This Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day, the time of year when it’s most socially acceptable to indulge in the devil’s water. This brings to mind some of our favorite movie and TV moments involving alcohol. Let’s get blotto!
Two films I personally adore which hinge on alcohol as a plot device are Whisky Galore! (1949) and Grabbers. The first is a charming comedy based on a real event. A ship carrying almost exclusively whisky crashes on the Scottish coast, and the locals do their best to clean up the beach and save those poor, helpless bottles from the terrible fate of never being imbibed. The film, which is based on a novel, was remade a few years ago, though I never did get around to that version.
Grabbers takes place next door on an Irish island, but with a very different problem – an alien invasion of tentacled monsters who just want to kill and destroy! The locals quickly notice that these invaders will not harm people who are hopelessly drunk. The only way to save themselves it to get remarkably pissed. Both Whisky Galore! and Grabbers are pretty funny and delightfully silly takes on alcohol’s lighter side.
“It’s so tasty, too!” Actually, it wasn’t, but the miracle elixir Vitameatavegamin contained something like 40% alcohol. When a bumbling Lucy Ricardo over-rehearsed with the product for a live TV commercial, by the time she went on the air she was rip-roaring drunk! What ensued was several minutes of madcap hilarity and slapstick brilliance that lofted Lucille Ball to the forefront of television comedy. The wildly broad and inspired sketch, impeccably performed by the legendary Ball during the first season of her iconic sitcom I Love Lucy, was a thinly veiled ripoff of Red Skelton’s beloved “Guzzler’s Gin” routine, but as she always did, Lucy raised the bar and made the material her own, so much so that it will forever remain a comedy classic.
Her spot-on timing, peerless physical grace, and wondrous sense of the absurd revitalize the tried-and-true drunk bit and have kept it fresh for almost 70 years. I can still hear Lucy in my head slurring her lines and mixing up words… “Do you pop out at parties? Are you unpoopular?” I laughed at it as a kid decades ago and it still makes me laugh today. Though I love watching Lucy and Ethel and that out-of-control conveyor belt in the chocolate factory, for me, that zaniness can’t eclipse the solo genius of an inebriated Lucy showing us why she’s the funniest woman in the world. Hell, if they actually made anything like Vitameatavegamin, I’d run out and pick up a bottle right now!
I consider Ex Machina to be about an extra scene/edit or two away from being a perfect film, and that’s due in large part to the authenticity that comes through in the Nathan character as portrayed by Oscar Isaac. Nathan is really the secret sauce of the film, and many of his scenes involve a lot of drinking. In one of the latter such scenes, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) proposes a toast using readily available chilled vodka, and Nathan’s response, which has been choreographed throughout the interaction, is perfect. It speaks to both characters, to their perverse but believable relationship, and to just about everything involving the drama of the scene and the plot of the movie.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
I don’t know what it says about me that when I think about alcohol in film, my kneejerk reaction isn’t Leaving Las Vegas or The Lost Weekend; it’s Dumbo.
It’s tried and true advice to drink a glass of water when you’re plagued with the hiccups. What Timothy Q. Mouse doesn’t realize when he suggests the same to a hiccuping Dumbo is that the stuff in that barrel hits a little harder than H20. Before you know it, they’re both sloshed. What follows is one of the most nightmarishly surreal sequences in Disney animation: Pink Elephants on Parade.
“I could stand the sight of worms and look at microscopic germs, but Technicolor pachyderms is really too much for me!”
They squash. They stretch. They split. They smash. They ski. They shock. They drive. They dance. Even if you haven’t seen Dumbo in decades, chances are that this hallucinatory drug trip is still inexorably seared into your brain. I’ll be fascinated to see Tim Burton’s interpretation of it when his live-action remake hits theaters in a couple of weeks.
Having grown up with a pathetic drunkard in the household, I have a strong aversion to movies that depict alcoholism with too much pathos. (I really can’t stand Leaving Las Vegas.) Fortunately, I can still appreciate a good movie on the subject, whether dramatic (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) or comedic (Sideways).
For this Roundtable, however, I want to hone in on the booze itself. Back in the days of Prohibition, Al Capone built his criminal empire smuggling liquor into the United States and selling it illegally in backroom speakeasy clubs. The legend of Al Capone has been told in many movies and TV shows over the years, but none better than The Untouchables. Although nominally based on an old TV series starring Robert Stack, the feature version plays fast and loose both with its source material and with actual history. Nevertheless, with a crackling script by David Mamet and thrilling direction by Brian De Palma at the height of his showmanship (not to mention a top-flight cast including Sean Connery, Robert De Niro, and Kevin Costner), the film works on just about every level. It’s grand entertainment in the best Hollywood tradition.
Tell us about your favorite movies or TV shows in which alcohol plays a key role.