston). When Prohibition is enacted, Huston’s character transforms from unreliable drunkard to violent loony due to downing poisonous bootleg swill. Swearing to get the bootleggers responsible for his father’s madness, Kip joins the g-men, and he’s teamed with a senior agent (played by Jimmy Durante of all people). Unfortunately, as Kip tries to enforce Prohibition, he discovers that the cure may be worse than the disease.

Watching The Wet Parade is a lot like sitting through a two-hour sermon on the lesson “you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.” It’s undeniably downbeat, but it ain't boring. Colorful performances from Huston and Stone breathe life into the story, and Durante’s hamming is diverting in its own way. Most importantly, as a “booze movie,” The Wet Parade doesn’t disappoint. There’s more sauce swilling on display here than in Arthur and Leaving Las Vegas combined, and since the flick was filmed during the Prohibition era, it features an abundance of fascinating period detail. The Wet Parade is quite simply the ultimate Prohibition movie. All things considered, the picture sorta stinks, but you probably won’t be sorry you took the time to take it in.

Drinks Consumed--Bourbon, beer, champagne, Scotch, denatured alcohol, and various unnamed intoxicants

Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, staggering, stumbling, hiccups, sneaking sips, loosened inhibitions, boasting, harmonizing, nausea, passing out, bar tossed, delirium tremens, and physical violence

Potent Quotables--KIP: I never had a drink before in my life.
ABE: Are you kiddin’ me?
KIP: Nope.
ABE: You never had a drink before? Gee, a guy has to join the Prohibition service to get his first drink. I’m thunderstruck. My eyes are filled with amazement; in fact, astonishment.

Video Availability--Never released on video

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Jimmy Durante plays the other side of the fence as a bootlegger in the Prohibition comedy What! No Beer?

The Wet Parade (Hardcover)


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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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