Review: The Verdict (1982)

>> Saturday, August 15, 2009

USA/C-129m./Dir: Sidney Lumet/Wr: David Mamet/Cast: Paul Newman (Frank Galvin), Charlotte Rampling (Laura Fischer), Jack Warden (Mickey Morrissey), James Mason (Ed Concannon), Milo O’Shea (Judge Hoyle), Lindsay Crouse (Kaitlin Costello)

While everyone calls broken-down, alcoholic lawyer Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) an ambulance chaser, he doesn’t actually bother chasing any ambulances. Instead he hands out his business card at funerals, which leaves a lot more time to slug down Bushmill’s at the local bar. However, when Frank’s old friend Mickey (Jack Warden) throws a medical malpractice case his way, it reawakens Frank’s passion for his profession. Frank sees the case as perhaps his last opportunity to do the right thing--the just thing. Consequently, he insists on bringing the suit to trial, despite the fact that Mickey, the Archdiocese of Boston (who run the hospital that Frank is suing), and even Frank’s own clients want him to settle the complaint out of court. Unfortunately, Frank’s rekindled belief in justice may backfire on him, because the opposition has engaged superstar attorney, Ed Concannon (James Mason), whom other lawyers refer to as the “Prince of F***ing Darkness.”

Paul Newman was handed one of his greatest roles in the character of drunk and desperate lawyer Frank Galvin; and he rose to the occasion, delivering one of his best performances. He is believable throughout, despite the fact that The Verdict requires him to hit a number of varied notes--cynical, sloppily drunk, anxious, fearful, needy, thoughtful, resilient, and even confident upon occasion. Newman is at his very best in the film’s many stretches of silence, acting only with his eyes, his hands, and the slump of his shoulders. The performance was deservedly honored with a nomination for the Best Actor Oscar (which Newman eventually lost to Ben Kingsley for Gandhi).

The film itself is almost as good as its lead performance. David Mamet’s screenplay is often quiet and unfolds slowly, yet it is never boring. While some may scoff at a few of the legal details or the extent of judicial prejudice that is displayed in the film, Mamet’s central idea that the law is often unconcerned with what is right and just rings completely true. Besides, The Verdict isn’t really about the law at all. At its core, it is a story about one man’s redemption. The only real criticism that I can level towards the script is that Mamet is too much in love with puzzles and plot twists. Consequently, there is a revelation towards the end of the film that is supposed to be a shocker, but it comes off as one of the least successful aspects of the story.

One area in which the writing excels is in its depiction of Frank’s alcoholism. While most writers would resort to the cliché of having their character quit the sauce cold turkey as part of their attempt at redemption, Frank Galvin never once considers doing without his whiskey. Instead, Frank uses the booze to steady his nerves, to celebrate his small victories, and to give him the courage to face overwhelming odds. This choice adds to the believability of both the story and the central character. Whereas it would have been ridiculous for Frank to attempt to revive his career while simultaneously battling alcohol withdrawal.

Sidney Lumet’s straightforward direction and the confident supporting performances by pros like Warden, Rampling, O’Shea, and Mason add greatly to the effectiveness of the drama; but this is really Newman’s show. His performance alone makes this liquored legal drama a “Booze Movies” must-see.

One last observation--Newman’s character drinks Bushmill’s throughout the picture; but when we see the wealthy, bigwig lawyer played by James Mason pour a drink from his bar, he serves Jack Daniel’s. I’ll stick with the down-and-out crowd. They drink better whiskey.

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey (mostly Bushmill’s), beer, and a few unnamed cocktails

Intoxicating Effects--The shakes, staggering, stumbling, soused sex, and belching

Potent Quotables--FRANK (to a pretty girl in a bar): Would ya like a drink?
LAURA: I’d like an apartment.
FRANK: Would ya settle for a drink?
LAURA: No. Thank you.
FRANK: (Shrugs) I had a good day today. (He walks away and heads for his whiskey) Let me at ‘em! Oh boy, gentlemen, to ya. To ya. To ya. I cut myself so badly shaving this morning my eyes almost cleared up. Bad? Bad.

Video Availability--The Verdict Two-Disc Collector's Edition (20th Century Fox)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--James Stewart defends a murder suspect (Ben Gazzara) with the help of a boozy colleague (Arthur O’Connell) in Anatomy of a Murder (1959).

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Cinematic Cocktails: The Diddlebock

>> Thursday, August 6, 2009


“You arouse the artist in me,” Jake the bartender (Edgar Kennedy) proclaims upon hearing that customer, Harold Diddlebock (Harold Lloyd) has “never partaken” of alcoholic refreshment in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947). What follows is indeed artistry, as Jake invents a new cocktail on the spot, asking personal questions of the intended recipient to insure that the customer will find the flavor perfectly pleasing. Here’s a taste of that conversation:

JAKE: Now, tell me Mr. Diddlebeck, uh bock; where were you born?
DIDDLEBOCK: Uh, what? Nebraska.
JAKE: Corn! And in what year, please?
DIDDLEBOCK: Nineteen Hundred and One.
JAKE: Fine, fine! They distilled some very palatable stuff in Nineteen Hundred and One. Now let me see, let me see. Ha. (He reaches under the counter and pulls out a dusty jug) I wouldn’t do this for everybody.

After adding the “corn,” Jake throws in several other ingredients, muttering about “Nineteen Hundred and One” and all that it means. He then stops to ask…

JAKE: Now just a couple of technical questions. Would you like it frappé or flambé?
DIDDLEBOCK: How?
JAKE: Do you like ice skating or Turkish baths?
DIDDLEBOCK: I used to skate a little.
JAKE: Frappé! (Jake packs some crushed ice around a small glass) Frappé. Now, would you like it sweet or sharp?
DIDDLEBOCK: I don’t really…
JAKE: How do you take your coffee?
DIDDLEBOCK: I, uh, take milk.
JAKE: You’ve answered my question. (He adds another ingredient) You prefer showers or sits baths?
DIDDLEBOCK: Well, we have a shower over the tub, but there’s always the danger of stepping on the soap.
JAKE: Vodka.
DIDDLEBOCK: What?
JAKE: With vodka you don’t care what you step on.

After some protests from the customer, Jake promises just one final question…

JAKE: Do you prefer the taste of rosemary or wormwood?
DIDDLEBOCK: Who or who?
JAKE: Do you like Benedictine or absinthe?
DIDDLEBOCK: What?
JAKE: What kind of toothpaste do ya use?
DIDDLEBOCK: Sozodont.
JAKE: I gotcha.
After adding the final ingredient, Jake presents the drink in the small glass inside a tube of crushed ice. “Gentlemen, ‘The Diddlebock’,” he pronounces proudly.

The drink proves to be deceptively mild. As Jake opines, “It has always seemed to me that the cocktail should approach us on tiptoe, like a young girl whose first appeal is innocence.”

That sounds good to me. Unfortunately I’ll have to settle for the sound of it, because reproducing “The Diddlebock” at home is simply impossible. Like many artists, Jake is secretive regarding his methods, and he does not share all of the cocktail’s ingredients with the audience.

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Booze News: Spielberg Plans to Remake HARVEY

>> Monday, August 3, 2009

Godfrey Daniel! First Arthur; now this!

Who suddenly decided it was a good idea to start remaking the soused cinema classics? Variety's Mike Fleming reports that Steven Spielberg has decided that his next film will be a remake of Mary Chase's Pulitzer Prize-winning play and Jimmy Stewart's memorable film, Harvey (1950). Casting (Do I smell Tom Hanks?) and pre-production are supposed to begin immediately, so this is probably going to happen.

This would not be the first remake of the classic 1950 film. There have been at least seven television versions of the play with the following Elwood P. Dowds--Art Carney (1958), Günther Lüders (1959), Ernst Stankovski (1967), Heinz Rühmann (1970), James Stewart (again, 1972), Harald Juhnke (1985), and Harry Anderson (1998). Do we really need another?

The only films that should be remade are ones that were good ideas that were poorly executed the first time around (The Fly, for instance). Otherwise, I've got some advice for Hollywood--Take pen, press against paper, and write something original. Does anyone remember how to do that?

Here's the link to the full story in Variety:
SPIELBERG TAKES HARVEY AS NEXT PIC

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Review: The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (a.k.a. Mad Wednesday, 1947)

>> Sunday, August 2, 2009


USA/B&W-89m./Dir: Preston Sturges/Wr: Preston Sturges/Cast: Harold Lloyd (Harold Diddlebock), Jimmy Conlin (Wormy), Raymond Walburn (E.J. Waggleberry), Frances Ramsden (The youngest Miss Otis), Edgar Kennedy (Jake the bartender), and Jackie the Lion (Himself)

The final films of the movies’ finest funnymen are almost always disappointments if not outright disasters. Charlie Chaplin had the flawed A Countess From Hong Kong (1967), W.C. Fields had the forgettable Sensations of 1945 (1944), Laurel and Hardy had the infamous Atoll K (1951), Abbott and Costello had the tired Dance with Me, Henry (1956), and Groucho Marx had the misguided Skidoo (1968). Bespectacled silent comedy star Harold Lloyd fared much better with his final foray into film. It’s true that his last outing, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, was a box office bust. However, while the film was nowhere near the best that Lloyd produced, it contains moments of brilliance, including a barroom scene that is simply the best filmed sequence of cocktail creation--surpassing even the “Alaskan Polar Bear Heater" scene in The Nutty Professor (1963).

Lloyd portrays Harold Diddlebock, a college football hero that takes a bookkeeping job in an advertising firm, certain that he will work his way to the top. However, after twenty-two years with the company, Diddlebock has failed to advance; and his boss (Raymond Walburn) fires him so that his stagnation will not spread to his fellow employees. With $2,946.12 savings in hand, Harold hits the streets, where he runs into a horserace-loving boozehound named Wormy (Jimmy Conlin), who convinces the discouraged Diddlebock that what he really needs is a drink. Under the invigorating spell of his very first cocktail, Diddlebock goes on a bender, building up his bankroll by betting on long shots and using it to purchase a circus on a whim. He awakens two days later with foggy memories of Tuesday’s drunken spree, but he has no recollection of what he did all day Wednesday (until a revelation at the picture’s end).

Writer/director Preston Sturges, the greatest comic mind of the 1940’s, idolized Harold Lloyd, and given complete freedom for the first time in his career--he had just left Paramount Studios for Howard Hughes’ independent California Pictures--he decided that he would create a movie to lure the silent comedian out of retirement. The picture would be a continuation of Lloyd’s silent classic The Freshman (1925), showing what happened to Lloyd’s water boy character after he scored the winning touchdown. Unfortunately, what started as a labor of love for the two comic greats became an arduous shoot due to clause in Lloyd’s contract that allowed the comic to demand that a scene be re-shot if he didn’t like the way Sturges had filmed it. Since Sturges was the movies’ greatest master of rapid-fire comic dialogue and Lloyd was a physical comedian, they argued over nearly every scene and continued to fight in the editing room over the many multiple takes.

Despite the contentious set, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock turned out to be a pretty good film and a small celebration of Lloyd’s comic gifts. Like many of Lloyd’s silent characters, Diddlebock is an underdog that eventually triumphs through perseverance (and in this case with the help of fermented fluids), and there is even a ledge-walking sequence toward the end of the picture that is a salute to Lloyd’s silent thrill comedies like High and Dizzy (1920) and Safety Last (1923).

The film's biggest failing is that it is a little slow-moving (unusual for a Sturges film) up until the 28-minute mark when Diddlebock enters a bar to taste his first adult beverage. However, the scene that follows is one for the ages. The bartender (Edgar Kennedy) brightens when he discovers that Diddlebock is a booze virgin, and insists that he create something special in the teetotaler’s honor. It turns out that the bartender is a genius with a cocktail shaker; and he proceeds to query Diddlebock about his life and preferences, using Harold’s answers to direct his hand toward alcoholic ingredients that he then cobbles together to form the honorary cocktail. The resulting drink, "The Diddlebock," is a delicious and potent elixir that causes Harold to bray like a mule and gives him the strength to take charge of his life for the first time in twenty-two years. The barroom scene is a comedy classic, punctuated by some of Preston Sturges’ most sparkling dialogue. From that point forward, the film races along, fueled by the boost from the Diddlebock cocktail.

While some reviewers have erroneously referred to “imbibing” as the “Sin” in the title, Harold’s true sin is stagnation, and booze provides the kick in the pants he needs to set his life in motion and win the girl of his dreams. Sturges film is not only a salute to the silent film work of Harold Lloyd. It is also a celebration of the power of strong drink to prevail over depression, to loosen inhibitions, and to provide stimulating inspiration. I’ll drink to that.

A Note of Warning--Howard Hughes was so disappointed by the poor box office receipts from The Sin of Harold Diddlebock that he pulled the film from theaters and re-edited the movie himself. The greatly shortened version was re-titled Mad Wednesday and was re-released in 1950. Avoid this 76-minute version, and seek out Sturges’ more satisfying 89 minute cut.

Drinks Consumed--The Diddlebock (whiskey, vodka, and other unnamed ingredients), champagne, and unnamed hard liquor

Intoxicating Effects--Loosened inhibitions, public disturbance, harmonizing, passing out, and memory blackouts

Potent Quotables--WORMY: Brother Diddlebuck, uh beck, uh… What’s the matter with me?
DIDDEBOCK: Bock.
WORMY: Oh yeah, bock, is in some kinda trouble.
JAKE (the bartender): Who isn’t?
WORMY: He’s about to have his first drink.
JAKE: His first drink? Well, drown my kittens! This is quite a moment. You mean his first this morning or really his first ever and ever since he was weaned?
DIDDLEBOCK: I have never partaken. Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I…
JAKE: Yes, sir!
WORMY: You never know how the other half lives.
JAKE: You arouse the artist in me.
DIDDLEBOCK: It was just an impulse.
WORMY: Well, obey that impulse. Why don’t you have a cigar?
DIDDLEBOCK: Have a cigar?
JAKE: Yes, sir! I’d like to make you something. Hmm? Something you would remember.
DIDDLEBOCK: I wouldn’t want anything… I mean, if I had anything at all… nothing potent, you understand.
JAKE: You’ll never feel it.
WORMY: I was thinking of a Texas Tornado.
JAKE: Oh, not for an occasion like this, Wormy. A Tornado’s a perfectly reliable commercial drink for conventions and hangovers and things like that, but this… This is almost, uh… Does the word vestal?
WORMY: Huh?
JAKE: I mean it ought to have organ music.
DIDDLEBOCK: I wouldn’t want anything…
JAKE: I mean opportunities like this come along all too rarely for a man with his heart in his work.

Video Availability--The Sin of Harold Diddlebock has fallen into public domain and has been released several times in budget DVDs with slightly blurry prints. It can also be viewed in its entirety at The Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org/). That video is embedded above.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton) also encounters a temporary memory blackout after a few drinks and a blow to the head in Preston Sturges’ comic masterpiece (and my favorite film) The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944).

The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection Vols. 1-3 (DVD Set)
Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian (Hardcover)

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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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