Booze News: Spend New Year's Eve with Nick and Nora

>> Friday, December 25, 2009

New Year's Eve is the most booze-centric of all holidays, and this year Turner Classic Movies is marking the occasion by airing a marathon of all six films from the greatest soused cinema series of all time--The Thin Man. I can think of no better excuse to drink at home this year. If you'd like to join Nick and Nora Charles as they solve murders and put away copious quantities of cocktails, the schedule is listed below.

12/31/09 (All Times Eastern)

8:00 PM Thin Man, The (1934)
9:45 PM After The Thin Man (1936)
11:45 PM Another Thin Man (1939)
1:45 AM Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941)
3:30 AM Thin Man Goes Home, The (1945)
5:15 AM Song of the Thin Man (1947)

Turner Classic Movies will also turn the spotlight on the patron saint of soused cinema on 1/3/09 with a rare prime time airing of a trio of films from the Great Man, W.C. Fields. The first two films in the mini-marathon are must-see comedy classics. The last one, not so much.

1/3/10 (All Times Eastern)

8:00 PM It's A Gift (1934)
9:15 PM Never Give A Sucker An Even Break (1941)
10:30 PM If I Had A Million (1932)

One final note--If you happen to see this post before December 29th, tune into TCM on 12/29 at 12 PM EST to see the funniest film ever made, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944). There's very little imbibing in the movie, but it's my favorite film of all time, so I'm going to promote it just the same. It's a wonderfully subversive comedy that managed to bend the censorship rules of the day, touching on everything from unexpected pregnancy to a veiled parody of the nativity story. Check it out if you get the chance. You won't be disappointed.

Cheers,
garv (the boy who put the "X" in Christmas)

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Review: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

>> Thursday, December 24, 2009

USA/B&W-125m./Dir: Elia Kazan/Wr: Tennessee Williams/Cast: Vivian Leigh (Blanche DuBois), Marlon Brando (Stanley Kowalski), Kim Hunter (Stella Kowalski), Karl Malden (Harold “Mitch” Mitchell)

Today it is impossible to watch the 1951 film version of A Streetcar Named Desire without thinking of "A Streetcar Named Marge," an episode from the fourth season of The Simpsons in which Marge Simpson starred as Blanche DuBois in a musical version of the play. While many would consider it heresy, in my opinion the 1951 film is only slightly less cartoonish than the animated parody. Keep in mind, however, this criticism comes from a critic who would categorize Tennessee Williams and his works amongst the ranks of the overrated.

Vivian Leigh, radiant despite the make-up artists’ best efforts to diminish her uncommon beauty, stars as Blanche DuBois, a delusional, fading, and impoverished Southern belle who travels to New Orleans to stay with her sister Stella (Kim Hunter). Unfortunately, Stella’s wife-beating husband Stanley (Marlon Brando) doesn’t like the intrusion on the household and sees Blanche as a threat to the delicate, codependent relationship that he has with his wife. From the start, Stanley taunts Blanche in a cruel fashion, and when his co-worker Mitch (Karl Malden) takes a liking to Blanche, Stanley goes out of his way to discourage the pairing. Finally, when Stanley goes digging into dark secrets from Blanche’s past, the illusions that the Southern belle has built up around her begin to shatter.

The story of A Streetcar Named Desire doesn’t add up to much. Imagine Norma Desmond guest starring in a very special episode of The Honeymooners, and you’ll have a fair idea of what you’re getting into. On second thought, that makes the movie sound like a lot more fun than it actually is.

The film is melodramatic hokum, but it is watchable because of the performances of its four leads. While Vivian Leigh and Marlon Brando came from two different schools of acting, they pair nicely. Leigh’s classical theatricality works well for the character of Blanche, who is always putting on an act of some sort. Brando, on the other hand, approached his character using the “new” method techniques of the day to try to achieve realism, but the end result was just as over-the-top as Leigh’s performance. However, being that the character of the ape-like Stanley is a broad caricature, Brando’s exaggerated portrayal is effective and strangely magnetic.

The most realistic and nuanced performances are given by Karl Malden and Kim Hunter. Hunter is especially good, and she contributes the best moment in the movie. Hearing Stanley cry out for forgiveness after beating her, Hunter exudes triumph and sexual cravings without speaking a word. Her slow, slinking walk down the apartment stairs into her husband’s arms is one of the most carnal moments ever captured on film.

Of course, I wouldn’t be discussing A Streetcar Named Desire if alcohol did not play a part in the film. While liquor is never at the center of the story, it is omnipresent throughout. Upon Blanche’s arrival in New Orleans, she passes roughneck bars, where brawls spill out into the street; and when she reaches her sister’s apartment, she encounters the upstairs neighbor drinking in the courtyard. While these sights seem to shock Blanche’s sensibilities, the very first thing she does upon reuniting with her sister is to down a couple of glasses of scotch. Booze also fuels Stanley’s domestic violence, and one of the many bones of contention that Stanley has with Blanche is the fact that she swills his liquor. While never explicitly stated, it is implied that Blanche is an alcoholic. In fact that insinuation comes across much clearer than the implied rape towards the end of the film.

While overrated, A Streetcar Named Desire is a cultural landmark. Consequently, it should be considered required viewing, if only for Kim Hunter’s sultry scene on the stairs.

Drinks Consumed--Scotch, unnamed whiskey, beer, and “Southern Cheer” liqueur

Intoxicating Effects--The giggles, brawling, bickering, and physical violence

Potent Quotables--STELLA: You sure you wouldn’t like another?
BLANCHE: Well… well, maybe I will take just one tiny nip more, just to put the stopper on so to speak. Now, now, don’t get worried. Your sister hasn’t turned into a drunkard. She’s just all shaken up and hard and dirty and tired.
STELLA: Waiter. Waiter!

Video Availability--A Streetcar Named Desire: Two-Disc Special Edition (Warner Home Video)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--The film adaptations of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and The Night of the Iguana (1964) also feature plenty of boozing.

Tennessee Williams Film Collection (A Streetcar Named Desire 1951 Two-Disc Special Edition / Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1958 Deluxe Edition / Sweet Bird of Youth / The Night of the Iguana / Baby Doll / The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone)

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The Soused Cinema Library: Hellraisers

>> Monday, December 14, 2009

Greetings, fellow inebriates,

If you're looking for a gift this holiday season for a soused cinema enthusiast (hint, hint), a new title from Macmillan's Thomas Dunne Books looks promising.

Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, and Oliver Reed by Robert Sellers is described as "The Boozy Biography of the Four Greatest Actors to Ever Walk--Or Stagger--Into a Pub."

I haven't gotten my hands on a copy yet (double hint, hint), so I can't provide a formal review here. However, knowing a bit about the four actors in question, the tome is sure to be filled with astonishing stories of Herculean alcohol intake.

Cheers,
garv (the boy who put the "X" in Christmas)

Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, and Oliver Reed (Hardback)

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Review: Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

>> Saturday, December 5, 2009

USA/C-96m./Dir: Hal Needham/Wr: James Lee Barrett, Charles Shyer, and Alan Mandel/Cast: Burt Reynolds (Bo “Bandit” Darville), Sally Field (Carrie a.k.a. “Frog”), Jerry Reed (Cledus “Snowman” Snow), Jackie Gleason (Sheriff Buford T. Justice), Mike Henry (Junior Justice), Pat McCormick (Big Enos Burdette), Paul Williams (Little Enos Burdette)

Stuntman Hal Needham began his directorial career by concocting a story that mixed elements of the drive-in moonshine movie craze (begun with 1958’s Thunder Road) and the CB radio fad (popularized by the C.W. McCall’s novelty song "Convoy"). The resulting film, Smokey and the Bandit, ended up making a whopping $126,737,428 (in 1977 dollars) at the box office and spawned a couple of lesser sequels and a number of awful imitators. It also signaled the beginning of Burt Reynolds’ period of greatest audience popularity and lowest critical approval.

For the twelve people who have never seen this film, Reynolds stars as a legendary trucker known as “the Bandit” who accepts a bet at a Georgia truck rodeo to pick up 400 cases of Coors beer in Texarkana, Texas and return within 28 hours. If he succeeds, he will receive $80,000 from millionaire Big Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick) and his son, Little Enos (Paul Williams). However, if he fails it could mean jail time. In addition to speeding and reckless driving, the Bandit would technically be bootlegging, because transporting Coors beer east of Texas was illegal at the time.

The Bandit’s plan is to distract any troupers along the way in a black Pontiac Trans-Am, while his partner Cledus “Snowman” Snow (Jerry Reed) drives the beer in the 18-wheeler. However, the task becomes more difficult when the Bandit picks up a hitchhiker (Sally Field) that is on the run after skipping out on her wedding to the son of Texas lawman Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason). Of course, car chases, crack-ups, and mild hilarity ensue.

Smokey and the Bandit is a dumb movie. Still, it is slick, amiable, and more or less harmless. Technically, it is above-average for a film of its type. The camerawork and compositions are quite good; and as one would expect from a film directed by a former stuntman, the stunt work is top-notch. Unfortunately, Needham was not as good a director of actors as he was of automobiles. Consequently, many of the secondary performances by the less-experienced members of the cast are embarrassingly bad. Luckily for Needham, he had pros in all of the primary speaking parts who could get by with or without his direction.

While Reynolds, Field, and Reed squeeze the most out of a generally weak script, it is Jackie Gleason’s performance as Sheriff Buford T. Justice that really makes the film worth watching. For this late career role, Gleason combined aspects of his most famous television characters--a bit of the swagger of Reginald Van Gleason III, a lot of the bluster of Ralph Kramden, and a touch of the obsequiousness of Fenwick Babbitt (“Thank you, nice lady”). To that cocktail, he added a lot of Southern stereotypes and improvised dialogue, spiced with colorful profanity and vitriol. In other hands, Buford T. Justice would be an ugly, unlikable character, but Gleason’s characterization is so funny that you can’t help but root for the racist, self-centered, blowhard. It is a 4-star performance in an otherwise 2-star film.

While beer is an important plot element, there is very little imbibing in Smokey and the Bandit. Like the moonshine movies that it imitated, this popular popcorn pic is more about transporting alcohol than it is about actually drinking it. However, it is a movie that plays much better when the audience is fully loaded.

Drinks Consumed--Beer

Intoxicating Effects--Brawling, public disturbance, and physical violence

Potent Quotables--BANDIT: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Why d’ya want that beer so bad?
LITTLE ENOS: Because he’s thirsty, dummy.
BIG ENOS: You see, I got a boy runnin’ tomorrow in the Southern Classic, and uh, when he wins, I want to celebrate in style.
BANDIT: How much style?
BIG ENOS: Well, I got a few friends and me, uh, 400 cases.

Video Availability--Smokey and the Bandit is available as a standalone DVD or boxed with its sequels as the Smokey and the Bandit: Pursuit Pack (Universal).

Similarly Sauced Cinema--All of the film’s principal actors returned for the so-so Smokey and the Bandit II (1980). Reynolds, Field, and director Needham wisely sat out the second sequel, imaginatively titled Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983). Gleason and Reed weren’t as lucky.

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Booze News: HARVEY Remake Stalled

Fans of the soused cinema classic Harvey (1950) can breathe a sigh of relief. Variety is reporting that Steven Spielberg's plans to direct a remake of the pooka pic, mentioned here in August, have gone up in smoke.

Apparently, the director had wanted Tom Hanks to play the part of Ellwood P. Dowd, but Hanks didn't want to touch Jimmy Stewart's iconic part. Spielberg then approached Robert Downey, Jr., but they had creative differences over the script. Finally, Spielberg decided to drop the project altogether.

The project isn't officially dead, but it will be less likely for the studio to get the movie off the ground without Spielberg attached. You can read the full details in Variety at the link below:

Spielberg abandons Harvey

Cheers,
garv

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Review: Mabel’s Married Life (1914)

>> Friday, November 27, 2009


USA/Silent/B&W-13m./Dir: Charles Chaplin/Wr: Charles Chaplin and Mabel Normand/Cast: Mabel Normand (Mabel), Charles Chaplin (Mabel’s husband), Mack Swain (Ladykiller), Alice Howell (The ladykiller’s wife)

Although Mabel Normand’s forename appears as part of the title of the silent comedy short Mabel’s Married Life, her co-star, Charlie Chaplin, was quickly eclipsing the comedienne as the studio’s biggest box office draw. Within five months in the motion picture business, Chaplin had graduated from a featured player at Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios to the writer and director of his own films, bolstered by the audience popularity of his tramp character and the drunken slapstick that the comic had first honed on the stage.

In Mabel’s Married Life, Chaplin is drunk once again. After a minor argument with his spouse (Mabel Normand) over the shabbiness of his shoes, Charlie makes a beeline for the nearest bar and downs a few shots of whiskey. When he returns to the little woman, Mabel is being hit on by a bulky masher in tennis togs (Mack Swain). Chaplin tries to defend his wife, but his punches and kicks barely get the big boy’s attention. Eventually, the masher’s wife breaks up the fracas, and Charlie returns to the bar. Meanwhile, Mabel buys a boxing dummy to try to encourage her husband to become a manly man who can protect her from unwanted advances. Rather coincidentally, the boxing dummy is dressed very much like Mabel’s masher, so when the bleary-eyed Chaplin returns home, he mistakes the dummy for the weighty womanizer. The jealous husband attacks the dummy, which bounces back on its rocking base to knock down the inebriate again and again. Even Mabel gets tangled in the tussle until she manages to convince her soused spouse that he’s fighting with an inanimate object.

Like most of Chaplin’s early Keystone comedies, there is very little plot to Mabel’s Married Life beyond a combination of drunkenness and pratfalls. Still, while Charlie Chaplin would do much better work in the future, the short is worth watching just to enjoy Chaplin and Mabel Normand’s athletic improvisations with the rocking dummy in the latter half of the film. Chaplin fans will be reminded of the comic’s epic mêlées with inanimate objects in his greatest boozy short subject, One A.M. (1916), and Mabel Normand also acquits herself well in the slapstick struggle.

A Note--Mabel Normand played an important part in Chaplin’s development as a comedian. She starred in the first short in which Chaplin donned his famous tramp costume, Mabel’s Strange Predicament. A few months later, Chaplin was first allowed to direct himself after an argument with Normand over how she stifled his creativity when she directed him on Mabel at the Wheel. The two quickly patched up their differences, and they were often paired during the remainder of Chaplin’s year at Keystone, including being cast as swindling sweethearts in the first full-length feature comedy, Tillie's Punctured Romance.

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, stumbling, brawling, physical violence, and public disturbance

Potent Quotables--None to speak of

Video Availability--Mabel’s Married Life is included as an extra on Image Entertainment's DVD release of Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914). The film as it currently survives can also be viewed in the embedded video above.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Chaplin next got plowed in The Face on the Barroom Floor (1914).

Charlie Chaplin at Keystone and Essanay: Dawn of the Tramp
The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion
Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema

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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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