Review: Johnny Eager (1942)

>> Sunday, September 16, 2007

USA/B&W-107m./Dir: Mervyn LeRoy/Wr: John Lee Mahin & James Edward Grant/Cast: Robert Taylor (Johnny Eager), Lana Turner (Lisbeth Bard), Van Heflin (Jeff Hartnett), Edward Arnold (John Benson Farrell), Paul Stewart (Julio)

Johnny Eager is often categorized in movie references as an early film noir--likely due to its gangland setting and dark ending--but in truth, it is simply a fast-moving MGM melodrama, and a pretty forgettable one at that. Still, it has become a personal favorite, and I almost always go out of my way to catch this flick whenever it is broadcast.

Robert Taylor stars (which probably means that Clark Gable wasn’t available) as Johnny Eager, an ex-con pretending to be a cabbie in order to satisfy his parole board. In reality, gangster Eager is up to old tricks, bankrolling a dog track and jockeying for the top spot in the local underworld. Into this scheme steps Lisabeth Bard (Lana Turner), a socialite sociologist who takes too strong an interest in Eager. Eager takes advantage of those affections and tricks Lisabeth into believing she has killed a man in order to blackmail her father (Edward Arnold), the district attorney standing between Eager and the opening of his dog track. Of course, Eager’s plans unravel with tragic results when he actually falls for the girl.

Although Johnny Eager is no classic, it has plenty to recommend it. It is a slick, breezy entertainment, peppered with colorful performances by some of the best character actors in the business. In addition, Turner has the opportunity to prove that she is more than just delicious eye-candy, turning in some of the best acting of her career in the scenes in which Lisabeth’s psyche shatters under the stress and guilt of having killed a man.

However, the main reason I keep revisiting this film is the astonishing, scene-stealing performance from Van Heflin as Jeff Hartnett, Johnny Eager’s self-hating, alcoholic lawyer. Although nearly forgotten today, Heflin was one of the best actors Hollywood ever produced, and he was never better than he was here--walking through every scene in a believable alky haze and spouting complex, erudite dialog between slugs of booze. Whether tearing up or quietly brooding, the character’s inward struggle between pangs of conscience and his affection for the gangster (which borders on homosexuality) is always evident. It’s an A+ performance in a B- picture, one for which Heflin deservedly won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and one of the best in soused cinema history.

Drinks Consumed--Brandy, whiskey, and various unnamed liquors and cocktails

Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, staggering, soused sentimentality, and hangover

Potent Quotables--JEFF: I seem to have offended your light of love by using a polysyllabic word.
EAGER: You’re drunk.
JEFF: Now, Eager, that’s… obvious. Very obvious. Don’t be obvious. You’re out of character when you’re obvious. Adroitness is your racket. Hard, clever, and adroit--that’s your description.

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

Similarly Sauced Cinema--It was Lana Turner’s turn to hit the booze as an alky actress in the flashback-filled Hollywood melodrama The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).


Booze News: Miss Charming's Silver Screen Cocktails

>> Monday, September 10, 2007

Fans of liquor-centric cinema should check out Miss Charming's Silver Screen Cocktails page. It is a very nice overview of films in which characters order specific cocktails. Miss Charming was also kind enough to link to Booze Movies at the top of her page.

Cheryl Charming is a bartender, author (with several cocktail-related books to her credit), and graphic artist. She also hosted a movie night at the most recent Tales of the Cocktail event in New Orleans, and she will be returning to host the first-annual Cocktail Film Fest in January. I'll post more more info on the Film Fest as it becomes available.

By the way, if you visit Silver Screen Cocktails, take some time to explore the rest of her Website. She has a lot of material that is sure to be of interest to tipplers. For future reference, I've linked to her front door under my "drink links."


Miss Charmings Guide for Hip Bartenders and Wayout Wannabes


Off Topic: The Weasel McPuppy Letters

>> Sunday, September 9, 2007

As much as I'd like to discuss random thoughts and the news of the day, I try to stay on-topic here at Booze Movies. However, I'm going to make an exception in order to promote a blog created by my one of my dogs, Weasel McPuppy.

Weasel is a merry prankster. As a hobby, she enjoys nothing better than mailing slightly insulting notes to celebrities. She has decided to share these letters (and any responses she might receive) with the world. Consequently, The Weasel McPuppy Letters is open for business.

I will now steer this blog back to its chartered course. Booze-ho!



Booze News: Modern Drunkard Magazine #53 on Newsstands Now!

>> Friday, September 7, 2007

Modern Drunkard Magazine #53, featuring the premiere of my "Soused Cinema" movie review column, is now available on magazine racks at discriminating book, record, and periodical dealers nationwide. My first column (pages 26-27) focuses on Jerry Lewis' The Nutty Professor (1963), the film that introduced the world to the Alaskan Polar Bear Heater, a cocktail of near-fatal potency.

If you can't find the issue in stores, often posts articles online a few months after the magazine is released. Back issues can also be purchased on their site.

By the way, I mentioned a friend of mine in the article who gathered the courage to mix up an Alaskan Polar Bear Heater and consume it on video. That video can be found on YouTube or directly on his blog via this link--> The Liar -vs- The Alaskan Polar Bear Heater.


The Modern Drunkard


Review: The Great Profile (1940)

>> Monday, September 3, 2007

USA/B&W-87m./Dir: Walter Lang/Wr: Hilary Lynn & Milton Sperling/Cast: John Barrymore (Evans Garrick), Mary Beth Hughes (Sylvia Garrick), Gregory Ratoff (Boris Mefoofsky), Anne Baxter (Mary Maxwell), John Payne (Richard Lansing)

John Barrymore was the most celebrated actor of his generation, remembered for important Shakespearean turns on the New York stage and for romantic leading
roles as one of the most treasured players in MGM’s star-studded stable. By 1940, however, the actor affectionately known as “The Great Profile” was far past his prime. His drinking (and possibly early-onset Alzheimers) had robbed him of his ability to memorize lengthy passages of dialog, and he was considered by most to be a washed-up, drunken ham. Even Barrymore’s biographers tend to ignore his final film roles or simply dismiss them as self-parody. This is a shame, because although his last few roles were certainly burlesques of his image, no actor threw himself into self-parody with greater gusto than the illustrious Jack Barrymore.

In The Great Profile, Barrymore stars as Evans Garrick, a renowned thespian with a lust for the bottle. After disappearing on a three-day bender, Garrick finds himself dropped by his movie studio, his agent (Gregory Ratoff), and his wife (Mary Beth Hughes) on the same evening. Luckily, fortune shines on the aging actor in the form of an inexperienced playwright (Anne Baxter) who provides him with a play and, more importantly, the financing to put it on. The girl’s script stinks on ice, but Garrick turns the show into a sensation by getting blotto on opening night and terrorizing the rest of the cast with explosive ad-libs.

Although The Great Profile is a silly piece of fluff, Barrymore’s hilarious hamming turns it into tremendous fun. Every line, no matter how inane, is captivating when delivered by Barrymore’s silver tongue. The supporting cast also carries their weight, and special praise should be showered upon the exceedingly yummy Mary Beth Hughes, whose performance as Garrick’s venomous wife nearly reaches Barrymore’s level. While no classic, The Great Profile is a tasty cocktail that leaves a pleasant aftertaste.

Drinks Consumed--It’s impossible to say, because Garrick’s guzzling is done off screen.

Intoxicating Effects--Belching, staggering, harmonizing, hangover, memory blackouts, and ad-libbing

Potent Quotables--GARRICK: I, Evans Garrick, do solemnly vow to put spirituous liquors from me life forever.
MEFOOFSKY: You take the pledge?! You going on the wagon now?!
GARRICK: The very thought of tasting the vile stuff nauseates me!
MEFOOFSKY: Alright, you don’t like the taste; we’ll give it to you intravenously with injections.

Video Availability--Never released on video

Similarly Sauced Cinema--The previous year, Barrymore had portrayed a loveable souse in the minor comedy classic The Great Man Votes (1939).

John Barrymore Collection (Sherlock Holmes / Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde / The Beloved Rogue / Tempest) (4pc) (Silent) (Full)

Hollywood's Hellfire Club: The Misadventures of John Barrymore, W.C. Fields, Errol Flynn and the Bundy Drive Boys

468X60 RENTAL - James Stewart Animated Gif (44kb)

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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