Behind the Bar: Movie Mixology

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It’s Oscar time again. And on Sunday, I suggest you get dressed up and fix a round of drinks before settling in for the red-carpet coverage and awards ceremony.

It only makes sense, since cocktails and movies are as natural an American pairing as apple pie and ice cream. Drinks are a specialized tool for a film director: An elixir can move a plot forward or define a moment perfectly, give the audience a belly laugh or pull us to the darkest corners of a character’s life.

In The Godfather Part II, I’m convinced that when Fredo, half in the bag already, pesters his brother about the Spanish word for Banana Daiquiri, Michael Corleone makes a mental note to spend some time alone with him at the lake house.

One of the most famous silver-screen bars is Rick’s Café Americain in Casablanca, and what the characters order there says a lot about them. In a dramatic scene, Victor Laszlo, a leader of the Czech underground, requests two glasses of Cointreau, but Nazi sympathizer Captain Renault waves off the order and brings him Champagne instead. Laszlo tries to refuse unsuccessfully. The next day, Laszlo asks for two cognacs, refusing steadfastly to have Champagne, a celebratory beverage, in Nazi-occupied Casablanca.

Some of my favorite cocktail pairings on film are in Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch. Marilyn Monroe has bubbly with potato chips, and for Tom Ewell, it’s two Whiskey Sours with a peanut butter sandwich (for breakfast, of course).

The Martini has been featured in so many movies it deserves an Academy Award. According to the spectacular book The Martini by Barnaby Conrad III, there was a period in Hollywood history when directors even called the last shot of the day a “Martini shot.”

Some of the Martini’s scenes are comic, as in 1958’s Auntie Mame, when 10-year-old Patrick prepares a Martini for Mr. Babcock of the Knickerbocker Bank. The mood is anything but comic in All About Eve, which garnered 14 Oscar nominations (and six wins), when a combative Bette Davis slams back her first Dry Martini and like a good stewardess instructs the group to fasten their seatbelts for a bumpy night.

The Vesper, a twist on the Martini, is famously shaken for special agent James Bond in Casino Royale. But Joan Crawford’s classic Dry Martini is most definitely stirred in 1946’s drama Humoresque, whose screenplay was co-written by Clifford Odets.

Nick and Nora Charles knock off Martinis like toy soldiers one-by-one in rapid succession in the Thin Man series as they effortlessly solve crimes between sips.

During the Oscars, I’ll certainly be having a Martini. Just make mine with gin, stirred, wet and very cold, with a small chilled pimiento-less Spanish olive and a twist…and when you choose the glass, remember: I want a drink; I don’t want a bath.

Whiskey Sour

Contributed by Dale DeGroff

Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake, and strain into an Old Fashioned glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with an orange and a cherry.

Champagne Cocktail

Contributed by Dale DeGroff

Add the sugar cube to a Champagne flute and soak with a few dashes of bitters. Fill with Champagne and garnish with a lemon peel if desired.

Master mixologist Dale DeGroff is the author of The Essential Cocktail and The Craft of the Cocktail. He is also a advisory board member.

Books: The Martini
Brands: Cointreau

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  • posted 5 years ago

    Good catch; we’ve corrected the spelling of Laszlo. But the story refers to an earlier scene; Laszlo does indeed try to turn down Champagne from Captain Renault.

  • znachki posted 5 years ago

    While Patrick Dennis mixes an awesome Martini for his Auntie Mame, for sheer comic value, you can't beat the Daquiri that Mr. Upson makes "Mamie" during her visit to Upson Downs. The secret ingredient? Honey! And then the payoff to the joke later in the movie.

  • Christopher Carlsson posted 5 years ago

    At the other end of the spectrum don't forget 'Under the Volcano" with Albert Finney . I was speaking with a film historian at the Eastman who said Finney was doing shots of Mezcal between takes.
    BTW wives don't think it's funny when you tell someone that Geoffrey Fermin ( Finney's character) was a role model when they are within earshot - trust me on that one.

  • Tom English posted 5 years ago

    Sorry Dale, you got it all wrong. Victor Laszlo (not Lazlo as you state in the story) did dring his bubbly in Casablanca. In one scene he ordered two champagne cocktails at the bar in Ricks. Shortly after that the Germans started singing Die Wacht am Rhein. With that, Victor goes to the band leader and demands that they play Les Marseillaise. The band leader looks to Rick and he nods his head telling him to do so. The band plays, everyone stands to sing the words, Yvonne is redeemed, etc etc. As far as I am concerned, it is the second best scene in the movie,, The first? Well we'll always have Paris!

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