>> Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Stop the presses! Booze Movies has ranked another mention in newsprint. The Sacramento Bee ran several articles on hangovers in its Sunday, December 28th "Living Here" section; and one of the pieces included a mention of this site. The article also included a quote from my review of The Nutty Professor (1963), the film which contains the single greatest hangover scene of all time.
You can find the article HERE.
P.S. - I've been taking it easy over the holiday, but more reviews are on their way soon. Next up is the movie I've received the most email requests for... Sideways (2004). Happy New Year's Eve Eve!
>> Wednesday, December 24, 2008
>> Thursday, December 11, 2008
Back in August, I reviewed a documentary short subject by a first-time director entitled Moonshine. I found the film to be excellent. It was well shot and edited, and most importantly, it had a fascinating subject in Jim Tom Hendrick, the distiller of illegal, 140 proof whiskey. Still, I had one small criticism--at 22 minutes, I found the film to be too short.
Now comes word that filmmaker Kelly L. Riley has answered my criticism with a 62 minute follow-up, Still Making Moonshine. Personally, I can't wait to sample the new brew described as:
"A drunken tale of lost language, severed limbs, buried shine and black outs. Have a taste of bootleg whiskey and Jesus, "140 proof."If you want to enjoy the new product or Riley's original cocktail, CLICK HERE to order his films. For those of you that require a taste before you indulge, here's a small sample of Still Making Moonshine:
I'll post a review of Kelly Riley's new flick once I get it in my hands.
In the meantime, cheers,
>> Sunday, December 7, 2008
USA/B&W&C-103m. (Originally released at 135m.)/Dir: Luther Reed/Wr: Luther Reed (based on the play by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson)/Cast: Bebe Daniels (Rita Ferguson), John Boles (Captain Jim Stewart), Bert Wheeler (Chick Bean), Robert Woolsey (Ed Lovett), Dorothy Lee (Dolly Bean), Don Alvarado (Roberto Ferguson), Georges Renavent (General Ravenoff)
The early talkie Rio Rita (1929) has often been sited as historically important for a number of reasons--1) This filming of the popular Flo Ziegfeld stage production was a forerunner of numerous stage-to-screen musicals--2) The last half hour of the film displayed an early use of two-strip Technicolor--and 3) The movie was the first to team popular comedians Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, who would be second only to Laurel and Hardy in popularity during the 1930’s. However, prior critics have overlooked one other historically significant aspect of Rio Rita--4) The picture featured an early (if not the first) filmed demonstration of a stock device of screen comedy--a drink of near-deadly potency.
The plot involves the attempts of a Captain of the Texas Rangers (John Boles) to capture a bandit known as the Kinkajou and to woo a pretty Mexican lass (Bebe Daniels). Things get a bit dicey when the Captain begins to suspect the girl’s brother (Don Alvarado) might be the bandit. At the same time a bootlegger (Bert Wheeler) visits Mexico with his lawyer (Robert Woolsey) in order to get a quickie divorce and remarried. Of course, none of this matters very much. It’s all just an excuse for a lot of singing and dancing.
For a prohibition-era picture, an awful lot of alcohol is consumed in Rio Rita. Setting the story in Mexico allowed the characters to imbibe without fear of reprisals from the authorities. Still, the film is not really a Booze Movie through and through. Rio Rita gains its soused cinema status on the virtues of one particular scene, in which Wheeler and Woolsey get gloriously stinko on cognac, brandy, and old Aztec wine. The final beverage on the menu is a precursor of all of the supercharged cocktails that would follow, such as the Alaskan Polar Bear Heater (The Nutty Professor), Nasty Canasta’s Usual (Drip Along Daffy), and the Pan-Galatic Gargle Blaster (The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy). The old Aztec wine is so powerful that when Bert Wheeler pours it into a glass, the glass smokes and dissolves into nothing. Consequently, Bert is forced to slug the stuff directly from the bottle. The effect of the fluid is immediate. Wheeler barks like a dog and proceeds to converse in high-pitched baby talk. “Now that’s what I call whisky!” Woolsey observes, but he is reluctant to join his pal in ingesting the extreme elixir. However, when Bert begins seeing visions of a beautiful, disrobing blonde, Woolsey eagerly takes a swig. “Why, I know the girl!” Woolsey expounds soon after.
Rio Rita, but their superbly timed comic and musical performances steal the picture from romantic leads Bebe Daniels and John Boles. The only other cast member who really makes an impression is diminutive cutie, Dorothy Lee, who plays Bert Wheeler’s love interest. Short, spunky, and pretty, with a baby doll voice, Dottie was like Betty Boop brought to life. It is no wonder Bert and Bob brought her back to co-star in twelve more of their features.
On the whole, Rio Rita shows its age. The story is melodramatic, the acting is amateurish, the filming is primitive, and the editing and continuity is choppy. Of course, the latter may be due to the fact that the film was released at 135 minutes, but the existing print only runs 103 minutes. Luckily, the old Aztec wine sequence survives intact.
Drinks Consumed--Beer, cognac, brandy, old Aztec wine (possibly whiskey), regular wine, and champagne
Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, hiccups, harmonizing, brawling, and hallucinating
Potent Quotables--WAITER: Ah, but when you want some more brandy, just let me know.
CHICK: No. This is a little weak for us.
WAITER: Oh, I’ll take it away.
ED: Leave it. Leave it. We’ll use it as a chaser.
WAITER: If you want something really strong, try this.
ED: Whatta ya got?
WAITER: This is a bottle of old Aztec wine.
ED: Yeah? What’s it like?
WAITER: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t dare drink it myself, so I cannot tell.
Video Availability--Rio Rita is available as a manufacture-on-demand DVD-R through The Warner Archive.
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Bert and Bob served spiked lemon soda in Caught Plastered (1931).
Wheeler & Woolsey: The Vaudeville Comic Duo and Their Films, 1929-1937 (McFarland Classics)
>> Monday, December 1, 2008
USA/C-126m./Dir: Howard Hawks/Wr: Leigh Brackett/Cast: John Wayne (Cole Thornton), Robert Mitchum (Sheriff J.P. Harrah), James Caan (Alan Bourdillion Traherne a.k.a. Mississippi), Charlene Holt (Maudie), Arthur Hunnicutt (Bull Harris), Ed Asner (Bart Jason)
El Dorado is often referred to as a remake of Rio Bravo (1959), but that isn’t entirely accurate. Both films feature a similar look, tone, cast of characters (including a lawman turned drunk), lead actor (John Wayne), and even several of the same sets; but the story is unique. That said, writer Leigh Brackett borrowed several plot and thematic elements from Rio Bravo (a film she previously co-wrote) for the second half of the picture. However, Western films as a whole share so many iconic elements that it is unlikely that anyone would of noticed the borrowed material if director Howard Hawks and star John Wayne had not been involved with both movies.
Wayne plays Cole Thornton, a hired gun who comes to El Dorado to check out a job offer from a land baron, Bart Jason (Ed Asner of all people). Jason wants Thornton to muscle a family off valuable land and take care of the town Sheriff (Robert Mitchum) should he get in the way; but Thornton turns the offer down flat. The job goes against the gunfighter’s principles and the sheriff just happens to be an old friend. Of course, no virtuous stand ever goes unpunished, and Thornton ends up with a bullet in his back. At this point, the narrative jumps forward by six months, and things start to get Rio Bravo-y. Thornton decides to go back to El Dorado when he hears that the sheriff has become a boozer and that a new group of hired guns are headed towards the town. Horribly outnumbered, the gunfighter and drunken lawman try to keep the peace with only the help of an old Indian fighter (Arthur Hunnicutt) and an inexperienced hanger-on (James Caan) who is rubbish with a gun.
Like Rio Bravo, El Dorado is more of a story about sobering up than one about drinking, so it is fitting that the most memorable scene in the movie involves James Caan’s recitation of the ingredients of “Johnny Diamond’s Sober-Up Fast Sauce” and the subsequent concoction and consumption of the medicinal muck. Mitchum’s reactions after swallowing the foul mixture are the highlights of the film. Otherwise, the “sober up the sheriff” subplot receives short shrift. Alcoholism was used much more effectively as a plot point in Rio Bravo, where Dean Martin’s alky agony was more thoroughly explored.
On the whole, El Dorado comes up short when compared with the previous Hawks/Wayne collaboration. Of course, it is an unfair comparison, because Rio Bravo is one of the most iconic and entertaining Westerns ever produced. However, El Dorado does surpass the previous film in one aspect--the casting of James Caan as the young foil for John Wayne. Caan was a much better actor than Ricky Nelson, and he steals the picture with his humorous characterization.
While not quite on the same level as Rio Bravo, El Dorado is great fun and well made. There are much worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Drinks Consumed--Whiskey and beer
Intoxicating Effects--Brawling, hangover, and the shakes
Potent Quotables--HARRAH: What the hell are you doin’ here?
THORNTON: I’m looking at a tin star with a drunk pinned on it.
Video Availability--El Dorado is available on DVD from Paramount as a standalone title or as part of The John Wayne Century Collection.
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Rio Bravo (1959), of course.
Warning!!! Don’t try this at home! The following recipe is revolting; likely inedible; could cause diarrhea, vomiting, or death; and would very likely curb your cocktail consumption. Stay away from it at all costs.
El Dorado (1966) features one of the most disgusting concoctions ever depicted on film--Johnny Diamond’s Sober-Up Fast Sauce. It isn’t really a cocktail. In fact, it is explained that “It does something to a man’s stomach, so it naturally won’t hold any liquor.” However, because this mixture is one of the most memorable cinematic concoctions, it feels only right to include it here.
In the picture, Sheriff J.P. Harrah (Robert Mitchum) is three sheets to the wind, and the bad guys are on their way. Due to the state of affairs, the sheriff’s friend, Cole Thornton (John Wayne), asks his companions, Bull (Arthur Hunnicutt) and Mississippi (James Caan), “Either one of you know a fast way to sober a man up?” Mississippi offers the following solution:
MISSISSIPPI: Johnny Diamond had a recipe. Let’s see. Cayenne pepper, mustard--the hot kind, ipecac, asafetida, and oil of cloves… or was it? No, it was croton oil.
BULL: Croton oil?! I’ll be a suck-egg mule. You know what that mixture’ll do to a fella?
MISSISSIPPI: Guaranteed kill or cure.
As they are stirring the mixture together, Mississippi reveals the final ingredient--gunpowder. “I hope you don’t blow him up,” Thornton (Wayne) observes.
After administering the black, oily medicine to the unwilling patient, the sheriff (Mitchum) reacts as one would expect. “You dirty, lousy, rotten, sheep-herdin’--What did you do to me?” he bellows. “What’d you give me? I’m all crawlin’ inside.” The sheriff takes a swig of whiskey, but it doesn’t sit right. Mercifully, the messiness that follows takes place off-camera.
El Dorado (Paramount Centennial Collection)