Booze News: Animal House 30th Anniversary Cast Reunion This Weekend

>> Friday, February 22, 2008

This is a warning!!! Residents of the Chicago metropolitan area are advised to lock their liquor cabinets for the duration of the weekend, because the anarchic alkies of Faber College are headed your way!

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), the Hollywood Boulevard Cinema in Woodridge, IL will feature several screenings of the soused cinema classic tonight through Sunday. To make the screenings truly special, six members of the original cast will be in attendance--the eternally gorgeous Karen Allen (Katy), Peter Riegert (Boon), Stephen Furst (Flounder), Mark Metcalf (Niedermeyer), Martha Smith (Babs), and DeWayne Jessie (Otis Day). The cast members will begin signing autographs one hour before each show, and they will participate in an onstage Q&A with each screening. DeWayne Jessie will also perform "Shout!" in his Otis Day persona before each show. It's too bad it's too cold to wear a toga.

An interview with the cast appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times today. You can read it online here.

Showtimes are as follows:

Friday 2/22 -- 7:00 and 9:30pm
Saturday 2/23 -- 4:00, 7:00, and 9:30pm (The 7pm show is already sold out)
Sunday 2/24 -- 4:00 and 7:00pm

Advance tickets can be purchased online at or by phone at (630) 427-1880. Tickets are $8, plus a $2 online service charge. I have my ticket for the 4pm Saturday show. I'll be the guy chattin' up Karen Allen. See ya there!



Review: It’s the Old Army Game (1926)

>> Tuesday, February 12, 2008

USA/Silent/B&W-90m./Dir: Edward Sutherland/Wr: Tom J. Geraghty & J. Clarkson Miller (based on the play by Joseph Patrick McEvoy and stage sketches by W.C. Fields)/Cast: W.C. Fields (Elmer Prettywillie), Louise Brooks (Marilyn Sheridan), Blanche Ring (Tessie Overholt), William Gaxton (George Parker), Mary Foy (Sarah Pancoast), Mickey Bennett (Mickey)

Although W.C. Fields is mainly remembered as a verbal comedian, he began his career as a pantomime juggler, and his comedic performances were always heightened by the physical dexterity and expressive gestures that he developed on the stage. Those skills were especially invaluable for the twelve films that the Great Man made during the silent era, most of which have been lost due to disinterest and disintegration. Luckily, one of the best and most important films of Fields’ silent output, It’s the Old Army Game, survives today for us to analyze and enjoy.

Fields portrays Elmer Prettywillie, a small-town pharmacist beset with large-scale frustrations--his nagging sister and her brat of a kid; annoying customers; self-centered, middle-aged women; and uncooperative inanimate objects of all kinds. Prettywillie’s lovely shop assistant (legendary silent beauty Louise Brooks) gets the harried shopkeeper even further over his head, when she encourages him to take part in a land-selling scheme being promoted by a slick salesman (George Parker). The druggist helps the salesman make a heap of cash, selling his parcels of land; but when a detective hauls the salesman out of town, it’s Elmer who is left holding the bag.

During most of Fields’ silent career, he was frustrated at either being relegated to secondary parts or working with filmmakers that didn’t understand his character. It’s the Old Army Game was a notable exception. It was the first feature in which Fields was trusted with star billing and a share of creative control. The Great Man took advantage of the opportunity and packed the film with material cannibalized from his popular stage sketches. The resulting film was disjointed (as were most of the comedian’s subsequent movies), but it was undeniably funny. For the first time, audiences were able to see the seeds of Fields’ comic persona--an excessively harassed man, often displaying ill temper in the face of simpletons, nagging relatives, and obnoxious children. They also got a first look at material that Fields would hone and present in revised form in The Pharmacist (1933) and It’s a Gift (1934), including the classic “front porch” scene in which Fields is constantly interrupted as he tries to get some shuteye on an unsteady porch swing. While the “front porch” routine and other familiar bits were funnier in Fields’ later movies, benefiting from the sound of the Great Man’s distinctive nasal mutterings, It’s the Old Army Game is more than just a fascinating historical relic. It’s quite amusing in it’s own right.

Of course, W.C. was not only the greatest comedian in motion picture history; he was also filmdom’s greatest proponent of the drinking lifestyle. It’s the Old Army Game provides only a few tantalizing hints of the alky side of the Great Man’s character. In an early scene, a customer asks Prettywillie for “something for the hip,” and before selling bootleg booze to the thirsty patron, the clever druggist uses an electric fan to check under the man’s suit coat for a badge that would indicate a Prohibition agent. The only other suggestion of imbibing comes during the film’s climactic chase. As townspeople try to outrun the druggist, Prettywillie tosses objects from his pockets to lighten his load. The only possession that he doesn’t discard is his flask, which he quickly returns to his back pocket. Some things are more important than the threat of jail.

Drinks Consumed--Unnamed alcohol is dispensed, but none is consumed

Intoxicating Effects--None

Potent Quotables--ELMER (to a Prohibition agent that has asked to purchase alcohol): Would you have me break the laws of our glorious country to satisfy your depraved taste?

Video Availability--Sunrise Silents offers a decent print of this rare silent feature on DVD in both U.S. (NTSC) and European (PAL) formats, and the screen shots that accompany this article were taken from their release. You won’t find It’s the Old Army Game listed on the Sunrise Silents Website, but if you contact them via email (, they will send you pricing and order information.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Many sequences in It’s the Old Army Game were reworked in Fields’ masterpiece, It’s a Gift (1934), including the “front porch” and “picnic” scenes.

It's the Old Army Game (DVD)


Booze News: Booze Movies Mentioned in The New York Times!

>> Sunday, February 10, 2008

What do Ellen Page, Julie Christie, Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Hal Holbrook, Josh Brolin, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Booze Movies have in common? They were all mentioned in the Magazine section of today's New York Times.

Columnist Virginia Heffernan recommended Booze Movies in the "Points of Entry" section at the end of her column "The Medium." The mention can be found at the bottom of page 30 in the print version of The New York Times Magazine or you can see it online here.

Thanks, Virginia! I'll lift a few glasses in your honor this evening.



Booze News: May 2008 is Sinatra Month

>> Saturday, February 9, 2008

Break out the Jack Daniels! May 2008 will be jam-packed with events to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the death of "the Chairman of the Board," Frank Sinatra. An overview of the Sinatra celebration can be found at the Sinatra Family Official Site here. Below are a few highlights.

Warner Home Video will be releasing 22 Sinatra films (11 never-before available) in 5 DVD box sets on May 13th, including The Rat Pack Ultimate Collectors Edition (pictured above) containing Robin and the Seven Hoods, Oceans Eleven, 4 For Texas, and the first-ever home video release of MGMs Sergeants 3. The 1993 CBS miniseries Sinatra is also amongst the new sets. A press release regarding all of Warner's Sinatra DVD releases can be found here.

Turner Classic Movies will also feature a month-long salute to Sinatra, showcasing his films and television specials on Sundays and Wednesdays throughout the month. For music lovers, a new single disc Reprise compilation will be released on CD as "Nothing But the Best." The 22 cuts on the CD will include a previously unreleased recording of "Body and Soul." Finally, the U.S. Postal Service will be releasing a Frank Sinatra commemorative stamp.

That should give you plenty of excuses for sluggin' whiskey and enjoyin' a little ring-a-ding-ding!

The Rat Pack Ultimate Collectors Edition (Oceans 11 / Robin and the 7 Hoods / 4 for Texas / Sergeants 3)


Review: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

>> Sunday, February 3, 2008

USA/B&W-131m./Dir: Mike Nichols/Wr: Ernest Lehman (based on the play by Edward Albee)/Cast: Elizabeth Taylor (Martha), Richard Burton (George), George Segal (Nick), Sandy Dennis (Honey)

A middle-aged associate history professor (Richard Burton) and his brazen wife (Elizabeth Taylor) host the world’s worst “after hours” in Mike Nichol’s screen version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Returning home after midnight from a university staff party, George (Burton) discovers that his evening has just begun. At the urging of her father, the president of the university, Martha (Taylor) has invited Nick (George Segal), a new biology professor, and his wife Honey (Sandy Dennis) over for drinks and conversation. The young couple is in for quite a party, as George and Martha brashly air their dirty laundry in front of their guests. As the verbal and physical abuse continues into the early morning, Nick and Honey find themselves pulled into the fun and games.

I had long avoided watching Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, because I had often heard the film described as depressing, but “depressing” is the last word I would use to describe this exhilarating movie. A play lives or dies by its dialogue, and Albee’s word choices are top-notch and often laugh-out-loud funny. The cast is up to the verbal gymnastics required by the play, and Taylor and Dennis deservedly won Academy Awards for their brave, unglamorous performances. However, as fine as the rest of the cast is, Burton really carries the film. How he did not end up taking home an Oscar is a mystery to me. The intensity of the actors is matched by the excellent direction of first-timer Nichols and the cinematography of Haskell Wexler (who also took home an Oscar statue). They keep what is basically a shouting match between four characters constantly visually interesting.

I wouldn’t describe the storyline as “depressing” either. Although George and Martha’s relationship is tempestuous, they are obviously in love (if not obsessed) with one another. However loud, their relationship works, and no other partner would satisfy them emotionally or cerebrally. And although the play’s ending could be considered sad, George and Martha’s relationship has turned a corner, which may allow them to focus on the present rather than on the disappointments of the past. If not, they have a well-stocked bar.

Speaking of the bar, boozing is very important to the plot of the film. Each of the four characters have a drink of choice--George (scotch), Martha (gin), Nick (bourbon), and Honey (brandy)--that they down liberally into the early morning (as Honey enjoys repeating, “Never mix, never worry”). Much of the discussion amongst the foursome revolves around boozing, including George’s revelatory speech about “the grandest day of my youth; and the characters often blame their bad manners and bad behavior upon their imbibing.

Of course, the film isn’t perfect. It doesn’t make much sense that while the characters’ back-and-forth banter is extremely witty, the jokes they actually laugh at are terribly corny (“Church mouse,” “Bergen,” and of course, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?”). Also, the ending revelation is telegraphed to such an extent that it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. However, those are extremely minor misgivings in comparison to the feast of pleasures that this film provides. All in all, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is an electrifying experience.

Drinks Consumed--Scotch, gin, brandy, and bourbon

Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, staggering, stumbling, vomiting, harmonizing, the giggles, drunk driving, soused sex, bickering, destruction of property, and physical violence

Potent Quotables--MARTHA: Fix me another drink, lover.
GEORGE: My god, you can swill it down, can’t you?
MARTHA: I’m thirsty.
GEORGE: Oh, Jesus.
MARTHA: Look, sweetheart, I can drink you under any goddamn table you want, so don’t worry about me.
GEORGE: I gave you the prize many years ago, Martha. There isn’t an abomination award going that you haven’t won.

Video Availability--The film is available as a stand-alone Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Two-Disc Special Edition) DVD or as part of the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton Film Collection (Warner Brothers).

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Liz and Dick re-teamed the following year to take on another famous play, The Taming of the Shrew, with Burton as the wine-guzzling Petruchio.


Booze News: 75th Review on the Way!

>> Saturday, February 2, 2008

Booze Movies is nearing another milestone. Today I watched the 75th film that I will review for this site, and I've saved a soused cinema classic to fill that slot.

I'll post the 75th review in a day or two. In the meantime, feel free to guess what the 75th firewater-fueled film will be.


P.S. -- I'll give you a clue. It's not National Lampoon's Animal House (1978). That's already been covered.

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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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