Plot: Roger (Lewis Stone) has an enviable position in life, as he has wealth, social power, and a large family that surrounds him, but he is blind to his assets and chooses to drown himself in alcohol. He lives to drink and gamble, to the point that even with a sizable fortune, he risks losing all he has built up over the years. His daughter Maggie (Dorothy Jordan) pleads with him to give up liquor and restore the family’s honor, but he refuses and after hitting bottom, Roger takes his own life. In the wake of the tragic events, Roger’s family finds themselves at the center of the prohibition debate and drawn into all kinds of social conflicts. One side believes the freedom to drink is promised, no matter the consequences, while the other is convinced that alcohol just leads to ruin, while some are stuck in the middle. With no simple answers to grasp, what will become of Roger’s family in the midst of this social debate?
Entertainment Value: The Wet Parade is a large scale, drawn out melodrama that tackles the issue of alcoholism and the social chaos around prohibition, complete with a star studded cast of characters. The narrative is interesting and the movie has some powerful scenes, but it also runs nearly two hours and to call it bloated would be a kind compliment. I think the core experience of The Wet Parade is worthwhile, but there is a lot of gristle around the meat, complicated by a clunky approach to how the story unfolds in a number of stretches. A lean, more efficient approach could have reeled in viewers and kept them hooked, whereas this flowing style tends to allow the audience to drift at times. Even so, the robust talent involved helps balance that out, as even when a scene is dull or feels unneeded, the cast is able to add some flair and at least make it a little fun to watch. I also think the melodrama lends a hand to combat the weight of the run time, as things can spiral up into over the top drama at times, which adds some fun and keeps you reeled in. So I do wish the story was a little more focused and not so all over the place, but even with a lot of filler, The Wet Parade is a watchable melodrama with a fantastic cast. So for fans of pre-code cinema or all star ensembles, this one earns an recommendation.
This cast is absolutely loaded with star power and talent, which is one of the reasons the clunky narrative holds up so well. If you have lesser talents in these roles, the movie would leak and sink, as you need charisma and presence to carry those drawn out runs that crop up often. I had the most fun watching Walter Huston in action here, as he plays the desperate drunk with immense skill and steals scene after scene. His character is about as far down into the bottle as it gets, so Huston is able to dial things up and he does, to effective ends. The exchanges between Huston’s Pow and the character’s wife are memorable, to say the least. Jimmy Durante is also here and in fine form, adding some comic relief at times. Dorothy Jordan and Robert Young have prominent roles and turn in solid efforts, if not ones that stand out as remarkable or memorable. The ensemble here also includes Myrna Loy, Lewis Stone, Emma Dunn, John Larkin, Wallace Ford, Neil Hamilton, and Joan Marsh.