Hollywood loves a drunk. Not the self destructive drink-themselves-to-death kind, although Nicholas Cage won an Oscar for playing one of those in Leaving Las Vegas, but the playfully befuddled drinker whose behavior provides the set up for some intoxicating comedy. W.C. Fields, who once said, “I drink therefore I am,” made a career of playing silly souses and this weekend Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis are under the influence again in The Hangover Part II.
From John Belushi as Animal House’s boozy beast Blutarsky, who downs an entire bottle of Jack Daniels in one megagulp to Karen Allen, who drinks her way out of a sticky situation in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the movie’s best boozers have been a varied group.
There’s the happy drunk, a smashed stereotype best personified by Dudley Moore in Arthur. Rarely sober, the character stumbles through life with the aid of his loyal butler and bottles of champagne. When his fiancée Susan (Jill Eikenberry) tells him that “a real woman could stop you from drinking,” he replies, “It’d have to be a real BIG woman.”
If Moore was most loveable, then Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa con man in is the least likeable. As a mall Santa who only takes the job to rob the place on Christmas Eve, he drinks, destroys a holiday display and scars an entire crowd of children. Drunk movie moments abound although the sight of a wobbly Santa Claus in a back alley swigging from a flask is the most indelible. Billy Bob Thornton says he was genuinely loaded during the filming.
Jeff Bridges has played a variety of drunks in his day, most recently in True Grit and Crazy Hearty, but his best known drinker is Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski who singlehandedly re-popularized the White Russian. As laid-back party monster he drinks nine White Russians during the course of the movie.
Of course Hollywood occasionally uncorks a serious look at drinkers. Ray Milland showed the destructive side of boozing in The Lost Weekend, ditto Barfly’s Mickey Rourke but few have brought as much boozy beauty to a role than Elizabeth Taylor as the cantankerous Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
And finally, not all drunks are as dysfunctional as Martha. In Tombstone Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday could still shoot even though he was seeing double. His technique? Use two guns, “one for each of you.”