For two families in early twentieth century America, alcohol addiction brings misery—and Prohibition just makes things worse. Based on the Upton Sinclair novel, The Wet Parade. [Dir: Victor Fleming/ Dorothy Jordan, Robert Young, Lewis Stone/ 118 min/ Drama/ Legalize Drugs]
No trailer available but clips may be viewed here.
First, it makes clear that alcohol destroys the lives of those who become addicted to it and of their loved ones. That is demonstrated early in the film, in the character of an alcoholic father of a well-off southern family. In a drunken spree, he gambles away the family fortune and, when altogether denied drink by his doctor, commits suicide. His son likewise suffers from alcoholism. Good people—family and friends of these two—hope that Prohibition will put an end to such unhappiness.
However, the effect of Prohibition is far different. The son goes blind from bad bootleg liquor. The alcoholic father of another family also gets bad liquor, goes mad from it, and kills his wife. Everywhere there is widespread corruption and disobedience of the law. And finally organized crime enters the picture, bringing violence and death. Faced with these realities, those who had enthusiastically supported Prohibition begin to question its usefulness.
Needless to say, this entire story could be updated to current times simply by substituting the word “drugs” for “alcohol.” Many people today die from bad drugs. Likewise, there is today widespread corruption and violence due to the involvement of organized crime in the drug trade. Apparently a world that doesn’t learn from history really is condemned to repeat it.
Made in 1932, this is an old film and it shows. However, if you can get past its superficial deficiencies, it has an interesting underlying story with a strong, enduring message. It also features some first-rate acting talent, including a very young Robert Young (later of Marcus Welby, M.D.).
This film was clearly intended to demonstrate the downside of Prohibition. And just in case the audience missed the point, it’s underscored near the end in a speech made by a discouraged Prohibition enforcement agent. Says he: “The whole business goes more like a farce each day. [It] costs the government fifty million dollars a year to enforce a law, and where are we? There’s more alcohol being made in this country than ever before. Thirty six thousand places in this town where men and women and seventeen-year-old kids get drunk. More speakeasies than there were saloons. And what’s more, the otherwise law-abiding citizen won’t put down a bottle till it’s empty, simply because we’re trying to force a law down their throats they don’t want. [Before Prohibition] they got good liquor, and they didn’t have to dodge machine gun bullets when they went walking on Sunday. Sometimes I get so disgusted I’d like to go out and get stewed myself.”