In 1916, the Chilcote family is known for their wealth. But all of that is lost when family patriarch Roger (Lewis Stone) goes on a bender and gambles away the family fortune. Distraught over what he has done, Roger commits suicide. His teetotaler daughter Maggie (Dorothy Jordan) wishes for prohibition, but her brother Richard, Jr. (Neil Hamilton) loves alcohol as much as his father did. After his father’s death, Richard, Jr. heads north to write a play and moves into a hotel run by his friend Kip Tarleton (Robert Young) and his family.
Like the Chilcotes, the Tarleton family is also dealing with a loved one’s alcoholism. Mrs. Tarleton (Clara Blandick) doesn’t drink and neither does Kip, but Kip’s father Pow (Walter Huston) drinks like a fish. Richard arrives at Kip’s hotel just in time to hear the results of the 1916 presidential election. When Woodrow Wilson wins, Pow and Richard are happy since Wilson is opposed to prohibition. But despite Wilson’s anti-prohibition platform, prohibition soon becomes the law, and bootleg liquor becomes readily available. When Pow drinks some bad bootleg alcohol, he flies into a rage when his wife confronts him about it and beats her to death. Pow is sentenced to life in prison.
With his mother and father both out of the picture, Kip has no other choice but to close the family hotel. But Kip gets a lot of support from Maggie, who he has since fallen in love with. They get married and vow to wage war against bootleggers. Meanwhile, Richard continues spending all his time drinking bootleg alcohol and starts dating nightclub owner Eileen Pinchon (Myrna Loy). Kip gets a job working with Abe Shilling (Jimmy Durante) at the Treasury Department as a prohibition officer. He does very well at his new job and the two of them even successfully shut down Eileen’s nightclub. But Kip is so good at his job, bootleggers begin to target him and with Maggie now expecting a baby, Kip has to decide if his job is worth it.
The Wet Parade is an ambitious movie, but perhaps too ambitious for its own good. I see the messages it was trying to convey, but the final result was heavy-handed and overly long. I thought the character of Maggie was very underutilized. The movie opens with the story of her family, so it’s easy to think that she would be a prominent character in the rest of the movie, but no. Instead, she’s relegated to supporting character status after that and serves no real purpose other than to be on Kip’s side. After her father’s death, she seemed quite passionate about prohibition but unfortunately, we don’t actually see her being active in the prohibition movement, it’s just talk. It would have been nice to see her actually trying to do something about it.
But one thing The Wet Parade does have going for it is a strong cast. The idea of Jimmy Durante the prohibition agent may sound strange, but I appreciated the comic relief he brought and will probably be one of the few things I strongly remember about The Wet Parade.