Story: Joe Morgan (William Farnum) has struggled with the health of his daughter, but a new ray of hope has arrived in his small town. A new doctor has moved into the area and Joe is hopeful that he can cure his daughter, who has a persistent sickness. He is anxious to meet with the doctor as soon as possible, but he has to visit the local bar to do so, which he resists. The disease of alcoholism has haunted his family and his father was a lush, which led to a lot of hard times for his family. But while Joe is hesitant to even walk into the bar, he does so for her daughter’s sake and no sooner does he enter, than he is pressured into having just one drink. Can he break the generational curse of alcoholism or will a single drink lead to dire consequences?
Entertainment Value: This might sound like the plot of a booze version of Reefer Madness, but Ten Nights in a Bar-Room is not an over the top scare picture, instead it is a dark and fairly grounded, if melodramatic look at alcoholism. The narrative is preachy, of course, but keeps things reined in just enough to avoid going off the rails too much. And while I’ve neve seen a single joint cause anyone problems, I certainly know many people who can’t handle a few drinks, so the chaos that erupts for Joe Morgan is believable, even if melodramatic. At the same time, drunk people can be fun to watch when the spectacles unfold and that happens often here, as Joe goes off the deep end at times and William Farnum dials up his performance to match. The scenes where Joe is drunk are easily the highlights here, as they’re quite tuned up and escalate to wackiness at times So yes, there is a good deal of unintentional humor in this one, but it still isn’t in the same vein as Reefer Madness style pictures. If you appreciate creaky, but entertaining cinema with some b movie charm and a wild lead performance, grab a cold one and sit down with Ten Nights in a Bar-Room.
As with many of his silent era peers, William Farnum is more theatrical and broad in his performance than would become the standard for talking pictures. This is where the melodrama of the material takes root, as he hams it up during the more kinetic moments, chewing up the scenes and being dramatic, which results in some unintended humor. I don’t think his work here is bad by any means, its just not as weighty as the role might demand. He gets across the basic drama and plays off his costars well, but once the booze flows, Farnum decides to go for broke and again, I think it is very entertaining to watch, it just dulls the edge on the seriousness of what’s going on. I found his performance to be one of the main reasons to recommend the movie, even if it won’t dazzle the critical eye. The cast also includes Phyllis Barrington, Tom Santschi, Patty Lou Lynd, and Lionel Belmore.