Review: Another Thin Man (1939)

>> Monday, January 28, 2008

USA/B&W-103m./Dir: W.S. Van Dyke/Wr: Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett/Cast: William Powell (Nick Charles), Myrna Loy (Nora Charles), Virginia Grey (Lois MacFay), C. Aubrey Smith (Colonel MacFay), Tom Neal (Freddie Colman), Patric Knowles (Dudley Horn), Otto Kruger (Assistant District Attorney Van Slack), Sheldon Leonard (Phil Church)

The announcement of Nora’s pregnancy at the end of After the Thin Man (1936) sounded the death knell for the carefree, drunken revelry that was a hallmark of the first two films in the popular MGM Thin Man series. It would have been irresponsible to portray sleuthing socialites Nick and Nora Charles as bleary-eyed souses with Nick Jr. to care for (even if the pair could afford a full-time nurse). Consequently, the boozing was toned down tremendously in Another Thin Man. This time around, Nora doesn’t down a drop; and although Nick hits the bottle whenever he gets the chance, those chances are strung so far apart that he never manages to get drunk.

Despite the lessened alky content, Another Thin Man still manages to be a worthy series entry. Being that the film re-teams William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Asta with the director and writers of the first two Thin Man films, much of the magic of the earlier movies remains. The dialogue is still wonderfully witty; the mystery is still bafflingly complex; and the set is populated by the finest character actors in Hollywood (including everyone from Marjorie Main to Shemp Howard). Most importantly, although Powell and Loy had solidly hit middle age, their chemistry was still electric and surprisingly sexy.

The mystery begins when Nick and Nora receive a call from Colonel MacFay (C. Aubrey Smith), an old friend of Nora’s father who manages her financial interests. He insists that the couple join him for the weekend under the pretense of discussing business, but when Nick and Nora arrive at his estate, they discover that MacFay’s life has been threatened by an ex-con (Sheldon Leonard). Of course, that leads to multiple murders and to Nick being recruited once again to reluctantly play detective. Worse yet, the Colonel keeps his liquor cabinet locked.

Three films in, the Thin Man series isn’t nearly as intoxicating as it once was in terms of booze. However, the films are still unmatched in terms of fun.

Drinks Consumed
--Scotch, rum, and unnamed liquor

Intoxicating Effects--Sneaking sips

Potent Quotables--NORA: I got rid of all those reporters.
NICK: What’d ya tell them?
NORA: I told them we were out of scotch.
NICK: What a gruesome thought.

Video Availability--Another Thin Man is available as a solo DVD or as part of The Complete Thin Man Collection (The Thin Man / After the Thin Man / Another Thin Man / Shadow of the Thin Man / The Thin Man Goes Home / Song of the Thin Man).

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Nick and Nora next appeared in Shadow of the Thin Man (1941).

The Complete Thin Man Collection (The Thin Man / After the Thin Man / Another Thin Man / Shadow of the Thin Man / The Thin Man Goes Home / Song of the Thin Man)

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Review: The Iceman Cometh (1973)

>> Monday, January 21, 2008

USA/239m./Dir: John Frankenheimer/Wr: Thomas Quinn Curtis (based on the play by Eugene O’Neill)/Cast: Lee Marvin (Hickey), Frederic March (Harry Hope), Robert Ryan (Larry Slade), Jeff Bridges (Don Parritt), Tom Pedi (Rocky Pioggi), Bradford Dillman (Willie Oban), Moses Gunn (Joe Mott)

In the early 70’s, producer Ely Landau envisioned The American Film Theatre, an experiment in which classic plays would be filmed with top-notch actors and screened during a two-day limited engagement for subscribing ticket-holders. The project ran for two seasons before it folded under a pile of debt and lawsuits. The fourteen films that were produced under the AFT banner ranged in quality from great to lousy, but most critics agree that the best of the bunch was John Frankenheimer’s 1973 production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh.

In a squalid skid row bar in 1912, a group of whiskey-sodden lowlifes and floozies hang out in anticipation of the semi-annual visit of well-heeled salesman Theodore “Hickey” Hickman (Lee Marvin). However, when their friend finally arrives, he is more interested in dispensing salvation than the usual free drinks. The newly-sober Hickey is convinced that he can help his drinking buddies--not by convincing them to give up booze but by compelling them to set aside the pipe dreams that he believes are the cause of their discontent. Not only are the regulars at Harry Hope’s saloon uninterested in buying what the salesman is selling, Hickey’s own sales pitch may be just another pipe dream.

Running a full four hours, The Iceman Cometh takes a certain level of dedication from its audience. The story is extremely bleak and O’Neill, an author that could have used a good editor, has a tendency to hammer the same points repeatedly. That said, the film itself is every bit as good as its reputation. Frankenheimer does a marvelous job at making a one-set play visually interesting on film, and the cast he selected couldn’t be better. Lee Marvin brings just the right combination of pitchman and revivalist minister to the role of Hickey, and the supporting cast (who actually receive more screen time than Marvin) are excellent across the board.

Best of all are the performances of Robert Ryan and Frederic March in their final screen roles. Ryan was always good, but March is a revelation in the role of agoraphobic bar owner Harry Hope. With a grizzled look and a believable Irish brogue, March is nearly unrecognizable in the part. It is a completely naturalistic performance--his personal best and one of the best ever committed to film.

In terms of alcohol content, The Iceman Cometh can hardly be matched. Whiskey is guzzled by the gallons, and almost every character is a dedicated dipsomaniac. For its fine acting, direction, and athletic alcohol intake, this film is a “must see.”

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey and champagne

Intoxicating Effects--Passing out, the shakes, boasting, bravado, harmonizing, bickering, public disturbance, staggering, and stumbling

Potent Quotables--HICKEY: Oh, hell, governor. You don’t think I’d come around here peddlin’ any brand of temperance bunk, do ya? Just ‘cause I quit the stuff don’t mean I’m goin’ prohibition. I’m not that ungrateful. It’s given me too many good times. And so if anybody wants to get drunk, if that’s the only way they can feel happy and feel at peace with themselves, why the hell shouldn’t they? Hell, I know that game from soup to nuts. I wrote the book. The only reason I quit is, well, I finally had the guts to face myself and throw overboard that damn lying pipe dream that had been making me miserable and do what I had to do for the happiness of all concerned. Then, all at once, I was at peace with myself, and I didn’t need the booze anymore.

Video Availability--The Iceman Cometh has occasionally been broadcast on television in a truncated version, but the complete 4-hour film is now available as a stand-alone DVD or as part of The American Film Theatre: Collection One (Kino).

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Eugene O’Neill’s story of a shattered American family, Long Day's Journey Into Night, was filmed in 1962, featuring Jason Robards as the alcoholic son.

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Booze News: Cocktail Film Fest Update

>> Saturday, January 19, 2008


I just received the official press release for the upcoming Cocktail Film Fest. Here are all the pertinent details:

COCKTAIL FILM FEST CELEBRATES SIPPING IN CINEMA WITH THREE SCREENINGS AT W NEW ORLEANS HOTEL

Host Cheryl Charming presents movies and themed cocktails and food March 21 – 22.

NEW ORLEANS – (January 18, 2008) – Tales of the Cocktail and the W New Orleans invite movie buffs and libation lovers to indulge in two evenings of celebrating cocktail in film. Cheryl Charming, cocktail writer and founder of MissCharming.com, plays hostess for the screenings of Casablanca, Guys and Dolls, and The Seven Year Itch, on the evenings of Friday, March 21 and Saturday, March 22, at the W, located at 333 Poydras St. in downtown New Orleans.

“Cocktail scenes in film have been around since the invention of cinema,” said Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail. “Our film fest looks at the specific cocktails and spirits served in great films and offers guests an opportunity to learn more about these drinks and of course taste and enjoy them in the sophisticated atmosphere of the W.”

The Film Fest schedule is as follows:

  • Friday, March 21, 8 p.m., Casablanca
  • Saturday, March 22, 5 p.m., The Seven Year Itch
  • Saturday, March 22, 8 p.m., Guys and Dolls

Tickets are $25 per film, per person, and include drinks, cocktail food and snacks. A weekend package that includes all three films is $65 per person, which saves $10 off of each individual film price. For tickets, visit www.TalesoftheCocktail.com or call 504-377-7935 beginning March 1, 2008. The W New Orleans is featuring a special rate of $129 a night for Cocktail Film Fest goers. Visit www.whotels.com/wneworleans for more information.


Themed food and drink by the W will coordinate with each film. During Casablanca, guests will enjoy French 75’s, Champagne Cocktails, Champagne, Brandy, Grand Marnier and Moroccan themed food. As The Seven Year Itch is screened, potato chips (dip ‘em bubbly if one cares to), popcorn, retro candy, Martinis, Tom Collins’, Scotch, Whiskey Sours and Gin and Tonics will be served. On Saturday, during the Guys and Dolls screening, guests can taste TV dinners, wedding cake, Mojitos, Cuba Libres, Milk Punch and Mexican Beer.

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Review: Free Lisl: Fear & Loathing in Denver (2006)

USA/C-80m./Dir: Wayne Ewing/Cast: Lisl Auman (Herself), Hunter S. Thompson (Himself), Warren Zevon (Himself), Bob Auman (Himself), Jaun Thompson (Himself)

The third film in Wayne Ewing’s gonzo documentary trilogy is the least Hunter S. Thompson-centric. The real star of the show is Lisl Auman, a young woman who received a life sentence without the possibility of parole after being falsely accused of involvement in the shooting of a police officer. After reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in prison, Lisl wrote Dr. Gonzo to elicit his help. Always one to fight social injustice, Thompson responded immediately and enlisted friends, defense lawyers, grass-roots pressure, and the power of the pen to fight for Lisl’s freedom.

Like Ewing’s previous documentary, When I Die (2005), Free Lisl doesn’t qualify as a “Booze Movie.” No alcohol is consumed or even discussed in the film. However, Hunter S. Thompson is such an iconic figure of soused cinema that I felt it important to discuss this documentary--in part because it feels incomplete to only review two films in a trilogy, but also because Free Lisl displays Hunter’s often-overlooked serious side. Since Thompson employed booze, pills, wild exaggeration, shocking language, and dark humor to emphasize the underlying themes in his writing, people have a tendency to focus on his “Dr. Gonzo” persona rather than on his journalistic credentials. In point of fact, Dr. Thompson was the best and most important writer to come out of the new journalism movement of the 60’s and 70’s. His work may have been stylistically vibrant, but his subject matter was bleak--greed, racism, legal injustice, dirty politics, and shattered idealism--all of the darkest truths that lay beneath the surface of “the American dream.”

Free Lisl is fascinating not only for displaying the social activist side of Hunter. The story of Lisl Aumin’s wrongful conviction is both absorbing and well told. Ewing’s decision to slowly reveal the details of the case over the course of the film can be frustrating for the viewer at times, but it turns out to be a very effective technique, as it puts us at the center of a slowly unraveling mystery. The tale of Hunter S. Thompson's last great battle makes for Wayne Ewing’s best documentary (despite the complete lack of alky content).

Drinks Consumed--None whatsoever

Intoxicating Effects--Again none

Potent Quotables--LISL: When I went to prison, I, for some reason I thought, ya know I’m going to write this crazy old bastard a letter.

Video Availability--The DVD of Free Lisl and Wayne Ewing’s other HST documentaries can only be purchased directly from the director’s Website, Hunter Thompson Films (http://www.hunterthompsonfilms.com/)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Wayne Ewing previously documented the gonzo world of Hunter S. Thompson in Breakfast with Hunter (2003) and When I Die (2003). The director still has a lot of unused footage from his years on the road with Hunter, so he may have a few more movies up his sleeve.

The Gonzo Tapes:The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Box Set)

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Review: When I Die (2005)

>> Tuesday, January 15, 2008

USA/C-60m./Dir: Wayne Ewing/Cast: Hunter S. Thompson (Himself), Anita Thompson (Herself), Jon Equis (Himself), Steve Cohen (Himself), Bob Braudis (Himself)

Hunter S. Thompson left detailed instructions for his funeral--a 150-foot monument was to be constructed on his Woody Creek property, topped by the gonzo symbol, a double-thumbed fist holding a peyote button. From the structure, his ashes were to be shot from a canon to fall over the valley that he loved. After his death, Hunter’s family, his community, and Johnny Depp (who covered the multi-million dollar tab) came together to make that dream a reality.

Wayne Ewing’s film documents the construction of the monument and the preparations for the ceremony. Hunter himself only appears in brief footage at the beginning of the film and over the ending credits, but his spirit is very much on display throughout. While the film itself is shot simply, the subject matter and the genuine commitment of the people involved raise this "how they did it" doc above Discovery Channel fare.

In truth, When I Die barely qualifies as a “Booze Movie” in that apart from a brief clip of Hunter at the end--which Ewing had previously used in Breakfast with Hunter (2003)--there is a total lack of imbibing on display. However, we do get some information as to Hunter’s drinking habits from Christi Palazzi, a local bartender, as she loads a beer fridge for the event (See the “Potent Quotables” section below).

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey

Intoxicating Effects--None displayed

Potent Quotables-- CHRISTI PALAZZI: Who did the research here? I think it should be Molson. That’s what I served him. And what about that story with those “Biffs” anyway? I thought he liked Bushmills on the top of his Bailey’s… They’re putting floaters of Chivas on them. I know I served him over one-hundred, Wayne. I always had Bushmills on top. Doc would only have it one way.

Video Availability--The DVD of When I Die and Wayne Ewing’s other HST documentaries can only be purchased directly from the director’s Website, Hunter Thompson Films (http://www.hunterthompsonfilms.com/)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Wayne Ewing first documented the gonzo world of Hunter S. Thompson in Breakfast with Hunter (2003); and most recently he has released Free Lisl: Fear & Loathing in Denver (2006), which documents Hunter’s last great battle.



The Gonzo Tapes:The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Box Set)

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Review: Breakfast with Hunter (2003)

>> Sunday, January 13, 2008

USA/C-91m./Dir: Wayne Ewing/Cast: Hunter S. Thompson (Himself), Johnny Depp (Himself), Ralph Steadman (Himself), John Cusack (Himself), Benicio Del Toro (Himself), Warren Zevon (Himself)

During the last two decades of Hunter S. Thompson’s life, Wayne Ewing spent substantial time on the road with the cultural icon, documenting his movements and accumulating hundreds of hours of footage. From this wealth of material he created Breakfast with Hunter, a loosely structured documentary following Thompson’s attempts to fight a bogus drunk driving charge while simultaneously consulting the cast and producers of the movie version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). The film is presented in a cinema vérité style with only a handful of onscreen captions to provide background information. While this makes Breakfast with Hunter a difficult jumping-on point for those unfamiliar with the outlaw journalist and his work, for fans of Dr. Gonzo, Breakfast with Hunter is a virtual feast.

Thompson’s admirers will love hearing Hunter and his frequent artistic collaborator, Ralph Steadman, discuss getting shitfaced during their first assignment as a team, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.” They will also likely recognize figures from the pages of Hunter’s gonzo prose ranging from Roxanne Pulitzer to presidential candidate George McGovern. However, I don’t want to give the impression that the film is just made up of “remember when” nostalgia. Vintage footage of Hunter during his campaign for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado displays the writer full of youthful vigor, while scenes of Thompson fighting his fraudulent DUI and arguing over the script of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas demonstrate that the man was still full of fire in his later years.

Of course, the film also contains plenty for soused cinema fanatics to enjoy. Hunter rarely traveled without a bottle (or at least a full glass), so much of his filmed comments are braced by liquid stimulants. In Ewing’s film, we see Dr. Gonzo sampling fine Scotch, piloting his car while sipping, playing toss and catch with whiskey bottles, and walking the halls of Rolling Stone and the streets of Washington D.C. with a glass in hand.

For fans of the late, great Hunter S. Thompson, Breakfast with Hunter is essential viewing. The structure of the film may be a bit haphazard and the narrative may be prone to straying off course, but that is perfectly appropriate because Hunter’s writings were equally free flowing. Wayne Ewing’s film is a fitting tribute to the man who fought the greed-heads, rubes, power-hungry bastards, Richard Nixon, and other manner of predatory swine with good humor and a strong beverage at the ready.

Drinks Consumed--Tequila, bourbon, Scotch, beer, and wine

Intoxicating Effects--Bickering and drinking & driving

Potent Quotables--JOURNALIST ROBERT CHALMERS (inquiring about the article “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”): In what condition were you in at the end of that job?
RALPH STEADMAN: I was totally finished, wrecked, without rhyme or reason.
THOMPSON: You were gassed.

Video Availability--The DVD of Breakfast with Hunter and Wayne Ewing’s other HST documentaries can only be purchased directly from the director’s Website, Hunter Thompson Films (http://www.hunterthompsonfilms.com/)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Wayne Ewing has further explored the gonzo world of Hunter S. Thompson in his follow-up films When I Die (2005) and Free Lisle: Fear and Loathing in Denver (2006).

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Review: Them Thar Hills (1934)

>> Tuesday, January 1, 2008


USA/B&W-20m./Dir: Charles Rogers/Wr: Stan Laurel & H.M. Walker/Cast: Stan Laurel (Stan), Oliver Hardy (Ollie), Mae Busch (Mrs. Hall), Charlie Hall (Mr. Hall), Billy Gilbert (Doctor)

Stan and Ollie get accidentally shellacked in Them Thar Hills, one of their better short comedies. Their unintentional bender occurs because Ollie is stricken with gout, and his doctor recommends lots of fresh air and water. Stanley, ever helpful, suggests that they rent a trailer and go camping in the mountains. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), the boys choose a camping spot that was previously the site of a shootout between bootleggers and revenue agents; and the nearby well has been spiked with moonshine by bootleggers trying to dispose of incriminating evidence. Following doctor’s orders, Ollie drinks plenty of water, getting gloriously drunk. Stan happily joins in, finding the mountain water tickles his throat.

The boys are joined in their bacchanalia by Mrs. Hall (Mae Busch), a married woman who the boys invite to join them while her husband is away filling their stranded vehicle with gas. When Mr. Hall (Charlie Hall) returns, he is none too happy that the boys have gotten his wife drunk. The hot-headed husband provokes a fight with the soused campers, leading to the kind of escalating tit-for-tat battle for which Laurel and Hardy were famous.

Stan and Ollie’s gentle slapstick and subtle character comedy generally elicit more smiles than guffaws from today’s audiences, but Them Thar Hills contains many laugh-out-loud gags. Surprisingly, some of the biggest laughs spring from the quietest moments in the film, such as the boys’ subtle physical comedy as they prepare a fabulous meal of beans and hot coffee. Of course, the drunken shenanigans and physical violence that ensue at the end of the short are quite funny. However, the boys had performed similar retaliatory fights in their silent two-reelers Two Tars (1928) and Big Business (1929), in which the slapstick played faster and funnier.

While not Laurel and Hardy’s best, Them Thar Hills will put a smile on your face and a song on your lips--the song being “The Old Spinning Wheel in the Parlor,” which Ollie hums throughout the second half of the short (frequently interrupted by Stan’s “pum-pum”s). For better or worse, you’ll find yourself pum-pumming the tune for days.

Drinks Consumed--Moonshine

Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, staggering, harmonizing, hiccups, the giggles, brawling, and physical violence

Potent Quotables--MRS. HALL: Oh, could I have a drink of water? I’m so thirsty.
OLLIE: Why certainly.
MRS. HALL: Thanks… Say, this is delicious.
OLLIE: It’s the iron in it.
MRS. HALL (to husband): Ya want some?
MR. HALL: No.
MRS. HALL: Okay, baby. You don’t know what you’re missin’. (She winks at Ollie)

Video Availability--You can find the short on DVD in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Holland, but it has not been officially released in the in the U.S. However, Hollywood's Attic provides a collector's copy in Laurel and Hardy Classic Shorts (Volume 6).

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Tit For Tat (1935) was a direct sequel to this short (the only sequel the team made), but there was no alcohol in the follow-up. The boys also got schnokkered in Blotto (1930), The Devil’s Brother (1933), The Bohemian Girl (1936), Our Relations (1936), and Swiss Miss (1938).

Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies

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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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