Sideways

Weekend Roundtable: Blame It on the Alcohol

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!

Deirdre Crimmins

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.

David Krauss

“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!

Brian Hoss

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.

Josh Zyber

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.

Your Turn

Tell us about your favorite movies or TV shows in which alcohol plays a key role.

15 comments

  1. Erik in Wisconsin

    This list could go on forever. There are so many ways that alcohol has figured into movies and TV shows. The one that popped into my mind first, though, was the drunk airline pilot skit done by Foster Brooks on the Dean Martin show. Foster is absolutely hilarious. But what’s just as funny is watching Dean slowly break down and lose control of his “straight man” role. I’ve watched it dozens of times and I still end up with tears running down my cheeks. In fact, I’m going to watch it again right now. Take a few minutes and treat yourself to this gem. Easy to find on YouTube. Also, best with the volume turned up a little. Enjoy.

  2. I believe the answer you are looking for is SUPERBAD. I’ve seen this movie way too many times, but I love the hijinx that ensue when Seth and Evan try to acquire alcohol for a party so that they can score with Jules and Becca. I’m laughing pretty consistently through the almost 2 hour run-time thanks to a great script that reminds me of how me and my friends would talk to each other in high school.

    Another great one is Affliction, Paul Schrader’s film with James Coburn and Nick Nolte.

    And of course Days Of Wine And Roses with Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick.

  3. Csm101

    I love the early seasons of Game of Thrones when Tyrion Lannister was a hardcore drunk. Cersei too. Dazed and Confused has a fun drinking vibe at toward the end of the movie that reminds me of high school days. Waiting… also has great drinking moments. My first job was a busser at an Italian restaurant and the parties after work were also very reminiscent of those days.

  4. njscorpio

    I really dug the whole whisky/alcohol element of The Kingsman: Golden Circle. I typically roll my eyes at movie sequels that do a “same, but different” spin on a key element of the first film, but I think it was a great pairing with the American team.

  5. Charles Contreras

    2 movies that come to mind are Oliver Stones’ The Doors, and granted that Jim Morrison drank just to wash down the various drugs that were readily available to him, and the ultimate alcoholic clown movie of all time, Shakes the Clown. If I remember correctly, I think that Martin Scorsese referred to it as the Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies. That was good enough for me.

  6. A personal favorite of mine is the 1999 Norwegian farce “Absolute Hangover”.

    John promises to his girlfriend that he’ll back from work early on Friday, as they’re spending the weekend at her parents’s house, which involves a long drive. He’ll just stop for a small pint of beer with his colleagues on the way home. 10 pints later, he stumbles home. The girlfriend is furious, so she takes off. The next day John goes on a binge, and wakes up around noon Monday. The movie is about piecing together what happened on Sunday, and who the maniacs he apparently invited into his apartment are, and figuring out how to win his girlfriend back.

    For all practical intents and purposes, this is a stage play. Almost the entire movie takes place inside the apartment. It’s silly and farcical, pretty much slapstick. But, I like it.

      • The crazy thing is that this movie hasn’t even been released on DVD in Norway. I’ve only got it on VHS. I know there is a Swedish DVD, which is out of print a long time ago. But that’s the only one I’m aware of. I’m not sure why it never got released, but I’m guessing the DVD market in 1999 was still so small that they didn’t bother with DVD at the time, and they’ve never considered a reissue.

  7. ChrisB

    The World’s End! A bunch of friends reuniting to finish a pub crawl from years earlier. Love the movie, my personal fave of the Cornetto trilogy.

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