Review: The Big Hangover (1950)

>> Sunday, August 5, 2007

USA/B&W-82m./Dir: Norman Krasna/Wr: Norman Krasna/Cast: Van Johnson (David Muldon), Elizabeth Taylor (Mary Belney), Percy Waram (John Belney), Gene Lockhart (Charles Parkford), Edgar Buchanan (Uncle Fred Mahoney), Leon Ames (Carl Bellcap)

The best thing about The Big Hangover is its title. It’s a damn good title, evocative of rain-swept city streets, empty bottles, shady characters, and broken dreams--
everything that you would expect from a pitch-black film noir. Unfortunately, The Big Hangover isn’t a noir film, nor is it particularly good.

It starts with an interesting and somewhat strange premise. Van Johnson plays David Muldon, a law school valedictorian starting out at a prestigious law firm. Muldon is also a WWII veteran, and he suffers from a strange form of combat fatigue. He nearly drowned when being submerged in 100 year-old brandy during an air raid, and from that point forward, the slightest taste or even the smell of alcohol makes him instantaneously drunk. Liz Taylor plays the daughter of the law firm’s senior partner. She takes a shine to David, and being that she is an amateur psychiatrist (isn’t that convenient), she takes it upon herself to cure him.

I think The Big Hangover is supposed to be a romantic comedy, except it doesn’t happen to be very funny. Any humor is far outweighed by soapy melodrama. There’s also a secondary subplot about an Asian couple who are refused residence in an apartment building due to discrimination, which is much more interesting than Van and Liz’s story. Regrettably, the subplot is handled in as hamfisted a manner as the comedy, and it is never fully developed or resolved.

On the plus side, the cast is likable, and the acting is professional all
around (except Johnson does a terrible drunk). Although the movie itself isn’t very good, it’s worth seeing for the bizarro storyline. Still, I hope that someday someone swipes the superb title and attaches it to the alcohol-drenched crime film it deserves.

Drinks Consumed--Spiked punch, brandy, Scotch, and wine

Intoxicating Effects--Dizziness, sneaking sips, hearing voices, harmonizing, and loosened inhibitions

Potent Quotables--DAVID (handed a drink): I’m getting like that fellow in The Lost Weekend.
MARY: There aren’t ten drops in that glass. Drink it.

Video Availability--The Big Hangover is available as a manufacture-on-demand DVD-R through The Warner Archive.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--It was Liz’s turn to hit the bottle in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966).

2 comments:

DC Liar August 6, 2007 at 1:20 AM  

I caught this one on TCM a couple of weeks back. I can attest that the movie is A LOT better if you have a good buzz going.
I flipped over and got sucked in from the get-go. I really enjoyed it and even decided to switch over to cognac to better get into the swing of things.

It wasn't until the next morning/afternoon when I was trying to tell The Girl how great this film was that I realized that (in fact) it was really fucking stupid.
Incidentally, the same exact thing happened with Beerfest.

stennie August 6, 2007 at 12:10 PM  

Hey, I've seen this odd little obscure movie too. It's really a metaphor for returning vets from World War II, and how they re-integrated themselves into society, at least that's how I saw it. It was an intriguing idea, but it wasn't well executed for the reasons you mention -- it's not sure if it's a comedy, a drama, or what. I sense studio interference.

Van does the soapy drunkard again in the soapy (& sappy) "The Last Time I Saw Paris," also against Liz T. Van plays drunks a lot, in fact. He does all right with it in Brigadoon. Eh, I'm biased anyway, I love Van Johnson.

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