Monday, February 3, 2020

One is Too Many, A Thousand is Not Enough

This is my entry in The James Garner Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews

Alcoholics Anonymous was started in 1935.  The event stems from when one William "Bill" Wilson was struggling with trying to remain sober and hit upon the idea, while on business in Akron, OH, to find another alcoholic to talk to, not to get the other alcoholic sober, but an effort to keep himself sober.

That person was a doctor who also suffered from an addiction to alcohol, one Dr. Robert "Bob" Smith.  The foundation of the internationally known organization began with two alcoholics getting together to discuss their problems and working out that the solution was to help each other stay sober.  Today there are are over 125,000 (according to a Jan. 2019 estimate)  AA and affiliated groups (including such variations as Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Addicts Anonymous, etc.) meeting in virtually every country in the world, and it all started with just these two guys.

My Name is Bill W. (1989):

The real Bill W. and Dr. Bob S.

James Woods as Bill W. and James Garner as Dr. Bob S.

Bill Wilson (James Woods) is just home from WWI.  He has ambition to beat the band.  He wants to be a success on the stock market, and he has the ego to match his drive.  He and his wife Lois (JoBeth Williams) are working to develop a life of luxury.

But Bill developed a taste for alcohol while on duty in service in Europe during the war.  Although initially it's not too bad, it gradually becomes an obsession.  One should note that most of Bill's drinking "career" occurred during prohibition.  He mustered out of the service in 1920 and didn't actually become sober until 1935.  Prohibition, if you didn't know, was in effect from 1920-1933.  So much of the alcohol he consumed was not only bad for him but also illegal.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Bill and Lois became paupers.  Bill struggled to regain his stature as an investor, but alcohol sent him on binges.  Everyone, including his wife and father-in-law struggled to convince him to quit.  Not only was Bill an obsessive drinker, though, he also suffered from a single-minded determination to be a success in business.  This leads to him not paying much attention to his wife, and he is on a binge when she has to have a hysterectomy to save her life.

Eventually his family believes that the only way to save Bill is to have him committed to a mental institution.  (There were several of these drying out periods over Bill's life, according to his own story in the first chapter of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, but the movie distills this down to save time.  At the mental institution Bill has a revelation and finds his "Higher Power" who removes the obsession for alcohol from Bill.

Not long after, Bill is on business in Akron, still trying to become a success.  In the hotel he has a lot of free time on his hands and keeps looking at the hotel lounge and trying to avoid giving up on his sobriety.  Instead he decides to call the local churches trying to find a fellow addict to talk with.  This leads him to Dr. Bob (James Garner), who consents to talk with bill for 15 minutes.  The conversation eventually lasted 6 hours, and the seeds of AA recovery were born.

The focal point of the film is on Bill, but without Dr. Bob in the mix, Alcoholics Anonymous would never have got off the ground and millions of recovering alcoholics today might still be suffering.  Included in Bill's story is the man who inspired Bill that recovery was possible, Ebby Thatcher (Gary Sinise).  It was Ebby who came to Bill with a concept of using a Higher Power (God) as a force greater than himself to quit.

Whether or not the movie is inspiring may depend a lot on your position on the subject of alcoholism.  Surely, if you are one of those who can't believe a man can be so deep in his addiction that he can't just quit on his own, you may find the story a bit on the melodramatic side.  But speaking as one who has found release through help, I find Bill's story encouraging.

If you really want to get into the concept of addiction and also the potential for recovery, might I recommend you pair this with the classic Ray Milland movie The Lost Weekend?  Both movies will give you an insight into the plight of someone who struggles to say "No" to the next drink.

Time to fire up the Plymouth and head home.  And with 10+ years of sobriety I'll be doing it without alcohol.  Drive safely folks.



  1. There are very few among us who haven't dealt with addiction of our own or of someone close to us.

    Everything in life, whether it be recovery, religion or politics is successful only by the continued appliance of group think or help.

    I remember this movie well. It felt very real and sincere to me all those years ago.

    1. I wouldn't have been interested in it in 1989 even if I had been aware of it. But sobriety brought me to it. Thanks for reading.

  2. Hi Quiggy...I remember seeing this at the time, very moving true story and Woods and Garner are amazing. Congrats on your 10 years of recovery, too, that is a huge accomplishment, and as a result, we have your incredible and prolific Midnite Drive In for movie lovers like me!
    - Chris

    1. Thanks, Chris, although it took me 5 years before I found the inclination to get the blog going again. (I had given it up along about the same time as I got sober, mostly because I didn't have the $$ yet for internet, but also because I was losing interest in a lot of things that I had been using alcohol to spur on...) Thanks for reading.

  3. 10 years sober! Congrats! That is a wonderful achievement.

    As for this film, it sounds interesting and encouraging. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

  4. Great explanation you provided for this film, Quiggy! I do miss the days when Hallmark Hall of Fame movies took the time to talk about serious, real-life issues. Speaking of Hallmark Hall of Fame, I reviewed 'Promise' for the James Garner Blogathon. Here's the link if you want to check it out:

    1. It gives some real feel to a story I only knew from reading chapter 1 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book. Thanks for reading.

  5. Sorry about taking so long to add a reply, this sounds an interesting biopic from Garner and I'm glad you entered it as it certainly sounds interesting and undermentioned performance.

    1. Since it centers on Bill, Garner doesn't get a whole lot of screen time, but his character was significant in the overall story of A.A. Thanks for reading.


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