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!”