A Night at the Movies

The Beloved and I sat up watching the BAFTAs last evening, and next weekend we can look forward to the glamour and excitement of the Oscar award ceremony. It got me thinking about drinks to celebrate films and film actors. One of my oldest and dearest friends, Kath, is an avid film fan. Avid, as in obsessed and indiscriminate. She seems to know everything there is to know about every obscure film and has an encyclopedic knowledge of Oscar statistics. She’s also a cocktail fan. Over the years, we’ve tried old cocktails together, invented new ones, compared variations and generally done untold damage to a pair of no-longer-young livers. A conversation with Kath gave rise to the following ideas.

It's too easy to name the vodka martini as the film cocktail. However, Bond ordered a variation on the martini in Fleming’s original James Bond novel, Casino Royale, something he would never do on film until Daniel Craig took the role. In his variant, Bond calls for a mixture of vodka with gin and the addition of Kina Lilet. As tastes changed, Lilet has reduced the bitterness of its product, so it’s no longer possible to make the drink as Fleming intended. If you want to give the drink the same bitterness that Bond tasted, replace the Lilet with Cocchi Americano and use Mason’s gin, which has the right taste and alcoholic strength for a 1950s drink.

And so, we move on.

Hollywood’s first power couple
I challenged Kath to come up with an Oscar winner with a cocktail bearing their name. That was an easy one for her. Mary Pickford won the Academy Award for best actress for her part in Coquette (1929). She was also given an honorary award for lifetime achievement in 1976. She was a founder member of the Academy and had hosted the 1929 inaugural awards dinner with her husband, Douglas Fairbanks. The Mary Pickford cocktail came about a few years later, when she was producing films as part of the United Artists studio she’d set up with Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin. She was by far the most powerful woman in Hollywood (arguably in America). Like her, the cocktail looks sweet and innocent and has one hell of a kick!
In a shaker full of ice, mix a measure of pineapple juice, a measure of white rum, half a measure of grenadine cordial and a splash of maraschino liqueur. Shake and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Douglas Fairbanks has his own cocktail, which is one of my favourites. Or possibly his son has. The earliest record of the cocktail dates from 1934, by which time both father and son were making films. Take your pick which actor you wish to honour with a cocktail. Both missed out on an Oscar, although Fairbanks Senior was given an honorary award in 1940 for setting up the Academy.
In a shaker of ice, mix a measure of gin, two measures of apricot bandy, a measure of lime juice and about a tablespoon of egg white. Shake very hard until your hand can’t take the cold, then strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with lime.

Bad ends
Early Hollywood was somewhat puritanical about drinking, and few people ordered drinks on screen without coming to a bad end. One very early example is Lionel Barrymore’s character in Grand Hotel (Outstanding Picture in 1932). Otto Kringlein is dying and has decided to spend his remaining days enjoying luxury. With increasing insistence, he invites other hotel residents to join him in drinking Louisiana flips. I’d love to give you the recipe for the cocktail, but it appears not to exist. Several writers on the internet claim to have a recipe, but all admit they’re attempting to reconstruct a drink no-one has ever tasted in its original form. Jett Wilson’s enjoyable blog even states that the MGM producers were baffled by the script’s mention of the drink and, failing to find any recipe, made one up. I suspect that, in reality, the name had been invented. A flip is a mix of alcoholic drinks shaken with whole egg. Typical spirits in Louisiana might be Bourbon and absinthe. Try it if you like; I’ll stick to better understood drinks.

Vive la France!
Kath asked me to name a cocktail that features in one of the films to win Best Picture. My film knowledge is less extensive than hers, so I had to rely on the obvious classics. I turned to Casablanca. Actually, Casablanca gives us another drinking character who comes to a bad end, although this character is redeemed in her final scene. Already jilted by Humphrey Bogart’s Rick, Yvonne ends the film alone, despised by her fellow French for collaborating with the Nazis, yet consumed with grief for her occupied homeland. Among a long line of drinks she and her German lover order, in a scene in Rick’s bar, is the fabulously boozy French 75. The drink is said to be named after a piece of heavy artillery, as a warning against its strength. Its popularity was spread by British and US officers returning from the horrors of the Great war, so it may be a fitting drink to toast the success of Sam Mendes' 1917 if expectations are fulfilled next weekend.

In a mixing glass, place a couple of ice cubes, a teaspoon of icing sugar, the juice of half a lemon and a measure of gin. Stir well until the sugar is dissolved and strain into a Champagne glass. Top up with Champagne.

A better end
By the 1960s, the puritanism of the Hays code had been laid aside, and drinking characters could reach the end of a film alive and well. A good example is Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Best Song, 1962). In one startling scene, Holly throws a party in her apartment, serving nothing but Mississippi punch. I’d be willing to bet that Kath, a keen drinker but still a good girl, has never had a Mississippi punch. I’ve certainly never served her one, and no-one else I know would ever consider serving something so boozy. In the film, the booziness of this cocktail is exactly the point. Holly is not the New York sophisticate she’s taken to be: the Mississippi punch owes more to student fraternity drinking parties than it does to the metropolitan cocktail scene. Having said that, if you can take 4 shots of spirit in one drink (and I wouldn’t recommend more than one), it’s surprisingly delicious.
In a shaker of ice, mix two teaspoons of caster sugar, the juice of half a lemon, one measure of dark rum, one measure of Bourbon whiskey and two measures of Cognac. Shake hard and strain into a tall glass filled with more ice.

The ones that got away
Kath confirmed that my favourite Hollywood couple, Laurel and Hardy, never won an Oscar for any of their films. They were, however given an honorary Oscar in 1961, which, sadly, only Oliver Hardy was able to receive. In an interview last year for Difford’s Guide, Maxim Schulte, head barman at the Savoy Hotel’s American Bar, revealed that Stan and Ollie had tried to work their way through all 700 recipes in the bar’s cocktail book. Their favourite? The white lady. I like to make my white lady with egg white, to bind the flavours better and give the drink an attractive white foam, but I reproduce here the recipe as it was served in the American Bar at the time.
In a shaker of ice, mix a measure of lemon juice, a measure of Cointreau and two measures of London Dry gin. Shake hard and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a slice of lemon.

One of my favourite films is Pressburger & Powell's oddly wonderful A Matter of Life and Death, which wasn't even recognised with a nomination. Emeric Pressburger had earlier received an Oscar as a writer, but Michael Powell never won at all. Given the pair's incredible work as writers, directors and cinematographers, my view is that they have been done a great injustice. Lots of films have featured pilots and their variously heroic or glamourous lives. Few have won anything from the Academy. For all the pilots who missed out, from David Niven to Tom Cruise, from Matthew Modine and Harry Connick Jr to Leonardo di Caprio, raise a glass of Aviation this weekend.
In a shaker of ice, mix 20ml of fresh lemon juice, 15ml of maraschino liqueur, 10ml of crème de violette (violet liqueur) and 60ml of gin. Shake hard and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

I am indebted to Kath Humphrey for the stimulating conversations that gave rise to this article and for her vast Oscars knowledge. If you’d like to read more of her views on every Oscar winning film since 1929, you can find her blog, From Sunrise to Moonlight, at https://sunrisetomoonlight.blogspot.com/ 

Next time: more intimate dinners - a time to challenge myself

This post first appeared in a slightly different form in The Yorkshire Times online newspaper.


  1. What a fascinating article. Some great ideas for cocktails there. I'll have to dig out my cocktail shaker though I won't be attempting that lethal sounding Missisippi Punch I am afraid.

    1. Thanks for your kind comment. Enjoy trying out those safer cocktails!


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