An escaped convict’s desperate efforts to reach his wife and three children in Mexico add up to 88 minutes of melodrama in The Bottom of the Bottle, based on the Georges Simenon novel.
The screenplay has an emotional field day as it touches on the Cain and Abel relationship between brothers Van Johnson and Joseph Cotten. Former, the con who’s on the lam, turns to his kin to speed his flight across the border. But Cotten, a successful lawyer-rancher who’s built a flourishing practice in southern Arizona, fears for his reputation.
The rancher fraternity, also comprising Jack Carson, his wife Margaret Hayes, Jim Davis and Margaret Lindsay, among others, has a penchant for one party after another and the liquor flows freely. Johnson, whose yen for alcohol was indirectly responsible for his prison stretch, again becomes a victim of the bottle.
Director Henry Hathaway, an old hand at spreading mellers on a broad CinemaScope canvas, accents the action and suspense at the right moments. Although some of the plot may tax the imagination, it’s to Cotten’s credit that he makes his own role relatively believable under the circumstances. Good support is provided by a long list of other players.