Monday, July 20, 2009

NEW PICTURE BUILT UPON HISTORY OF PROHIBITION



By A. L. Woodbridge
Hollywood, April 2

Father and mother, their flapper daughters, their rah-rah sons, drunkards, bootleggers, “speakeasy” bosses, the United States government and politicians are going to have something to talk about.

“The Wet Parade,” Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s picture telling the story of prohibition, scourges not only liquor-drinkers and open saloons, but also the present bootleg and speakeasy conditions. It is packed with “dynamite” from every angle. It is a castigation of law enforcement methods. It holds up to ridicule all classes of society from the day laborer who slinks into a varnish shop for a jug of alcohol, to the owners of exclusive estates who maintain private bars in their home and give lavish parties.



The production reviews the whole situation in America, starting with the drinking of bourbon in an aristocratic Southern home in pre-war days when whisky was a before-dinner beverage instead of a start of a carousal. Yet it portrays a haughty Colonel committing suicide in a pig pen when denied his bottle bought in an open saloon. Lewis Stone enacts the role of this colonel.

Comes the call for soldiers to go overseas, the mobilization of the army, the march to the transports with flags waving and military bands playing. A glimpse is given of the fleet of American battleships plowing through the Atlantic, of the air armadas in France and finally of the trenches.



Then starts the move for prohibition in the States, the plea that wheat and rye and barley were going into intoxicating drinks when they ought to be conserved for the doughboys on the firing line. And finally the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment and that wild last night when liquor could be bought, the crowds in their “final” revels, the burial of “Old John Barleycorn” and then “prohibition.”



There the story turns to present-day conditions. It shows the disintegration of a great orator (Walter Huston) and his sinking lower and lower until, when his wife destroys his jug of cheap alcohol, he beats her to death. At his trial he is found guilty of murder and sentenced to prison for life – just a shadow of a man.



A private bar in a magnificent home is pictured with guests in evening attire getting drunk; prohibition agents snooping around in “dives” and drinking the “evidence,” a policeman entering a side door and warning the barkeeper that the front door, at least, must be kept locked for the night.



Of course, there is a love story running through the production and centering about a young woman and young man, without whom the picture in many ways would be revolting.

At Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, where the production had its premiere, an audience filed out with the comment – “powerful picture!”

7 comments:

Amanda said...

Sounds like a great flick. Wonder if it's easy to get a hold of.

Lolita said...

Wow, that sounds amazing! I hadn't heard of it before, but it sounds extremely promising!

Cliff Aliperti said...

I caught this one a few weeks ago and it was very interesting to say the least. Thought it was made a little overlong by some of the pre-story--Lewis Stone and Walter Huston had their characters propped up by virtue of who was playing them, the real stars here are Dorothy Jordan, Robert Young, and Neil Hamilton.

Not mentioned here, by movies end "The Wet Parade" was mostly a film stating how the end of Prohibition was a good thing--for all the horrors of alcohol regulating it only caused more harm than good because of regular citizens running afoul of the law and low-quality booze eating their bodies up. It's actually a propaganda film in favor of repealing the 18th Amendment.

Cliff Aliperti said...

Follow-up: re-reading I missed the line at the start saying it also scouraged "present bootleg and speakeasy conditions," sorry about that. Though I still came away with that being the main point the movie was trying to drive home.

GAH1965 said...

Amanda - Turner Classic Movies does show Wet Parade from time to time. That's how I saw it.

Cliff - I agree with you about the film. It was interesting, but hasn't aged quite as well as I had hoped. And the movie does indeed have a pro-repeal slant, which I think the book does not. On more than one occasion when researching this blog I've come across references to Sinclair Lewis being most assuredly pro-dry. Guess Hollywood was adding their 2 cents worth despite proclamations of showing both sides of the arguement equally.

Also, Cliff, thanks for keeping me in your Tweets - they're always appreciated.

Juliette. said...

Haha, what a marvelous title! I've never heard of it, but now will try to check it out. :)

Amanda said...

Thanks for the info! I'll watch for it on TCM's schedule.