Don’t Drink the Water (1969) Blu-ray Review: A Subpar Sitcom

Based on the 1966 Broadway play of the same name written by Woody Allen, Don’t Drink the Water is basically a TV sitcom from that era expanded into a feature-length film. The silly story of international intrigue could easily have happened to the Ricardos, the Petries, or any number of sitcom families, which isn’t a surprise as the screenwriting team of R. S. Allen and Harvey Bullock wrote for shows such as The Andy Griffith Show; The Flintstones; Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.; and Hogan’s Heroes.

Newark caterer Walter Hollander (Jackie Gleason), wife Marion (Estelle Parsons), and his adult daughter Susan (Joan Delaney) head to Europe for a vacation at the suggestion of Marion’s brother. While flying to Greece, their plane is hijacked to the fictional country of Vulgaria (which incorrectly appears as “Bulgaria” in the closed captions) behind the Iron Curtain. Marion sees this as a photo op, causing Mr. Krojack (Michael Constantine) to presume they are spies. They run to limo of Acting American Ambassador Axel Magee (Ted Bessel), whose father, the ambassador, has just left the country. They race off to the American embassy with the Vulgarian military in pursuit. Krojack demands the Hollanders be turned over and the rest of the movie about the Hollanders trying to get back home, safe and sound.

The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The image has strong hues across the spectrum. Primaries, like Susan’s yellow bathing suit and the reds of the Vulgarian flag are bright, and earth tones, like the browns of Krojack’s clothes, are rich. Blacks are inky, although it does crush during the scene where Krojack looks at Walter’s film footage. The image looks clean with film grain on display. A lot of the scenes have a soft focus on the sides of the frames. The mono audio is serviceable. The dialogue is clear and Pat Williams’s score is presented in solid fidelity. The effects can lack power, such as the machine gun fire sounding light.

There is an audio commentary by historians Howard S Berger and Nathaniel Thompson. Though filled with information about topics like the making of film and comparisons to Allen’s 1994 TV version, it’s rather a dry conversation that is easy to drift away from. After introductions where it sounds like Thompson is recording in a small room, Berger goes on a run talking solo almost the entire first 14 minutes. Berger is surprised that so many look down on Don’t Drink the Water, repeatedly pointing it out, but it’s not a good film.

The characters are just generic types. Gleason mostly plays the straight man as the put-upon husband though he has a few comedic moments. Bessel and Delaney are love interests. Constantine is a generic foreigner. Parsons does the most with what she has been given, fluctuating between dingy and smarter than her husband. In addition to it being a subpar sitcom in terms of story and laughs, it’s not well made. When Marion helps the priest out of straitjacket, Walter is front of stairs at a desk wearing a black shirt. The film then cuts and they are all in a different room with Walter sitting in front of book shelves and now wearing red and white checkered shirt. Nothing was mentioned by the historians when the cut occurred.

Although I can’t recommend Don’t Drink the Water, if there are fans aside from Berger and Thompson, they will be pleased by the high-definition video.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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