Estranged siblings whose disgust with each other has only grown through the years forms the crux of Henry Hathaway’s The Bottom of the Bottle. There’s alcoholism and vigilantism worked into the narrative, too, in this melting pot of plots that froths and bubbles but seldom makes for satisfying drama. Despite a top-notch cast and some excellent location action scenes, this seldom remembered drama really never comes to a full boil.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 28 Min.
Package Includes: DVDAmray case
Disc Type: DVD-R
Release Date: 05/14/2014
Van Johnson stars as Donald Martin, an escaped Joliet prisoner trying desperately to be reunited with his wife and three kids who are waiting for him in Mexico. His brother Pat (Joseph Cotten) is a big shot lawyer in Tucson, but they’ve been estranged for years since Pat was too busy five years earlier to represent him in his manslaughter trial (the killing was actually self defense), and the public defender couldn’t prevent a ten-year sentence being handed down. When Don arrives at Pat’s home asking for help, Pat wants to throw him out, but Pat’s long-suffering wife Nora (Ruth Roman) insists her husband be civil to his brother. A raging storm has cut off all roads into Mexico due to swollen rivers, so Don is stuck at Pat’s home, the center of a suburban cocktail party community who wonders who this stranger is visiting the Martins. Pat is desperate to uphold his reputation by not letting on who this stranger is, and he’s also concerned that the rabidly boozing neighbors will be bad influences on his brother, a reformed but (due to his stress at escaping prison and not being able to get into Mexico) shaky alcoholic.Sydney Boehm’s screenplay has made the two leading men of the piece into insufferable and decidedly unlikable bores. Pat is so uptight about his reputation in his community and is so obviously guilty about letting his brother down all those years ago that he’s wound tighter than a watch spring (the film’s title could just as easily refer to his emotions being “all bottled up” as it does to Don’s alcoholism) and can only rant and bluster at everyone instead of sitting down and calmly assessing the situation. With the necessity of keeping his wits about him with the law on his tail and his family waiting just nineteen miles over the border, it would seem Don has more than enough reasons to stay sober, but he all too quickly succumbs to the temptation of liquor which is hilariously all around him. (Even the next door neighbors have “How Dry I Am” as the tune for their door chime!) The manufacturing of events designed to overtly upset the two brothers is not subtly handled (how ridiculous that the hostess DEMANDS that Don attend her cocktail party; true, her husband played by Jack Carson is boorish and a tiresome know-it-all, but Don can only think of his wife and wouldn’t be interested in a dalliance with her), and Don’s drunken spree going through the night and into the next day gets more ludicrous by the minute. On the other hand, to the film’s credit, there are a couple of astonishingly well-staged action scenes by director Henry Hathaway: Van Johnson (or his stunt double) comes millimeters away from being run over by a train, and a later river crossing on horseback by the two brothers makes for an eye-opening climactic sequence in the overly talky picture.)Van Johnson does just fine as the mercurial brother who teeters on the verge of a breakdown through the entire movie (a teary-eyed telephone scene with his wife and children shows Johnson’s strengths as an actor of feeling) though he does get drunk very fast at the beginning of his binging rampage. Joseph Cotten here gives one of the poorer performances of his career: all bellowing and scowls and, until the too-convenient happy ending, unending darkness and irascibility. Ruth Roman, on the other hand, shows more colors than usual as the frustrated wife existing in a loveless marriage and desperate to find a solution to her problems. Jack Carson and Margaret Hayes as the pushy and assertive neighbors do well with one-dimensional parts. Bruce Bennett has a nice scene or two as the local law enforcement officer while TV quiz show favorite Gonzales-Gonzales has a couple of delightful scenes as a town worker eager to help Mr. Martin.
The Production Rating: 3/5
The film’s 2.55:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in a non-anamorphic letterbox format. Despite the lack of anamorphic enhancement, sharpness is quite good and motion artifacts like moiré patterns are minimal. The color stills on the back of the case aren’t reflected in the quality of the color in this image: it’s more brownish and lackluster though for the Arizona desert, it’s not an unreasonable look for the transfer. Skin tones are tanned but perhaps a bit lacking in lighter skin shades. Black levels are good but not great. There are occasional dust specks here and there, but the only reel change marker comes at the very end. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so this disc contains 9 chapters.
Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound mix is, like so many of the Cinema Archive releases, encoded at an increased volume level which will require adjustment to prevent distortion. There is directionalized dialogue which has been generally well recorded though there are occasional moments where sound effects (at the rampaging swollen river, for example) and Leigh Harline’s score are pumped up at bit too much at the expense of understanding everything that is being said. But the track is free of age-related problems like hiss or crackle. Work has clearly been done to offer a decent listening experience for the film.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Theatrical Trailer (2:20, SD): surprisingly, a (strange, seemingly incomplete lacking graphics to identify the stars and key production personnel) trailer is provided on this MOD disc.
Special Features Rating: 1/5
The Bottom of the Bottle was not a film I was familiar with at all before viewing this made-on-demand disc, but its first-rate cast and its Cinemascope credentials made me curious to experience it for the first time. It’s not great drama, but there are good things in it, and it’s certainly a film that fans of the stars, the director, or the era would want to see.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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