Wet Parade (1932)
A heavy social message movie but really well made, with some touching, in fact moving scenes. There is the first layer of drinking and the damage heavy drinking does (with some dramatic examples!). Then there is a political level, with electioneering and a kind of lobbying by the characters—and the movie—regarding drinking.
The year it begins is 1916, more or less, and it's the cusp of the beginning of Prohibition, just a year before the U.S. enters WWI. (The war is a side issue—one character wisely says, "War has no good side.") The acting is quite realistic—this is a truly serious and large drama—and so the events take on poignant significance. Even if it might, sometimes, seem to preach (barely), it always puts it in human terms, and human costs.
"I never did take it up," says one main character, to explain his not drinking. It makes it seem like a drug ("I never did take up pot") and that's really the underlying attitude on both sides. Of course, there are lots of scenes of drunks and parties leading to good old drunkenness. One of the reasons for voting for Prohibitions is shown as economic—50 million bushels of wheat and rye were going to making drink, and in war time this was wrong.
Remember that the movie was made in 1932 just as Prohibition was being repealed. I don't think it was simply a reminder to the audience of the history of the whole 14 year experiment in teetotaling. Progressive (Democratic) President Wilson did not approve the idea, but the states went ahead and ratified the amendment (not including some notable hold outs like Kentucky, home of great Bourbon).
So, as a movie, there is a lot going on. Before the first hour is up we have one plot transform into another and then yet another. In a way it's quite remarkable. Director Victor Fleming is seven years away from his glory year (1939) and yet is showing a sustained intelligence and narrative savvy. And the camera keeps moving with engaging fluidity, the light varies greatly from night to day to night, and the editing is fast and intelligent. This is, technically, a superb movie.
Now you might object to a certain level of moralizing—the drinkers are often cads or losers—but there is enough complexity of message to make this work overall. There is a sense that everyone (nearly) admits that Prohibition is a hopeless, and maybe senseless cause. As the plot moves toward its dramatic mobster climax, it feels more about pure crime than a moral issue, which got lost along the way.
But that's perhaps what happened to the country, too, back in the long dry years of the 1920s. Which were not so dry after all, for many. Hypocrisy and irony abound. A truly interesting movie.