Booze News: W.C. Fields' IT'S A GIFT inducted into the National Film Registry

>> Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Back on October 1st, I urged readers to email the National Film Preservation Board to recommend that a handful of soused cinema classics be included in the National Film Registry. Today, the Library of Congress announced the 2010 inductees, and W.C. Fields' comedy classic It's a Gift made the list! Here's a blurb from today's announcement:

It’s a Gift (1934)
The popularity and influence of W.C. Fields continues with each succeeding generation, distinguishing him as one of the greatest American comedians of the 20th century. "It’s a Gift" has survived a perilous preservation history and is the third Fields film to be named to the National Film Registry. The film’s extended comic sequence featuring Baby LeRoy, and depicting Fields’ travails while trying to sleep on the open-air back porch of a rooming house, was adapted from one of his most successful live theatrical sketches.

A number of other worthy films were also inducted this year, including another personal favorite, Robert Altman's best film, McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971). Here's the complete list:

Airplane (1980)
All the President’s Men (1976)
The Bargain (1914)
Cry of Jazz (1959)
Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB (1967)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The Exorcist (1973)
The Front Page (1931)
Grey Gardens (1976)
I Am Joaquin (1969)
It’s a Gift (1934)
Let There Be Light (1946)
Lonesome (1928)
Make Way For Tomorrow (1937)
Malcolm X (1992)
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
Newark Athlete (1891)
Our Lady of the Sphere (1969)
The Pink Panther (1964)
Preservation of the Sign Language (1913)
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Study of a River (1996)
Tarantella (1940)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)
A Trip Down Market Street (1906)

Let's lift an Orange Blossom (gin and orange juice) tonight in honor of the Great Man and his film, It's A Gift!


W.C. Fields Comedy Collection, Vol. 1 (The Bank Dick / My Little Chickadee / You Can't Cheat an Honest Man / It's a Gift / International House)


Booze News: TRUE GRIT is the year's best!

>> Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Coen Brothers' new take on Charles Portis' novel True Grit doesn't really qualify as a "booze movie," despite the fact that Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn is known as a man who "likes to pull a cork." There simply isn't enough drinking in the movie (with the exception of one scene in which Rooster downs a considerable amount of confiscated whiskey). Still, I feel compelled to write a micro-review of the film, because True Grit is the best motion picture I've seen this year, and it's the best American Western since Unforgiven (1992). Actually, it's better than Unforgiven. Sorry, Clint. The Coens are simply better filmmakers.

It should be no secret to anyone that has visited this site that I am a fan of old movies. However, I can say without reservation that the new True Grit surpasses the 1969 Henry Hathaway-directed version with John Wayne in every measurable criteria, including script, cinematography, direction, acting, mood, thrills, and entertainment value. The highest of all praise in this extremely praiseworthy film should be bestowed upon Hailee Steinfeld, who plays the central character, 14-year-old Mattie Ross. If she isn't nominated for the Best Actress Oscar, I'll be severely disappointed.

I'd also say that Joel and Ethan Coen may have crafted their best film with True Grit. I can't call it my favorite Coen Brothers film after a single viewing (Miller's Crossing has held that crown for a long time). However, True Grit may nose it's way to the front of the pack eventually. It is a near-perfect film.

Do yourself a favor and see this movie on the big screen while you have a chance. Better yet, see it twice. I know I'll have to see it at least one more time in its full theatrical glory.

Cheers and happy holidays,


Booze News: Unnecessary Sequel Alert - Bad Santa 2

>> Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Somehow I missed a report a few days ago at that the Weinstein Co. has made a deal with Miramax to produce sequels to many of their hottest library titles, including Shakespeare in Love, Rounders, and the greatest Christmas film ever made, Bad Santa. It is predicted that these projects will go in production next year. Future theatrical sequels or TV projects may also be developed based on Swingers, Bridget Jones' Diary, The Amityville Horror, Copland, From Dusk Till Dawn, Clerks, and Shall We Dance.

Since Billy Bob Thornton has expressed interest in the past in reprising the role of Willie T. Soke (especially if Terry Zwigoff can be lured back to direct), Bad Santa 2 is the most likely of the bunch to eventually reach a multiplex near you. That's a shame. Bad Santa is a perfect little gem, and a sequel can only end up sullying the name of the original. I've got five words (actually four words and a numeral) for anyone who doesn't think this is a bad idea--Arthur 2: On the Rocks.

Here's a link to the full story at

Miramax, Weinstein Co. pact for sequels



Review: Nightmare Alley (1947)

>> Tuesday, December 21, 2010

USA/B&W-110m./Dir: Edmund Goulding/Wr: Jules Furthman/Cast: Tyrone Power (Stanton Carlisle), Joan Blondell (Zeena Krumbein), Coleen Gray (Molly), Helen Walker (Lilith Ritter), Mike Mazurki (Bruno), Ian Keith (Pete Krumbein) Taylor Holmes (Ezra Grindle)

“How do ya get a guy to be a geek?” grifter Stanton “Stan” Carlisle (Tyrone Power) wonders at the beginning of 1947’s ultra-cynical film noir, Nightmare Alley. He’s just witnessed the carnival wild man eat live chickens, and he can’t fathom how a guy could get so low. The answer, of course, is booze. The geek is a bottle-a-day drunk who will do anything for his liquor. In posing the question, Stan doesn’t realize he’s just a misstep or two away from being a rum dumb sideshow attraction himself. Nightmare Alley provides the dark, voyeuristic pleasure of watching Stanton slide inexorably toward that fate.

Like many noir protagonists, Stanton Carlisle is a “Class-A” heal. He begins as a barker at a small-time carnival, assisting Zeena (Joan Blondell), a middle-aged mind reader, and her whiskey-sodden partner, Pete (Ian Keith). Trying to worm his way into becoming a headliner in the act, Stanton decides to assist Pete in drinking himself to death. The plan works a little too well when Stanton accidentally gives Pete a bottle of wood alcohol instead of moonshine. When Pete dies of alcohol poisoning, Zeena teaches Stan the word code that is the key to the mentalist act. Soon after, Stan dumps Zeena and leaves the carnival with a younger beauty (Coleen Gray). Together they take the act to the nightclub circuit, where Stan finds big money and fame as “The Great Stanton.” After such a meteoric rise, a big descent is sure to follow, with only alcohol to cushion the fall.

Fed up with playing nice-guy romantic leads and swashbuckling heroes, Tyrone Power purchased the rights to William Gresham's novel, Nightmare Alley, in order to convince the brass at 20th Century Fox to let him play the unsavory lead. Although hesitant to let their biggest star sully his reputation, the studio bosses reluctantly relented. The resulting film and Power’s performance were both deliciously dark triumphs. The pretty-boy star would never be better than as “The Great Stanton,” and the pitch black film wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without such a magnetic star at its center.

The supporting cast is also outstanding. Power is given fine support by his three leading ladies--Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray, and Helen Walker. Character actors Mike Mazurki, Taylor Holmes, and especially Ian Keith (in a scene-stealing turn as the drunkard, Pete) also add color to the proceedings.

While the film sags a bit about three-quarters in and the story has occasional lapses in logic (such as taking tarot card readings seriously while preaching that mysticism is for suckers), these are minor quibbles compared with the overall effect conveyed by this chillingly dark tale of deceit and alcoholism. Nightmare Alley is a soused cinema “must see.”

Drinks Consumed--Rye whiskey, moonshine, wood alcohol, beer, and gin

Intoxicating Effects--Slurring, staggering, stumbling, harmonizing, the giggles, hangover, the shakes, delirium tremens, public disturbance, physical violence, and death

Potent Quotables--STAN: Well, you’re a fine one--running off in the middle of the show. Zeena was sore.
PETE: I couldn’t help it. She’s got me on a diet--one shot a day.
STAN: You seem to be doin’ all right.
PETE: No. Just a sip here and there. Zeena’s tipped everybody off.

Video Availability--Nightmare Alley (Fox Film Noir) DVD

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Booze darkened many noirs prior to Nightmare Alley, including the previous year’s Black Angel.


Review: Shakes the Clown (1991)

>> Saturday, November 20, 2010

USA/C-87m./Dir: Bobcat Goldthwait/Wr: Bobcat Goldthwait/Cast: Bobcat Goldthwait (Shakes the Clown), Julie Brown (Judy), Tom Kenny (Binky the Clown), Blake Clark (Stenchy the Clown), Adam Sandler (Dink the Clown), Kathy Griffin (Lucy), Paul Dooley (Owen Cheese), Robin Williams (Mime Jerry)

When Shakes the Clown was released in 1991, Betsy Sherman’s review in the Boston Globe famously referred to the film as “the Citizen Kane of Alcoholic Clown Movies.” While there are few other motion pictures vying for that title, in truth, Shakes the Clown isn’t the Citizen Kane of anything. “The Showgirls of Alcoholic Clown Movies” would be a more apt description. The picture is poorly constructed and amateurishly filmed, wasting comic possibilities at every opportunity. Still (warning: faint praise ahead), Shakes the Clown does generate sporadic laughs, and it is one of the more watchable bad movies.

The story is set in the jester Mecca of Palukaville, where birthday party clowns spend their down time boozing it up at the Twisted Balloon bar, beating up street mimes, and dreaming of hosting cartoon shows. The most talented of these dreamers is Shakes (Bobcat Goldthwait), a great children’s entertainer, but a bigger blackout drunk. When the unfunny, cokehead Binky the Clown (Tom Kenny) is awarded the coveted job as host of the local kiddie show, Shakes descends into a downward spiral of alcoholism and depression. Shakes’ buddies (Blake Clark and Adam Sandler) try to wean their friend off the bottle, but Shakes falls off the wagon and is fired in the process. Shortly thereafter, his boss (Paul Dooley) turns up dead, and Shakes has to take it on the lam, disguised as a mime. Can our hero pull it together and uncover the true culprit, or will he just get blotto once again?

Shakes the Clown was Bobcat Goldthwait’s first film as a writer/director, and it suffers from overreach and underwriting. The comedy has an interesting premise, and Goldthwait does a reasonably good job at bringing the world of Palukaville to life. Unfortunately, costumes and makeup do not a great comedy make. Goldthwait would have done better to scale back the design elements and spend more time punching up the script, because the laughs are thin and infrequent.

The cast (made up mainly of stand-up comics with little film experience) is fine; and Goldthwait, Brown, Clark, and Sandler often squeeze more humor out of their lines than the dialogue really warrants. However, funnyman Tom Kenny is wasted in the role of the villainous, unfunny Binky. By writing Binky as a clown devoid of a sense of humor, Goldthwait stripped the story of logic and the character of potential menace. It makes no sense that a television station would hire an unfunny clown to host their cartoon show. Binky would have posed more of a threat if he actually had strong comedy chops and if no one besides Shakes could see the darkness that lay beneath the surface.

Unfortunately, Binky is only one of the film’s many missed opportunities. Ripe comic situations (such as a country bar for rodeo clowns and a clown at an AA meeting) go absolutely nowhere. Still, enough booze and clown-related jokes hit the bullseye to warrant a mild recommendation for fans of soused cinema and bad movies in general.

Drinks Consumed--Beer (Braderbrau and others), bourbon, and scotch

Intoxicating Effects--Belching, vomiting, hangover, swearing, drunk driving, passing out, slurred speech, sneaking sips, public disturbance, destruction of property, jail time, and delirium tremens

Potent Quotables--DINK: The thing I don’t understand is why he just can’t drink normally like the rest of us. Ya know, he gets so out of control.
JUDY: Yeah.
STENCHY: Maybe it’s because he saw his father crushed to death by an elephant. A thing like that can scar you for life.
LUCY: He drinks so much to forget he’s a fucking alcoholic.

Video Availability--Shakes the Clown - Widescreen DVD (Sony)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--For better mix of laughs and vulgarity, check out Bad Santa (2003) instead.


Booze News: 2011 Silent Movies Calendar

>> Sunday, November 7, 2010

Christmas is just around the corner, and that means two things...

  1. It will soon be time for your annual viewing of Bad Santa
  2. It's time for my annual sales pitch for the Silent Movies Calendar
If you've been following this site for awhile, you probably already know that every year Rodney Sauer of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra produces a calendar featuring rare film stills and photographs of silent movie stars contributed by fans. In addition to a dozen beautiful photos in glorious black and white, the calendar also features birthdays of silent-era film stars and personalities, as well as notable marriages, deaths, film openings, and other significant dates. Best of all, the net proceeds made from the sale of the calendars (after printing expenses) are donated to support silent film restoration.

I've purchased the calendar for the past couple of years, and I'm especially looking forward to this year's release. That's because the 2011 Silent Movies Calendar is subtitled "The Swimsuit Issue." If you've ever wanted to see Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, and Gloria Swanson in 1920's swimwear, this is the calendar for you. Of course, there's also eye candy for the ladies--Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks--and a few eyesores (Mack Swain, for instance).

Rodney has been able to reduce the price of the calendar this year to $14.74 ($12 plus S&H), so supporting efforts to preserve our precious film heritage has never been more affordable. Follow the link below and get your Silent Movies Swimsuit Calendar today!

Get it here-->2011 Silent Movies Calendar



Booze News: First ARTHUR, Now THE THIN MAN?

>> Saturday, October 30, 2010

Unoriginality is rampant in Hollywood, and it appears that the new target for motion picture remakes is classic soused cinema. First Spielberg planned to direct a retread of Harvey (1950), a project which eventually imploded. Then Russell Brand decided to step into the shoes of the late Dudley Moore to play the lovable lush Arthur Bach in an updated version of the 1981 classic. Now New York Magazine's Vulture blog is reporting that Johnny Depp wants Rob Marshall to direct him in a remake of The Thin Man (1934).

As much as I love Depp (especially his work in Ed Wood), I just don't see him as the urbane, drunky sleuth Nick Charles. Johnny will probably do a decent job, but if I was going to recast the William Powell part for the 21st Century, Robert Downey Jr. seems better suited to the role. Still, why tamper with a classic? Trying to recreate the William Powell/Myrna Loy chemistry with another pair of actors seems a near impossible task. It certainly didn't work with the short-lived 1957 Thin Man TV show or the 1990 Broadway musical Nick & Nora (which ran a whole 9 performances).

Of course, if Johnny Depp wants to do it, he has the clout to make the movie happen. But even if the project does get off the ground, it may be several years before it hits the multiplex. Depp has The Tourist, Rango, and The Rum Diary (based on the Hunter S. Thompson novel) in the can. He's currently filming Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and there has been talk of him starring as Tonto in a new Lone Ranger film and as Barnabas Collins in a Tim Burton remake of Dark Shadows. Let's hope another property catches Johnny's fancy, so he'll leave Nick and Nora Charles alone.

Here's a link to the original Vulture post:
Johnny Depp wants Rob Marsall to direct him in a Thin Man remake

By the way, the post mentions that Dashiell Hammett never wrote a sequel to his novel, The Thin Man. That isn't strictly true. Hammett wrote the original stories for the first three Thin Man films, which screen writers Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett used as an outline. Hammett's story, After the Thin Man, has even been published in The New Black Mask, Nos. 5 and 6.


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)


Review: Steamboat Round the Bend (1935)

>> Sunday, October 17, 2010

USA/B&W-81m./Dir: John Ford/Wr: Dudley Nichols & Lamar Trotti/Cast: Will Rogers (Dr. John Pearly), Anne Shirley (Fleety Belle), John McGuire (Duke), Berton Churchill (New Moses), Francis Ford (Efe), Irvin S. Cobb (Captain Eli), Eugene Pallette (Sheriff Rufe Jeffers), Stepin Fetchit (Jonah)

Fame is indeed fleeting. In the 1920’s and 30’s, Will Rogers was one of the best known and most loved American personalities. He charmed audiences with his rope tricks, witticisms, and homespun political satire (think Jon Stewart with a touch of Jeff Foxworthy); and he rose to entertainment’s highest ranks in vaudeville, on Broadway, as a newspaper columnist, and eventually in the movies. Between 1918 and 1935, Rogers starred in 40 feature films and dozens of short subjects; and his movies were so popular that theater owners named him the number one box office attraction in 1933. Yet today his films are virtually unwatched and unremembered.

In recent years, a handful of Rogers features have been released in DVD boxsets, allowing new audiences to discover the comedian. Amongst these releases is Rogers’ penultimate film, Steamboat Round the Bend, which turns out to be more alcohol-fueled than the riverboat comedies of W.C. Fields, Tillie and Gus (1933) and Mississippi (1935). The film, set in the early 1900’s, stars Rogers as Doctor John Pearly, a dealer of extremely alcoholic patent medicine. Doc decides to give up the booze-pushing business and buys a rundown steamboat, which he fixes up with the help of an engineer (Francis Ford) who is addicted to Pearly’s potent brew. Pearly bets his fixed-up tub against the best steamboat on the Mississippi in a winner-take-all race, but he gets sidetracked when his nephew Duke (John McGuire) is sentenced to hang for murder. With the help of Duke’s betrothed, Fleety Belle (Anne Shirley), Doc searches the river for the one witness who can prove that Duke isn’t guilty, a prohibitionist preacher who calls himself “The New Moses.” Can Doc and Fleety Belle save Duke from execution in time to win the big steamboat race? What do you think?

Audiences of the Thirties were drawn to Steamboat Round the Bend due to Will Rogers’ celebrity (and due to morbid curiosity, as the film was released after Rogers’ unexpected death in a plane crash), but the movie is of most interest to film scholars today because it was directed by John Ford. Although Ford was not a filmmaker noted for producing comedies, the film has a pleasant, easygoing style that meshes well with Rogers’ homespun humor. This was actually the third film Rogers and Ford made together, and the partnership would have likely continued if not for Rogers’ untimely death.

While the film is a good introduction to Rogers’ relaxed comic delivery, it is far from his best film. The movie is overstuffed for an 81-minute comedy, containing con-man patter, liquor-laced humor, murder, a few musical numbers, possible execution, revivalist preachers, and a big boat race. Modern audiences may also be turned off by stereotypical depiction of African-Americans, especially the character of Jonah, portrayed by Stepin Fetchit. However, it is important to remember that Will Rogers was fairly progressive for his day; and he insisted that Stepin Fetchit be hired as a supporting actor in his movies because they were good friends from his vaudeville days.

Will Rogers’ comedies may seem a little too laid back for today’s audiences, but if you come to Steamboat Round the Bend in the proper frame of mind, you’ll find plenty to like. Especially fun are Francis Ford (the director’s brother) as the constantly inebriated steamboat engineer and the film’s climactic steamboat race, in which booze is used to win the day.

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey-based patent medicine, rum, and Mint Julep

Intoxicating Effects--Staggering and slurred speech

Potent Quotables--NEW MOSES: Raise your right hand and take the pledge. Brother, what do I see in your hand? Don’t be a hog. Cast the enemy away! Bury demon rum in the waters of the mighty Mississippi! Fling it away, I say! I swear henceforth, liquor shall never touch my lips.
EFE: Me too.

Video Availability--DVD, as part of either the Will Rogers Collection, Vol. 1 or the Ford At Fox Collection: John Ford's American Comedies (Fox)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--W.C. Fields also got involved in a riverboat race in Tillie and Gus (1933).

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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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