What Drink Did (1909)

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Text retrieved on boozemovies.com on July 28th, 2013.
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In the late 1800’s and early Twentieth Century, temperance stories and songs were popular entertainments amongst bluenoses and wet blankets looking for a grotesque thrill camouflaged as a wholesome moral lesson. These stories usually involved the dissolution of a family as a result of the evils of alcohol, and disturbingly the narrative often involved the death of a child. The Drunkard was the most popular of the early temperance plays, until it was eclipsed by William W. Pratt’s a stage adaptation of T.S. Arthur’s temperance novel Ten Nights in a Bar Room and What I Saw There. Pratt's play also popularized the most famous song of the temperance movement, “Come Home, Father” by Henry Clay Work, in which a young girl implores her swillpot daddy to return home to his family.

When the fledgling art form of motion pictures appeared around the turn of the century, stories that were already familiar were prime fodder to be filmed, and Ten Nights in a Bar Room was adapted more than a dozen times during the silent era (beginning as early as 1897). Most of these early films have disintegrated into dust, but D.W. Griffith’s early short subject What Drink Did survives, likely due to collectors attempts to preserve any work of the important director. While What Drink Did is not a straight adaptation of Ten Nights in a Bar Room, the screenplay credit reveals that it was “suggested by” the novel, and it does contain elements of the story--particularly the plot element of a young girl imploring her father to return home from a saloon.

The short stars David Miles as Alfred Lucas, a family man with a wife, two preteen daughters, and a steady job in a woodworking shop. When his co-workers try to cajole him into having a beer with lunch, the serious family man refuses, but eventually he relents and finds the brew pleasing to his taste buds. At the end of the day, Lucas is easily persuaded to join his fellow employees at the bar; and a few dozen pints later, he staggers home to his distraught family. Awaking the next morning with a hangover and the thirst of a hardcore alcoholic, Lucas gruffly ignores his children as he heads to work. His co-workers have no trouble tempting the neophyte boozehound to the bar for the second night in a row; and he stays out all evening downing suds and playing cards. After several hours of waiting for her absent spouse, Lucas’ frantic wife (Florence Lawrence) rather unwisely implores one of her young daughters to go out and bring daddy home. As with all temperance stories, tragedy ensues.