Film and TV

Cinema Slap Fight: Henry Chinanski vs. Ben Sanderson

I can quit whenever I want.

The cinematic alcoholic has a long and storied tradition, dating back to screen drunks like William "Nick Charles" Powell, real-life drunks like John Barrymore and combinations of the two like W.C. Fields.

And for the bulk of the 20th century, the drunk was usually a movie's comic relief (think Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou or Dean Martin in just about anything). More realistic depictions cropped up here and there (The Lost Weekend, Days of Wine and Roses), but it really wasn't until the '80s and '90s that Hollywood finally decided to start cashing in on America's new rehab culture.

Today we're going to take a look at two latter-era onscreen drunks, both based on real people, and both played by actors once (and occasionally still) regarded as two of the finest of their generation: Henry Chinanski from Barfly, and Ben Sanderson from Leaving Las Vegas.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar