CAUTION: Contains “spoilers.”
M.G.M.’s ode to the evils of drink, “The Wet Parade” offers us Robert Young and Jimmy Durante as fellow Treasury agents looking to get the goods on those rats selling booze to a booze-hungry public in defiance of A Virtuous Law. It’s apparently based upon a novel (?), a story (?), a magazine article (?) by Upton Sinclair–the same Upton Sinclair that Louis B. Mayer moved heaven and earth to prevent from becoming Governor of California. Why let politics get in the way of a good property?
So, this story is about two families, a wealthy one and a working-class one, both ruined by a paterfamilias in love with Demon Rum. Lewis Stone and Walter Huston played the sots. Young, sickened by Huston’s drunken murder of his wife and Young’s mother, and Huston’s subsequent suicide after being convicted for the crime, joins the Feds to put the bootleggers out of business. He gets teamed up with Durante’s veteran agent. The show is worth watching for Durante alone. He could be a sixth Marx Brother–Harpo’s motor-mouth sibbling. His performance is so over-the-top that he’s compulsively watchable. A pre-Nora Charles Myrna Loy is also good as The Bad Girl tempting poor Neil Hamilton to ruin. At least when she played Nora she made getting soused look like fun.
Writer Sinclair proves his Socialist street cred by the sequence in which wealthy pillar-of- society types huddle with racketeers in a back room where they are assured a quick profit and a fast exit from a criminal enterprise that these worthies are all too willing to invest in.
The other fascinating aspect of this anti-liquor tract is that it teaches aspiring bootleggers how to go from cans of denatured alcohol to bottled, wrapped, bagged and artificially sea-salted merchandise. The last time I saw such a good step-by-step tutorial was the How To Make Counterfeit $20 Bills sequence in “To Live and Die in L.A.”
At a tad under 2 hours–a long running time in the 1930s–“The Wet Parade” tries hard to be A Film of Substance but in the end it’s no “The Lost Weekend” and no “The Roaring Twenties” either.