Review: His Favorite Pastime (1914)

>> Sunday, May 31, 2009



USA/Silent/B&W-13m./Dir: George Nichols/Wr: Craig Hutchinson/Cast: Charles Chaplin (Drunk), Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (Another Drunk), Peggy Pearce (Wife), Edgar Kennedy (Rough drinking buddy), Hank Mann (Husband)

Charlie Chaplin once again mined his stage inebriate act for his seventh foray into film, His Favorite Pastime. The short begins in a bar, and Chaplin’s tramp character is already so stewed that when lighting his cigar, he tosses away the cigar and hangs onto the lit match. After dealing with another drunk (Fatty Arbuckle) who is intent on stealing Chaplin’s beer, the tramp steps out of the bar to catch some air. There he spies a pretty young woman, and he hits on her hard… until her husband shows up. While returning to the bar seems like a relatively safe move, Chaplin ends up spending more time roughhousing with the other barflies (and an uncooperative swinging door) than he does downing whiskey.

Eventually the tramp returns to the street and catches a glimpse of the married woman getting into an automobile. The lecherous lush follows the car and somehow manages to arrive at the woman’s house before she does herself; but the stewed stalker is forced to hit the streets when the woman, her maid, her husband, and various neighbors make it clear that he is an unwelcome guest.

His Favorite Pastime will never be confused with Chaplin’s best work. Like most of the early Chaplin Keystone shorts, the film has little plot beyond “Chaplin drinks and causes mayhem,” and the comedian’s tramp character lacks the subtlety and depth that would develop once the comic gained full control of his productions. While slapstick roughhousing would always be part of Chaplin’s comic arsenal; in the later films, the recipients of the tramp’s boot would deserve the abuse. In His Favorite Pastime, Chaplin strikes out at innocents and is simply a drunken lout.

Still, it’s easy to see why Chaplin’s character and this particular short were hits with audiences of the time. The comedian manages a number of funny improvisations with props, including his battle with a swinging door that anticipates his mêlée with a Murphy bed in the later short One A.M. (1916). There are also some nice acrobatics, including a tumble over a stair rail into a perfect sitting position on a couch below. While there is little motivation for Chaplin’s actions beyond the fact that he is lubricated in the extreme, the story holds together better than in most of his earlier Keystones, and the short is a major improvement over his previous film, Tango Tangles (1914).

Of course, it is impossible for a modern critic to fairly judge any of Chaplin’s Keystone shorts, because none of them exist today in their original release versions. The existing print of His Favorite Pastime starts and ends abruptly, a sure sign of missing footage. In fact, a review from the time of the film’s release mentions that the tramp ends the short atop a telegraph pole. That scene like the telegraph itself has been lost to time.

Drinks Consumed--Beer and whiskey

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, stumbling, flirting, passing out, brawling, and public disturbance

Potent Quotables--None to speak of

Video Availability--His Favorite Pastime, like most of the public domain Keystone shorts, is available on numerous budget DVDs from companies such as Delta and Madacy. However, an effort is underway by the British Film Institute to restore all of the Chaplin Keystone shorts, so the Keystones will eventually be available on video in improved condition. The film as it currently survives can be viewed on embedded video above.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Chaplin was drunk again in Mabel’s Married Life (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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Review: The Last Flight (1931)

>> Wednesday, May 27, 2009

USA/B&W-76m./Dir: William Dieterle/Wr: John Monk Saunders/Cast: Richard Barthelmess (Cary Lockwood), David Manners (Shep Lambert), Helen Chandler (Nikki), Johnny Mack Brown (Bill Talbot), Elliot Nugent (Francis), Walter Byron (Frink)

After the First World War, many American soldiers chose to stay in Europe rather than return to the lives that they had held prior to the conflict. In large part, this was due to the fact that the art, entertainment, and alcohol of Europe provided a tonic that helped veterans forget the horrors that they had encountered during the war. However, practical considerations also played a part in the expatriate movement--the exchange rate for the U.S. dollar was generous, which made a hedonistic lifestyle more affordable; and Prohibition had taken a stranglehold back in the States.

The world of those disillusioned veterans was most memorably captured in Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, and the book forever labeled the expatriates with the designation “the lost generation.” Unfortunately, when Hemingway’s book was adapted for the screen 31 years later, much of the spirit of that “lost generation” was lost in translation. Of course, Hemingway’s book was not the only exploration of the “lost generation,” and the 1931 film, The Last Flight, based upon a lesser novel, Single Lady by John Monk Saunders, managed to convey the emotions that the later film lacked.

The story of The Last Flight concerns four physically and emotionally wounded pilots who settle in Paris to drink themselves numb after the war. The foursome includes Cary Lockwood (silent star Richard Barthelmess) who has lost partial use of his hands, Shep Lambert (David Manners) who has a facial tic that can only be alleviated through booze, Bill Talbot (Johnny Mack Brown) an ex-athlete who always feels he has something to prove, and Francis (Elliot Nugent) whose experiences have left him lethargic to the point of narcolepsy. The boys meet up with a ditsy blonde (Helen Chandler) who seems to understand their emotional state and can almost match their staggering alcohol intake. Together they booze their way through Paris and Lisbon while trying to steer clear of an amoral, lecherous hanger-on (Walter Byron).

There are a lot of things wrong with The Last Flight. It is overwrought and overwritten (“There they go, out to face life; and their whole training was in preparation for death,” a military doctor muses theatrically), and much of the acting is just as melodramatic as the dialogue. As with many early talkies, some of the cast members project their lines as if they are trying to reach the back rows of a crowded theater, while other line readings are simply stilted. In addition, the carefree humor which the main characters use to mask their tortured souls is neither funny in word or delivery. One could justify the lack of humor due to the fact that the joviality is only a facade. However, it is more likely simply bad writing and bad acting.

Still, despite these shortcomings, The Last Flight is a surprisingly effective picture. While the words and performances are often overly flamboyant, the emotions presented are always true; and it is impossible not to become engrossed in the story of these lost souls. It doesn’t hurt that the film is absolutely gorgeous to look at. The Last Flight was German director William Dieterle’s first English language film, so it is not surprising that the film succeeds more through its images than its words. From the opening montage of the horrors of war to the last few somber scenes as the drunken band is whittled down one-by-one, the director proves to be a master of visual storytelling. The film would have likely been even more powerful as a silent.

For fans of alcohol-fueled films, this forgotten relic is an absolute feast. The characters live on a steady diet of martinis, with an occasional beer for sustenance. Nick Charles, Bluto Blutarsky, and Marion Ravenwood would have had a hard time matching these boys drink for drink. The Last Flight should be considered essential viewing for soused cinema enthusiasts.

One interesting side note--A young actor, by the name of Archie Leach, starred as Cary Lockwood in a 1931 theatrical production based upon the same book. After the brief stage run had ended, the actor adopted the first name of the character he had portrayed and from then on was known as Cary Grant.

Drinks Consumed--Martinis (gin), beer, champagne, a sidecar (cognac and cointreau), picon citron cocktails, vermouth, and unnamed cocktails

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering, the giggles, hangover, and physical violence

Potent Quotables--CARY: Well, the old guerre is fin.
SHEP: That’s right.
CARY: What are you gonna do now, Shep?
SHEP: Get tight.
CARY: Then what?
SHEP: Stay tight.

Video Availability--The Last Flight has never been officially released on video. However, a very nice collector’s copy can be obtained from Yammering Magpie Cinema. The photos accompanying this review came from that release.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Soldiers returning from World War II try to re-adjust to peacetime living with a little help from the local bar in William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1947).

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Cinematic Cocktails: The Buttermaker Boilermaker

>> Saturday, May 23, 2009

During the opening credits of The Bad News Bears (1976), Little League Coach Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) prepares one of the cheapest cocktails in motion picture history--the Buttermaker Boilermaker. Below are instructions for the preparation of the cut-rate cocktail as seen in the film:

  1. Open a can of Budweiser.
  2. Dump out about an eight of the can.
  3. Top off the can with Jim Beam.
  4. Bend your elbow and knock it back.

The Bad News Bears (DVD)

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Review: The Bad News Bears (1976)

>> Tuesday, May 19, 2009

USA/C-102m./Dir: Michael Ritchie/Wr: Bill Lancaster/Cast: Walter Matthau (Coach Morris Buttermaker), Tatum O’Neal (Amanda Whurlitzer), Chris Barnes (Tanner Boyle), Vic Morrow (Coach Roy Truner), Jackie Earle Haley (Kelly Leak), Joyce Van Patton (Cleveland), Gary Lee Cavagnaro (Engelberg), Erin Blunt (Ahmad Abdul Rahim), Quinn Smith (Timmy Lupus)

The original 1976 version of The Bad News Bears is one of the most beloved family films of all time, despite the fact that it features alcoholism, vulgar and racist language, under-age smoking and drinking, and borderline physical and emotional abuse. Let just say, Mary Poppins it ain’t. What it is instead is a well-drawn, realistic slice-of-life that will have you rooting for the underdog.

Walter Matthau stars as Morris Buttermaker, a booze-sodden, ex-minor league ball player who agrees to take beer money in exchange for coaching a rag-tag group of no-talent little leaguers. The kids learn little initially from their new coach, except how to pass out after consuming copious quantities of martinis and Miller Beer. Consequently, the team suffers an ignoble slaughter during their first game. Faced with possibly disbanding the team, Buttermaker decides to recruit a couple of ringers, beginning with the daughter of an ex-girlfriend (Tatum O’Neal), who possesses a wicked pitching arm. The new-and-improved Bears enjoy a string of successes, but fun takes a backset to the quest for victory.

Michael Ritchie’s film succeeds largely because it sidesteps most of the sentimentalism and clichés that usually accompany underdog sports stories; and unlike most family films made today, it trusts in the intelligence of its audience. The script by Bill Lancaster (Burt’s son) is smart and doesn’t feel that it has to spell everything out. For example, during the final game, when Buttermaker realizes he is taking the championship way too seriously, there is no apology or explanatory speech. The change of heart simply plays out on Matthau’s face.

The performances by the child cast are nearly as good as those of Matthau, Morrow, and the other professional actors; and the use of overlapping dialogue (which must have required a lot of rehearsal time with the kids) gives the scenes a naturalist feel. While Tatum O’Neal and Jackie Earl Haley are usually singled out amongst the child actors (and they are quite good), the real standout is Chris Barnes as Tanner Boyle, a tough-talking pipsqueak who refers to the coach as an “alky crud” and uses racial slurs for his fellow players. Barnes is totally believable as an insecure kid trying to cover his lack of confidence by acting out.

The Bad News Bears has a raw and realistic feel that roots the film strongly in the Seventies alongside the work of filmmakers like Robert Altman and Hal Ashby. At the same time, the story is timeless. Like a classic cocktail, this concoction will be enjoyed for generations to come.

Drinks Consumed--Cheap beer of all kinds, Jim Beam bourbon, and martinis (gin)

Intoxicating Effects--Sneaking sips, staggering, and passing out

Potent Quotables--OFFSCREEN BEAR TEAMMATE (concerning the passed out Buttermaker): What do we do?
ENGELBERG: Nothing. He ain’t any good to us sober either.
REGI TOWER: Opening day’s tomorrow. We don’t know what the batting order is. We don’t even have our positions set or anything.
TANNER: All we got is a cruddy alky for a manager!

Video Availability--The Bad News Bears is available as a standalone DVD or packaged with its sequels as Bad News Bears Triple Play 3-Pack (Paramount).

Similarly Sauced Cinema--The Bad News Bears inspired two sequels without the boozy Buttermaker; and Billy Bob Thornton put his spin on the role of Buttermaker in a pretty good 2005 remake.

BAD NEWS BEARS DELUXE JERSEY COSTUME SIZE ADULT WITH HAT & BELT

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Booze News: Summer Soused Cinema Schedule

>> Sunday, May 10, 2009

Set your phasers on stun and break out the Romulan ale, because with the release of J.J. Abrams Star Trek sequel/reboot, the summer movie season is officially underway. The new Star Trek film is indeed a hoot, and there are several other flicks waiting in the wings that promise to include significant booze-centric content. Here's a quick rundown by release date:

May 8th - Tilda Swinton stars as a down-on-her-luck alky who becomes embroiled in a kidnapping plot in Julia.



June 5th - The director of Old School presents The Hangover. I'm rooting for this one, because I'd like to see Zach Galifianakis have a breakout hit.



July 10th
- The hilarious, Thurber Award-winning book, I Love You, Beth Cooper gets the big screen treatment. And what's a teen comedy without under-aged drinking? By the way, the book is one of the funniest I've ever read. It's like a John Hughes movie, except good.



August 7th - Meryl Streep portrays Julia Child in Julie and Julia. Let's add a little more wine. Bon appétit!


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Review: The Booze Hangs High (1930)

>> Saturday, May 9, 2009


USA/B&W-6m./Dir: Hugh Harman & Rudolph Isling/Cast: Bosko (Carmen Maxwell), Papa Pig (Uncredited), Piglets (Uncredited)

Many of the funniest and most memorable cartoon characters in motion picture history sprang from the animation division of Warner Brothers studios--Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and Wile E. Coyote, just to name a few. However, a decade before the boys at “Termite Terrace” brought those classic characters to life, Warner Brothers introduced Bosco, the very first Looney Tunes star.

In his first couple of shorts it was obvious that Bosko was intended to be a racial stereotype of an African-American boy, with features based on the blackface makeup popularized in minstrel shows of the 1910’s and 20’s. However, as the series continued, the offensive origin of Bosko became less obvious, and the high-voiced character began to more closely resemble Mickey Mouse without the large ears. The transformation was more or less complete by the fifth Bosko cartoon (and the first with an alcohol-related theme), The Booze Hangs High.

As with many cartoons of the time, there is little plot to The Booze Hangs High. Bosko and various farm animals dance, laugh, and bounce in time to the musical score. That’s more or less it. However, the short gets interesting around the half way mark. Bosko feeds his pigs, and the piglets discover a bottle of hooch mixed in with their slop. One of the piglets uses its curly tail as a corkscrew to open the bottle, and the under-aged hogs drink themselves sappy. Papa Pig catches the pair of potted piglets, but instead of scolding them, he gets stewed himself. When the elder pig tosses the bottle, Bosko gets hit with the remains of the liquor. Instantly drunk, the farmer joins the swine in a chorus of “Sweet Adeline.”

The Booze Hangs High is nowhere near as funny as the classic Looney Tunes that would follow, and of course, Bosko’s racist origins are troubling. Today, The Booze Hangs High is best viewed as an interesting historical artifact from a time when America’s racial attitudes were less sophisticated and when animals bounced in time with music.

One interesting note--When Nickelodeon aired this cartoon on television, it censored a moment when Papa Pig drunkenly regurgitates a corncob.

Drinks Consumed--Triple-X hooch (likely whiskey)

Intoxicating Effects--Hiccups, the giggles, staggering, belching, vomiting, and harmonizing

Potent Quotables--There’s no dialogue in this one, apart from the chorus of “Sweet Adeline.”

Video Availability--Available as part of the Looney Tunes - Golden Collection, Vol. 6 (Warner Home Video). This public domain short is also provided in its entirety above.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Early animated star Felix the Cat got high on hooch in the silent short Felix the Cat Woos Whoopee (1928).

Looney Tunes - Golden Collection, Vol. 6Uncensored Bosko #1

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Review: Bottle Shock (2008)

>> Thursday, May 7, 2009

USA/C-110m./Dir: Randall Miller/Wr: Jody Savin, Randall Miller, & Ross Schwartz/Cast: Alan Rickman (Steven Spurrier), Chris Pine (Bo Barrett), Bill Pullman (Jim Barrett), Rachael Taylor (Sam), Freddy Rodriguez (Gustavo Brambila), Dennis Farina (Maurice), and Eliza Dushku (Joe the bartender)

If you walk down the wine aisles of any liquor store, you will spot labels that originate from all continents and countries--from Africa to America to Argentina to Australia (and those are just the “A”s). However, there was a time when the vineyards of France dominated wine culture and sales. That mindset changed dramatically after the “Judgment of Paris,” a blind taste test between the top wines of France and California’s Napa Valley that took place in 1976. The story of how that competition came together and the shocking result is recounted in the 2008 indie Bottle Shock.

Alan Rickman stars as Steven Spurrier, an English wine snob with a failing wine shop in Paris. Although his business is well-stocked with the best-reviewed bottles, Spurrier can’t seem to draw customers into his establishment. With the help of a neighboring store owner (Dennis Farina), he strikes upon the idea of using America’s bicentennial as an excuse for hosting a head-to-head contest between the best wines of France and the wines of the upstart California vineyards of Napa Valley. Of course, until he travels to the States, Spurrier never imagines that the American vintners have any possibility of winning.

The film alternates between Spurrier’s fish-out-of-water excursion to California and the story of one of the California vintners, Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) of the Chateau Montelena vineyard. Barrett is an ex-businessman trying to make a living at something he loves, while struggling with mounting bills and difficulty relating to his unfocused, hippie son Bo (Chris Pine). With so much screen time devoted to the family business at Chateau Montelena, there is little doubt where this underdog tale is headed.

Bottle Shock is the kind of personal, feel-good indie that simply screams “unexceptional.” It’s not a bad film. It is competently written and directed, and it provides a pleasant diversion for 110 minutes. Unfortunately, the story holds few surprises (except for the brief, intriguing mystery of brown wine) and the presentation is straightforward and unimaginative. Still, there are worse ways to waste a couple of hours, and the film does contain some excellent acting, especially from the always-reliable Alan Rickman and from the greatly underrated Bill Pullman*. All in all, Bottle Shock is a cocktail that is easy to swallow but instantly forgettable.

*If you don’t know how good Pullman can be, you need to rent Zero Effect (1998).

Drinks Consumed--Wine (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and others) and beer

Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech and soused sex

Potent Quotables--SPURRIER: We have shattered the myth of the invincible French vine. And not just in California. We’ve opened the eyes of the world.
MAURICE: And you know what I say? I say amen to that, brother.
SPURRIER: You mark my words. We’ll be drinking wines from… well, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, India, China. This is not the end, Maurice. This is just the beginning. (Pouring wine) Welcome to the future.
MAURICE: A’ salùte.

Video Availability--Bottle Shock DVD (Fox)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--For a better wine-centric flick, see Sideways (2004).

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Booze News: Booze Movies Gets a Facelift & a New URL!

>> Sunday, May 3, 2009

Greetings fellow inebriates,

Welcome to the NEW Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide! You probably noticed that the site has a new look. We also have a new URL. We can now be found at http://www.boozemovies.com/. Of course, the old blogspot address will automatically transfer to the new site, so there is no reason to change any links or saved favorites.

Giving the site a facelift has taken me a couple of weeks, because I've had to revisit every post I've made in the past. While I was fixing the layout of each post, I added extra images, links, videos, and labels. Consequently, Booze Movies is better looking and more functional than ever! You'll notice that now there is a label link bar under the header, which will allow you to quickly jump to the latest "reviews," "news," "toasts," etc. Also, the images in the second column are direct links to some of the most iconic films in soused cinema history.

With the construction behind me, it's time to move forward. Starting next weekend (or earlier), I'll be back to my regular routine of posting liquor-centric film reviews, news, and more. Thanks for your patience while I revamped the site.

Cheers,
garv

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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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