The year is 1916, and the Chilcote family is struggling. Roger (Lewis Stone), the patriarch of the Chilcote clan, is suffering greatly after years of drinking heavily. Maggie May (Dorothy Jordan), Roger’s daughter, is worried about her father and wishes that she could convince him to stop drinking, but she has little hope that he would succeed.
Roger does manage to stay sober for a month, but relapses and goes on a binge of drinking and gambling. Leaving his family with nothing, since he has gambled all of their money away, Roger commits suicide.
After her father’s death, Maggie May becomes even more dedicated to her anti-alcohol stance. Meanwhile, her brother, Roger Jr. (Neil Hamilton), has decided to move north. Roger Jr. is a writer and is hoping to turn his first novel into a play. He moves into a hotel run by a family whose patriarch is a drunkard, just like Roger Sr. was. Like Maggie May, hotel-runner Mrs. Tarleton (Clara Blandick) and her son Kip (Robert Young) are teetotalers who hope that prohibition will become law.
Plenty of drama ensues for the Chilcote and Tarleton families as the country rejects prohibition, accepts it and then rejects it again.
The Wet Parade was released in 1932 and directed by Victor Fleming. The film was produced and distributed by MGM. It is based on a novel by Upton Sinclair. Rounding out the cast along with the performers listed above are Emma Dunn as Mrs. Chilcote, Jimmy Durante as Abe Shilling, Myrna Loy as Eileen Pinchon and Reginald Barlow as Judge Brandon.
The Wet Parade is a film not without its share of problems. Running at about two hours in length, it feels a bit over-long and could have easily been made into a tighter story with a faster pace if the length was slightly snipped.
Some of the dialogue is also very contrived. “Stop this foolishness and get back to work,” Maggie May yells at her brother, only a few minutes later telling Kip that “When prohibition goes into effect, our troubles will be over!” The story comes off a bit like an after-school special at times, particularly when it focuses on the anti-alcohol stance.
That being said, the film does have its positives as well. Aside from highly unconvincing “drunk” acting, the cast is very talented and all do pretty well in their roles. Jimmy Durante is probably the most interesting to watch, as prohibition agent Abe Shilling.
The film is also worth watching as an oddball product of its time. The Wet Parade doesn’t ever clarify itself as anti-alcohol or anti-prohibition. Instead, straddles the line between the two, offering up both arguments in what seems to be fairly equal measure. I would be interested to see if the book takes such a middle-of-the-road stance as well. Perhaps it was striving to advocate moderation of alcohol, but not as severe moderation as was seen during the prohibition era. The story follows the personal effects of alcohol on both of the central families, but also tracks the legal process of prohibition becoming law and later being repealed.
I wouldn’t call The Wet Parade a top-notch film, but it is a unique and interesting drama, worth watching for history buffs curious to see how prohibition has been handled by Hollywood throughout the years. The score: 3/5