|Available at Amazon.com|
Few films are built for kitsch immortality. The credits for Don’t Drink the Water reveal a legendary pedigree. The script’s based on a play by Woody Allen. Jackie Gleason topped the cast. Howard Morris called the shots from the director’s chair. Besides directing numerous TV shows, he’s best known as Ernest T. Bass on The Andy Griffith Show and the voice of Atom Ant. This category three hurricane of talent doesn’t ruffle the impeccable hair of Ted Bessell (That Girl). This was the Cold War comedy of 1969.
Walter Hollander (Gleason) is a New Jersey caterer forced by his family to go on a European vacation. Toward the end of the trip, their plane is hijacked and forced to land in the sinister communist country of Vulgaria. While waiting at the Vulgarian airport, Gleason takes a few home movie moments of his family. The Vulgarians don’t take kindly to having their air force base captured on film. Gleason, his wife (Estelle Parsons) and daughter (Joan Delaney) are rescued from imprisonment by the son of the American Ambassador (Bessell).
Veteran guest actor of every TV show from the ‘60s and ‘70s, Michael Constantine is the head of Vulgaria’s intelligence agency. He’s bent on having Bessell turn over Gleason and his family since they are obviously American spies in disguise. The military surrounds the U.S. embassy and refuses to let anyone exit. How long can this last? There’s one guy kept behind the gate for six years. Bessell can’t deal with Gleason, but he’s got the hots for the Hollander daughter. How will this international incident end? There’s a great scene where Constantine instructs the local citizens about how they will attack the American embassy. Gleason is in fine form when he explains how his hand is really a gun. This isn’t a grim film about U.S.-Soviet relations.
Woody Allen hated Don’t Drink the Water. He remade it in 1994 with himself in Gleason’s role and Michael J. Fox assuming Bessell’s haircut. But it doesn’t touch the original. Why? Because in ’94 the Soviet state had collapsed. There were no more Vulgarias to mock. What’s fun about laughing at a corpse? But there’s plenty of reasons to laugh with Gleason trapped in an active Vulgaria. You can believe the KGB would attempt to decipher an egg salad recipe as if it was really code about troop movements. The original Don’t Drink the Water is an amazing of mix of talent at a time when the topic mattered.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The picture transfer looks fine. There’s minimal moments of debris on the frame. The soundtrack is Dolby Digital mono. The audio is crisp and clear. The subtitles are in English and Spanish.
Don’t Drink the Water used to get plenty of TV airings during the 1970s. Even after the Cold War thaw, the film holds up as charming kitsch with Jackie Gleason as the frustrated American tourist. The laughs lasted longer than the Berlin Wall.
Lionsgate Home Entertainment presents Don’t Drink the Water. Directed by Howard Morris. Starring Jackie Gleason, Ted Bessell, Estelle Parsons and Michael Constantine. Based on the play by Woody Allen. Running time: 100 minutes. Rated G. Released on DVD: March 18, 2008. Available at Amazon.com