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.

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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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