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).


Booze News: Add some alcohol to the National Film Registry

>> Friday, October 1, 2010

Alcohol has made an invaluable contribution to the history of American film. However, soused cinema is terribly underrepresented in the National Film Registry, the list of motion pictures selected by the United States National Film Preservation Board for preservation in the Library of Congress. Now is your chance to change that!

Each year the board selects up to 25 films to add to the list, and amongst the factors that they weigh when selecting the films are suggestions from the general public.

You have until October 15th to forward your film recommendations to:

The only conditions regarding the your suggestions are:

  1. Each film must be at least 10 years old
  2. It should be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”
  3. You can recommend no more than 50 titles in a single year
Let's stuff the ballot boxes with alky-centric titles!!!

There are dozens of "booze movies" that can be considered “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Every major movie genre and trend from the silent era to the present day has in some way been tied to strong drink.
Silent soused slapstick, Prohibition gangster films, champagne-soaked screwball comedies, film noir, Westerns, soapy melodramas, 60’s swinger and spy cinema, antihero movies and angry young men films, and modern-day gross-out comedies all have one thing in common--liquor. Without alcohol, the history of film would be dramatically different.

Here are a handful of significant booze movies that should be in the National Film Registry. Please join my campaign to vote for these important soused cinema landmarks:

One A.M. (1916) - Charlie Chaplin's solo tour de force and the culmination of the drunken slapstick that he developed from his "Mumming Birds" stage act through his numerous liquor-laced Keystone and Essanay short subjects.

The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933) - Not only the funniest short subject ever produced. It's also a filmed record of W.C. Fields' "Stolen Bonds" stage sketch and a comedy that was far ahead of its time. The Fatal Glass of Beer was post-modern before the term existed.

It's A Gift (1934) - The only film that rivals The Bank Dick (already inducted into the Registry) as W.C. Fields' greatest film. It contains one of the longest sustained laugh sequences in the history of motion pictures--the immortal "front porch" scene.

The Lost Weekend (1945) - Prior to The Lost Weekend, alcoholism was portrayed as comedy relief or as the "shame of the nation." This was the first film to look at alcoholism seriously as a disease. This much-imitated film still packs a punch today.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) - Mike Nichols' film adaptation of Edward Albee's play was one of the first films to buck the old Production Code. The MPAA film rating system underwent changes as a direct result of this foul-mouthed work of art.

The Iceman Cometh (1973) - A great American film of a great American play! The Iceman Cometh is the best of the movies produced under the experimental banner of the American Film Theatre.

Recommend one or all of these, but join my campaign to get national recognition for these trailblazing soused cinema classics.


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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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