Casablanca, shit. It’s always a daunting prospect reviewing an established classic, a movie so globally loved and revered. Written about countless times before, do you attempt to approach it from a fresh angle, or just soldier on and attempt to do it justice?
The British Film Institute (BFI) recently made headlines with the announcement that Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo had finally usurped Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane as the number one film of all time. Casablanca didn’t make the top Fifty.
The key word here is Film. Film suggests something set in celluloid, an art form to examine and revere from a scholarly distance, whereas the term Movie suggests a cinematic experience we get up close and personal to, something that Moves us.
The Maltese Falcon‘s legacy is far greater than the film itself, and its influence is far and wide. Without John Huston’s first feature, regarded as the original film noir, Blade Runner would look very different, and there would be no Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
“The last time that I trusted a dame was in Paris in 1940. She said she was going out to get a bottle of wine. Two hours later, the Germans marched into France…”
Peter Falk’s film career spanned five decades, and was universally loved for his most famous role, the shabby, nicotine-stained detective Columbo. In the Seventies, he starred in two comedies by prolific playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon, spoofing Hammett’s Sam Spade, and Humphrey Bogart.
Murder By Death sends up the traditional Cluedo style whodunnit, as mysterious millionaire Lionel Twain (Truman Capote) invites five of the world’s greatest criminologists to his manor for dinner and a murder.
…and we were forced to live on nothing but food and water for several days.”
– W.C Fields, “My Little Chickadee”
I love a few beers of an evening, and as a movie buff, I always enjoy it when the characters in a film also enjoy a little tipple. Here’s ten of my favorite drinking scenes from Cinema –
10. The Great Escape (1963) – 4th July –
Tipple of choice: Moonshine
It’s the 4th July in The Great Escape‘s chilled out POW camp, and American flyer Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen) and his buddies have been scrumping up all the potatoes they can lay their hands on, much to the curiosity of their British camp mates.
They are next seen feverishly working on distilling their own moonshine, coming to a halt when the first drops appear. Testing it, each hoarsely declares – “Wow!”
Now to try it out on the rest of their camp mates. Everyone’s enjoying themselves, but the party abruptly turns into a bit of a downer when “Tom” – one of the escape committee’s tunnels – is discovered. It’s all a bit much for Hilts’ cooler buddy Archibald Ives, who’s gone stir crazy and was pinning all his hopes on getting out through the tunnel.
Ives’ desperate attempt to go over the barbed wire fence is predictably bullet-ridden – a perfect example of how this Boxing Day classic swings expertly from comic to tragic within moments.
9. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – Nepalese Drinking Competition
Tipple of Choice: Something Strong
Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is an intrepid, globe-trotting, whip-cracking, pit-jumping archaeologist. He also has a taste for the young stuff, as we find out from his former “barely legal” squeeze, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) – “I was a child! I was in love! It was wrong and you knew it!”
Heartbroken, Marion traveled the world with her archaeologist father, Abner Ravenood, and set up a rough-and-tumble tavern in the bitter, far-flung reaches of Nepal.
She supplements her income from the local punters by holding drinking contests. We first meet her staring across a hefty wooden table at a gigantic mountain man. They exchange shots of liquor, until it looks like Marion can’t take anymore – a cry goes up from the gambling crowd as it looks like she’s about to lose the bet, and most likely her lunch.
But hang on – Marion Ravenwood’s a tougher broad than that – she makes a recovery and the smugly smiling opponent reaches for an even larger shot. Down it goes, and he looks confident – until his smile freezes and his eyes glaze, and he topples off his chair. Ravenwood wins by knockdown!
8. Lost in Translation (2003) – Suntory Time –
Tipple of Choice: Suntory Whiskey
Fading movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is in Tokyo to film an advert for some local hooch, for which he’ll pick up a cheque for a cool two million dollars. However, rather than running all the way to the studio doing the occasional jump-up & click-heels in the air thing, Bob’s a bit miserable.
He’s going through a mid-life crisis and feels trapped in his loveless marriage – which may explain why he spends his time moping around his hotel and sniffing around similarly displaced hottie Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), who Bob feels an instant affinity for, despite her being about half his age.
The filming of Bob’s Suntory commercial highlights Bill Murray’s mastery of the slow burning, disdainful deadpan; trussed up in a tuxedo on a set that’s mocked up presumably to resemble a gentleman’s club, he sits patiently listening to the super animated instructions of the frantic director, which are translated to him in somewhat truncated form.
Remember, for relaxing times, “Make it Suntory Time.”
7. Blue Velvet (1986) – “Heineken? Fuck that Shit!”
Tipple of Choice: Pabst Blue Ribbon
The demented Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) isn’t perhaps the most relaxing of drinking buddies, but at least he is hip to some pretty unusual watering holes, none more so than the retro apartment of the effete Ben (Dean Stockwell) – the “suave fucker” who is the only person Frank doesn’t focus his eye-popping rage towards.
In an uncharacteristically friendly moment, Frank asks captive nice boy Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) what type of beer he likes. Jeffrey hesitantly mentions he’s partial to a drop of Dutch suds, Heineken.
Frank is apoplectic again, and quite concise in his criticism: “HEINEKEN? FUCK THAT SHIT!”
Now, I quite like an ice cold bottle of Heineken, particularly on a summer’s day, but this scene has had such an effect on me that even when I’m ordering – “A bottle of Heineken, please.” – that I’ll often add in my mind – “HEINEKEN? FUCK THAT SHIT!” – even as I wait with delicious anticipation for my beer.
6. Star Wars (1977) – Mos Eisley Catina –
Tipple of choice: Stuff in tupperware beakers
As much as I love Episode Four, it doesn’t really get going until Han Solo (Harrison Ford) shows up, and befittingly, he is introduced hanging out in perhaps the coolest bar in the Galaxy, Chalmun’s Cantina in the dangerous spaceport of Mos Eisley – or, as Obi Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness) describes it, “A wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
Stuffy as he may seem in his advancing years, we later found out that the aging wizard…sorry, Jedi was Ewan McGregor when he was younger. So perhaps it’s no surprise that he’s familiar with this dive, which looks a great place to meet locals when visiting Tatooine.
The cantina’s a bit of the dark and sinister side, and they unfortunately serve drinks in tupperware beakers rather than proper pint glasses, but they do have the coolest band around, a buzzy atmosphere, and the clientele is an electic mix of violent space freaks.
I grew up on “Star Wars” and I’m too young to remember now, but I feel certain it was the Mos Eisley scene, and Han Solo, that sold be on George Lucas’ magical universe.
5. Six of a Kind (1934) – Honest John
Tipple of Choice: Rye
The rest of the film is antiquated and only sporadically amusing, but the scene where Sheriff John Hoxley (W C Fields) explains how he got the nickname “Honest John” over a game of pool, fortified by a bottle of rye, is a masterpiece.
If there’s one scene you need to see if you want to truly understand the meaning of “Comic Timing”, it’s this. It shows Fields at his belligerent, hen-pecked, drunken, misanthropic, shady best. I’m not even going to describe it – if you haven’t seen it before, pop open another window & watch it on Youtube, then come back and we’ll move on….
4. Casablanca (1942) – “I bet they’re asleep in New York…”
Tipple of Choice: Whiskey
We’re all prone to a spot of “beer tears” every now and then, and even Humphrey Bogart isn’t immune. His Rick Blaine in the timeless 1942 romantic thriller is cynical and sticks his neck out for no-one. He also owns probably the sexiest drinking hole on planet earth – I bet there’s aliens sitting around Mos Eisley in “Star Wars” watching re-runs of “Casablanca” saying to each other, “If I ever go to planet earth, I’m going to stop by there for a few cocktails.”
It has it all – great vibe, casino, hot dames, an international crowd (OK, you might have to put up with some Nazis) and great music. But it all goes tits up when Rick’s old flame Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) rolls up and selfishly requests an old tune from their time together from resident piano player, Sam.
Later on, the place is closed, and Rick’s halfway to the bottom of a bottle of bourbon. It may not be his first bottle, as he displays a rather unusual line of questioning when trying to figure out what time it is back in the States –
“If it’s December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York?”
Still, bear tears and drunk logic aside, Bogart never looked more world-weary nor romantic as he does in this wonderful scene, drinking, smoking in his white tux, feeling homesick and devastated that of all the Gin Joints in all the world…
3. Withnail & I (1987) – “I demand to have some booze!”
Tipple of Choice: Lighter Fluid
Of course, it would be possible to compile a complete Top 10 of drinking scenes just from Bruce Robinson’s beloved, nostalgic booze-a-thon about two unemployed actors, Withnail (Richard E Grant) and I (Paul McGann), but I’ve narrowed it down to one.
Withnail is getting desperate – he’s so cold he’s resorted to rubbing Deep Heat all over himself and wearing his marigolds to keep himself warm, and is working himself into a bit of a tizz, resulting in his famous announcement: “I demand to have some booze!”
Unfortunately, the pub’s closed and the cupboards are dry, leaving him with only one option – a tin of lighter fluid.
Despite I’s warning that even “The w*ankers on the site wouldn’t drink that.” Withnail greedily rips the lid off with his teeth, arguing it’s “A far superior drink ro meths.” and tips the lot down his throat.
This leads to another brief argument, Withnail demanding to see the contents of I’s toolbox, on the suspicion he might have a drop of anti-freeze to follow up with.
“I” admonishes him for mixing his drinks, which leaves Withnail in a maniacal laughing fit, and then throws up all over I’s boots.
Grant revealed in his humorous collection of memoirs, “With Nails”, that as a tee-totaller, he had to act drunk as Withnail, and a crafty props man replaced the water standing in as lighter fluid with vinegar, which resulted in Grant’s authentically shocked reaction when he downs it in the scene.
2. Caddyshack (1980) – Tequila Slammers
Tipple of Choice: Tequila
Ty Webb (Chevy Chase) is an ultra-rich playboy golfer at the stuck up Bushwood Country Club, and his eccentric behavior is only tolerated by the Club’s bigoted and small-minded members because he’s absolutely loaded, and a great golfer.
However, he has an unusual attitude to the game – he doesn’t keep score, for one.
“Then how do you measure yourself against other golfers?” asks the exasperated Judge Smails (Ted Knight)
He is as ambivalent towards money – Lacey: “Here’s an uncashed check for $70000!” – Ty: “Keep it, keep it.” as he is towards Grammar – “Me winning isn’t. You do.” and encourages his young caddy Danny with his own unique philosophy: “A flute without holes, is not a flute. A donut without a hole, is a Danish.”
He’s also loves the ladies, and entertains the Judge’s hot, slutty niece at his luxurious pad with drinks, massage and a nifty bit of piano playing. Ty’s coup de grace is an unusual method of taking tequila slammers – Snort the salt, suck the lemon, and throw the tequila over your shoulder.
Altogether: “I was born to love you; I was born to lick your face…”
1. Ice Cold in Alex (1958) – “Worth Waiting For”
Tipple of Choice: Carlsberg
If there is one scene from movies that makes me thirsty, it’s this classic moment from the 1958 sunday afternoon favorite, “Ice Cold in Alex”.
Evacuating from Tobruk during WWII, battle weary and borderline alcoholic Captain Anson (John Mils) must escort two nurses across the desert to British lines in an old ambulance, assisted by sturdy Tom Pugh (Harry Andrews).
Anson is off the sauce and suffering, but he pushes himself onwards through minefields, quicksand and German spies with the thought of an ice cold beer at a bar he knows in Alexandria, Egypt.
When they finally get there, Anson orders four cold ones – “Set ’em up, Joe.”
I’m not keen on the bartender’s attitude, or the way he dumps the lager in the glass, but Mills’ face is a picture of anticipation and longing. He gazes into the frothy white head, and tenderly traces a line in the condensation on the frosty glass.
The equally delicious Sylvia Syms is watching him with her big melty eyes; Anson doesn’t notice – he licks his lips, summons his resolve, grabs the glass and – down the hatch in one. His thirst and relief and refreshment are palpable as he slams down the empty glass – “Worth Waiting For.”
Carlsberg used this clip some time ago in their adverts, before moving on with ever more elaborate and humorous variations on the “Probably the best…” logo, but they really needn’t spend the money. If there’s anything that makes you want to run down your local bar and down a couple of ice cold Carlsbergs, it’s this clip.
- Casablanca (1942) – Everyone comes to Rick’s… (videokrypt.wordpress.com)