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Issue 38 - Hollywood's golden age: Whisky in the movies

Whisky Magazine Issue 38
April 2004


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Hollywood's golden age: Whisky in the movies

Jefferson Chase looks at the special relationship between whisky and Hollywood

A lot of golden spirit has flowed across Hollywood's silver screens in the 100-year-plus history of commercial motion pictures.

Whisky has been played for laughs and for tears. It's been knocked back by more gunfighters than you can count and drowned the sorrows of an equal number of tragic heroes waiting for redemption.

Whisky has signified style and stagnation, youthful rebellion and corrupt power.

Yet despite whisky's perennial popularity as one of Hollywood's favourite props, the relationship between the two is more broad than deep.

True to American film's understanding of itself as commerce first, art second, the first whiskey film was an advertisement.

Dewar's Scotch Whisky, made in 1897, two years after the public premier of film as an entertainment medium, is described in the International Movie Data Base as “bemused actors dressed in kilts performing a very poor impression of a highland fling.” Much the same could be said of Mel Gibson's Braveheart.

It would take another 30 years before American cinema would develop the level of sophistication that allowed Hollywood to dominate the world film market. Whisky first really hit the big time in the comedies of W.C. Fields.

Limited in range and large of nose, Fields made his mark with a single role – that of the endearingly obnoxious drunk puncturing others' pretensions with his loosened tongue.

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941) was the title of the one of his most famous films, and it also seemed to b...

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