the war, Georges Simenon whiled away some pleasant days in Nogales, Arizona. Presumably,
he appreciated the charms of bordertown life.
It also became the setting of a somewhat un-Simenon-like tale of
fraternal dysfunction. The spirits will flow in Henry Hathaway’s adaptation of The Bottom of the Bottle, which screens
during the Anthology Film Archives’ Cine-Simenon
rarely rains on the ranchland outside Nogales, but when it does, the Santa Cruz
floods, cutting them off from the rest of the world. For Paul “P.M.” Martin and his fellow
landowners, this means it is time for their traditional floating house parties. However, the sudden appearance of his brother
Donald puts a damper on his mood. While they never really got along, the whole
escaped convict thing particularly irks the status conscious P.M.
course, nobody knows about the black sheep sibling he will introduce to his
wife Nora and their friends as Eric Bell.
With the river running high, the Martin brothers will just have to bluff
their way through until Donald can slip across to his waiting family. Unfortunately, the younger Martin brother is
a recovering alcoholic, under severe stress, about to attend his first rainy
season party, which will be all about getting pie-faced hammered.
is an odd film, but it is a big film, rather dazzlingly shot in Cinemascope by Lee
Garmes. It starts out as a desert noir, segueing
into Lost Weekend, marital strife
melodrama, and finally shifts into a modern day western, as the highway patrol
posse saddles up, chasing the fugitive Martin into the hills.
Bottle is not a classic classic, but
it is rather strange it is not programmed more frequently. It would certainly make an interesting double
bill with Touch of Evil, the classic
bordertown noir directed by Joseph Cotten’s old comrade, Orson Welles. Sort of conceived as a follow-up to Hathaway’s
Niagara, also starring Cotten, Bottle is nowhere near as gripping as
those two films. Still, it has Dragnet’s Harry Morgan as a kindly
barkeep, who plays Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” during the
are flashes of mordant wit throughout Bottle
(the doorbell that rings “How Dry I am” might have been the work of an acerbic
stagehand, but it still counts) and Hathaway makes the most of his southwestern
locations. He shrewdly manages to
shoehorn in one amazingly cinematic mission church as often as possible. Indeed, this is a finely crafted production,
particularly the Martin’s richly appointed ranch house, which makes the
Southfork look like a welfare hotel.
Speaking of Dallas, Jack Davis
(a.k.a. Jock Ewing) turns up in a minor role as a member of the Martin’s boozy
social circle. Nonetheless, Bottle’s depiction of the local Hispanic
population (probably considered broadmindedly sympathetic at the time) is
pretty cringy for contemporary viewers.
has the right look and presence for P.M. Martin, even if his ascot-looking
bandanas are a wardrobe mistake. Van
Johnson also stretches his chops quite notably as the sad sack brother. Surprisingly though, it is Ruth Roman who
really stands out as the assertive but family-oriented Nora Martin, who is
rather impressive holding P.M.’s feet to the fire. It is a smarter character
and performance than one expect in what is essentially a “helper” role.
So Bottle might
not be a good film, per se, but it is entertaining in its way. A late product of the old school studio
system, it demonstrates both the merits and drawbacks of the era, cramming enough
interesting stuff into a misconceived vehicle to maintain viewers’ attention the
all the way through. It is definitely
the ringer of AFA’s Cine-Simenon, but
it still makes sense to include it, because when else could they show it. Those intrigued should definitely check it
out when it screens tomorrow (8/13), Wednesday (8/15), and Sunday (8/18) at
Anthology Film Archives.
Labels: Cine-Simenon, Georges Simenon, Joseph Cotten