Friday, June 21, 2013

"Hey, Beertender, Give me another Martoonie!"

According to Twentieth Century Fox publicists, a highlight of the upcoming comedy The Heat (2013) is a drunk scene performed by Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.  Here is a snippet that appears in the trailer. 

It is considered politically incorrect today to make fun of alcoholics.  By modern standards, a funny drunk scene is only acceptable if it's made clear that the drunk character doesn't have a chronic problem with alcohol.  The character may drink excessively to cope with a dismal event, maybe a breakup or a job loss, or they may overindulge in drink while celebrating a special occasion like a birthday or a wedding.  The clear implication is that these "drowning sorrows" or "cutting loose" episodes are not part of the character's daily routine.  Bullock and McCarthy get drunk to vent frustrations and bond with one another.

At one time, Hollywood studios valued comic actors who could act habitually drunk on screen.  These actors played characters who didn't need a special occasion or a personal set-back to drink.  Having to live on this planet was reason enough to down a few shots.  My all-time favorite movie drunk is Arthur Housmen, who made his debut as screen souse extraordinaire in Harold Lloyd's Feet First (1930).  The actor continued to appear as drunks up until his last film, Public Enemies (1941), which was shot just months before his death.  

Arthur Housmen in Gridiron Flash (1934) 

Arthur Housmen in Scram (1932)

Housman's top rival was natty Jack Norton.  Norton played a drunk in his first feature film, Finishing School (1934), and appeared as a drunk in his last public appearance on "The Jackie Gleason Show" in 1955.  That's 21 years of slurred words and fumbled steps from Norton.  If they ever create a Movie Drunk Hall of Fame, I will nominate this great old comic actor for a longevity award.  They could call the award the Lifetime * hiccup* Achievement Award.

Jack Norton in The Bank Dick (1940)

The funny drunk was phased out in the 1970s.  The last of the funny drunks were Dick Wilson and Jack Perkins.

Dick Wilson on Bewitched ("A Bunny For Tabitha," 1969)

Dick Wilson on Alice ("The Fourth Time Around," 1976)

Jack Perkins on The Odd Couple ("Felix The Calypso Singer," 1971)

Jack Perkins on All in the Family ("Archie Is Worried About His Job," 1971)

Attitudes changed in the 1980s and 1990s.  British comedian Willie Ross now conveyed a disturbing darkness in his frequent portrayals of drunks.

Rita, Sue and Bob Too! (1987)

One Foot In The Grave ("The Return Of The Speckled Band," 1990)

Our Friends in the North (1996)

Our Mutual Friend (1998)  

Allan Fish paid tribute to Ross on the blog Wonders in the Dark.  Fish wrote, "Sadly, in 2000, life imitated art, as it is wont to do.  [Ross] was killed in a fall down his stairs at home.  Drunk, naturally."

It may be due to political correctness that The Heat scene is never called a "drunk scene" in interviews and promotional releases.  It is consistently referred to as "the bar scene," as if the setting is more significant than the behavior.

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