Review: The Bottom of the Bottle (1956)

>> Wednesday, April 23, 2008

USA/C-88m./Dir: Henry Hathaway/Wr: Sydney Boehm/Cast: Van Johnson (Donald Martin), Joseph Cotten (Patrick “P.M.” Martin), Ruth Roman (Nora Martin), Jack Carson (Hal Breckinridge), Margaret Hayes (Lil Breckinridge)

The Bottom of the Bottle is a fine example of the kind of slick, Cinemascope soap that was popular in the 1950’s. Joseph Cotton stars as Patrick “P.M.” Martin, a social-climbing rancher/lawyer living in the Mexican border town of Nogales, Arizona. P.M.’s oh-so-important community standing, as well as his already dicey marriage, is put in jeopardy when his alky brother Donald (Van Johnson) appears on his doorstep. Not only is Donald an unpredictable drunk; he’s also is a fugitive, having escaped from the pen with five years left on his sentence. Donald is desperate to cross the Santa Cruz River into Mexico, where his destitute wife and children await him. However, with the river impassable due to a downpour, the two brothers must find a way to cohabitate while old grudges, guilt, and thirsts bubble to the surface.

Incorporating dipsomania, marital strife, social anxiety, and heaping helpings of “brother’s keeper” Biblical overtones, The Bottom of the Bottle is anything but subtle. In fact it is often ridiculous. Still, the movie is consistently entertaining in the way that only an overblown sudser can be. It doesn’t hurt that the picture is skillfully directed with fine use of the Cinemascope frame and Deluxe color palate by old pro Henry Hathaway. First-rate performances by a never-better Van Johnson, always-reliable Joseph Cotten (in a thanklessly unlikable role), and honey-voiced Ruth Roman (as Cotten’s wife) also lend strong support.

For soused cinema enthusiasts, The Bottom of the Bottle provides a cocktail with plenty of kick. As P.M. warns his younger brother early on, “I just wanted to say that you’ll see plenty of drinking inside. It goes on most of the time during the storm from one house to another.” He isn’t lying. Temptation lies everywhere--even in a neighbor’s doorbell, which plays “How Dry I Am.” Catch this surprisingly entertaining gem if you can.

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey (Scotch and bourbon), gin (martini), and various unknown cocktails

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, stumbling, bickering, destruction of property, public disturbance, hangover, and the shakes

Potent Quotables--DONALD: Mr. Jenkins, sir.
JENKINS: Yes, Mr. Bell.
DONALD: Would you oblige me please with a double double?
JENKINS: Anything in particular?
DONALD: Alcohol, alcohol.

Video Availability--The Bottom of the Bottle has never been commercially released on video.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Van Johnson also got his drink on in The Big Hangover (1950), although usually unintentionally.


Anonymous February 1, 2010 at 10:29 AM  

I love this movie! It represents the life I would have had in the 50's (I lived it in the 90's)! If neighbors in the 21st Century partied the way these folks did...well, personally I think the world would be a better place:)

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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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