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Don’t Drink the Water

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Don't Drink the Water (1969) starring Jackie Gleason, Estelle Parsons, Ted Bessell
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Don’t Drink the Water (1969) starring Jackie Gleason, Estelle Parsons, Ted Bessell

Don’t Drink the Water – a Cold War comedy starring Jackie Gleason and Estelle Parsons that actually retains its humor – read on to find out why!

 In short,  Don’t Drink the Water is a cold war comedy based on a play by Woody Allen. It stars Jackie Gleason as a New Jersey caterer who, along with his wife (Estelle Parsons) and daughter (Joan Delaney) who have their European vacation interrupted. When their plane is forced to land in the fictional Communist nation of Vulgaria. Outside the plane, the family decides to take some photographs.  This leads to their being accused of spying, and forcing them to take refuge in the American embassy. However, the ambassador is absent, and his son (Ted Bessell,  That Girl) is in charge.

Jackie Gleason and Estelle Parsons in "Don't Drink the Water"

The family is going stir crazy, with the slightly zany cast of characters coming through the embassy.  This includes a nice bit by Avery  Schreiber as a sultan who’s swiftly insulted by Jackie Gleason and leaves in a huff.   A very funny scene has the Communist Commissar (played very well, by a funny Michael Constantine) lecturing the middle-aged “student protesters” on how, when and where to stage their “spontaneous” protest.   Another funny routine is where Jackie Gleason is holding a bomb thrown through a window during the “protest” that has to be disarmed with him holding it.  It gives Jackie Gleason opportunity to do silent clowning with his facial expressions. And Estelle Parson as the slightly ditsy wife as well.

With the help of the CIA, they plan to escape.  But the best-laid plans of mice and men often go astray.  The fact that the daughter has fallen in love with the ambassador’s son only complicates the matter … or does it?

I remember watching  Don’t Drink the Water from when I was younger.  It’s just as funny over 40 years later, unlike some other Cold War comedies — enjoy!


  • Jackie Gleason (The Honeymooners, Soldier in the Rain) … Walter Hollander. The New Jersey caterer, taking his family on a European vacation. And gets caught up in the insanity of international intrigue.
  • Estelle Parsons (Bonnie and Clyde) … Marion Hollander. Walter’s wife, Susan’s mother. Who bizarrely enjoys at least some of the madness.
  • Ted Bessell (That Girl) … Axel Magee. The inept son of the American Ambassador, in charge during his absence. “You were in Panama for only two weeks, and they hung you in effigy …. Your own embassy!” But, good-hearted. He genuinely tries to help the Hollanders out of their predicament. He also falls in love with Susan.
  • Joan Delaney … Susan Hollander. The attractive young daughter. She’s nice, kind …. And falls in love with Axel as well. Despite her father’s protests.
  • Michael Constantine (The Hustler) … Krojack. An absolutely hilarious performance!
  • Howard St. John (Strait-Jacket) … Ambassador Magee. The politically ambitious ambassador, who’s planning to run for governor. As long as his son doesn’t ruin his chances by what happens at the embassy!
  • Avery Schreiber (Robin Hood: Men in Tights) … Sultan. An absolutely hilarious performance!

Updated December 25, 2021. Merry Christmas!

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