Drink of the Week: Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (TCM Fest Salute #4)

Buono Sera, Mrs. Campbell.A truly smart and well-written sex comedy is a thing of beauty and not an everyday occurrence — rare in the past and rarer still in the present. Indeed, my film-besotted compatriots and I had relatively modest hopes for Melvin Frank’s 1968 near-farce, “Buono Sera, Mrs Campbell,” at this year’s TCM Fest. For the most part, we were expecting an entertaining but possibly rather routine 1960s romp and were there largely to check out its legendary star. That would be Italian bombshell-turned photographer and sculptor Gina Lollobrigida, a rather amazing woman on numerous counts who, at 88, still has a few thoughts on her mind and an innately humorous sensibility. The movie, much to our delight, turned out to be nearly as extraordinary as its star.

It’s the story of an Italian single mother who finds herself suddenly in the embarrassing position of reuniting with three men from her war-torn past, any one of whom has pretty much an equal shot of being the father of her now grown-up daughter in those days well before the arrival of easy DNA testing. If the setup sounds familiar, it’s because the plot was appropriated — without credit, so far as I can tell — for the jukebox musical and film, “Mamma Mia.” The difference is that this version is funny, enjoyable and occasionally quite witty and heartfelt.

For my liquid tribute, I thought something with a certain diversity of ingredients that might have been consumed in both Italy and the U.S. was apt. Also, since the cast mixed actors known more for conventional light comedy and drama with burlesque-trained comic Phil Silvers and true thespian wildcards like Shelly Winters and Telly Savalas, a hodgepodge of ingredients seemed appropriate.

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Drink of the Week: The Band Wagon (TCM Fest Salute #3)

The Bandwagon.For fans of classic era film musicals, 1953’s “The Bandwagon” usually ranks somewhere just below “Singin’ in the Rain” in terms of sheer greatness. Devotees of director Vincente Minelli might even argue it’s somewhat better. At the same time, like it’s competition, the final film I saw at this year’s TCM Fest is not a movie that takes itself seriously. Indeed, the whole point of the film is that even just a little too much gravitas can have some pretty disastrous show business outcomes. It’s also a given by the conclusion that, when something isn’t working, it’s best to throw out your original idea and start something new.

Not unlike the behind-the-scenes story of an initially troubled Broadway musical, my road to creating a decent drink was beset by troubles. To start with, I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I decided to skip a few days drinking, leaving me only a couple of nights to work on this week’s drink.

My problem, once I finally got started, was that I was somewhat overly besotted with one of the lesser known numbers from the film, the adorably mock-Teutonic “I Love Luisa” and its intoxicating refrain, “More beer!” Indeed, I had so much luck with some previous drinks topped off with beer that I was sure my conception was sound. It wasn’t.

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Drink of the Week: Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (TCM Fest 2016 Salute #2)

Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back.When superstar film distributor Michael Schlesinger introduced 1934’s “Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back” at TCM Fest 2016 as the greatest movie we in the audience had never seen, I was inclined to be skeptical. After all, as a lifelong film geek, I’ve heard that one a lot. I was there because I’d long been curious about Drummond, an early pulpy prototype for James Bond created by one H. C. McNeile, aka “Sapper.” I was expecting a historically interesting movie but not one that was likely to become a huge personal favorite.

Imagine my surprise when the movie turned out to be about as good as Mr. Schlesinger had suggested. Indeed, while I remember a theatrical spoof I saw as a young teen, “Bullshot Crummond,” being very funny, it’s hard to imagine it being half as amusing as the film, directed by the highly prolific Roy del Ruth, and co-written by the almost as prolific and incredibly witty and versatile Nunnally Johnson (who also co-wrote last week’s beverage-inspiring “The Keys of the Kingdom“and was a close personal friend of my childhood hero, Groucho Marx).

“Bullshot Drummond Strikes Back” is filled with enough self-referential comedy and wit to play beautifully in the post-“Austin Powers” era, and it’s blessed with top-drawer pacing and a borderline superhuman lead performance by the always super-suave Ronald Colman. In this film, Colman seems to exist in a sort of alternate universe of perfect confidence in the face of numerous socially awkward misadventures as he continuously stumbles over dead bodies, while constantly interrupting the sleep of an increasingly apoplectic Scotland Yard colonel (C. Aubrey Smith) and the wedding night of his hilariously stolid sidekick (Charles Butterworth).

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Drink of the Week: The Keys of the Kingdom (TCM Fest 2016 Salute #1)

The Keys of the Kingdom.Every year since it’s inception, the organizers of theĀ  TCM Classic Film Festival have been letting me in without paying. Most of those years, I’ve been celebrating that fact by putting together my own drinks inspired by the films I was lucky enough to see there.

My first 2016 beverage du cinema (please don’t tell if that’s not actual French) is actually drawn from a film I saw on the last day of the fest which, frankly, was rather a last minute choice. An adaptation of a novel by A.J. Cronin, “The Keys of the Kingdom” isn’t a movie even hardcore film geeks hear that much about, even if it netted a young Gregory Peck his first Oscar nomination. As the decades-long tale of an idealistic priest from Scotland who finds himself a missionary in China, I have to admit that I had some qualms about spending my dwindling TCM time on what seemed likely to be a rather draggy bit of classic-era Hollywood Oscar bait from John Stahl, a director best known for making the original 1930s versions of the classic melodramas “Imitation of Life” and “Magnificent Obsession.” (If you know them at all, you’re likely more familiar with the 1950s remakes directed by Douglas Sirk.)

However, I should have more thoroughly considered the talents of two of classic Hollywood’s most skilled and witty screenwriters, Joseph Mankiewicz (“All About Eve”), who also produced, and the hugely versatile Nunnally Johnson (“The Grapes of Wrath,” “How to Marry a Millionaire,” and, get this,”The Dirty Dozen.”) As good as the suprisingly humorous and compelling script turned out to be, I was very pleasantly surprised by the film’s treatment of its many Asian characters. They are well-rounded non-stereotypes and, even more of a surprise, all played by actual Asian actors. That’s more impressive than it should be considering that, up to this very moment, Hollywood seems to be allergic to casting Asian actors in large roles.

“The Keys to the Kingdom” is a bit longish but, otherwise, a terrific example of classic-era Hollywood at it’s humanistic, entertaining, inspiring, and relatively progressive semi-best. Why not make it a cocktail?

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Drink of the Week: La Paloma (Revisited)

La Paloma.This Thursday is Cinco de Mayo, and that’s as good an excuse as any to revisit what I’m guessing is the world’s second most popular tequila cocktail. Indeed, this year I’ve got an additional excuse, which is to give a plug to some work by a DOTW Manor resident and frequent cocktail tester. Seems this enterprising young director was a finalist in a contest being sponsored by one of your classier tequila manufacturers, Avion. Moreover, I found out not long after writing the original draft of this post that he actually won a Grand Prize. Good things can sometimes come to those who imbibe (with moderation) and work (to excess).

As luck would have it, I myself can be seen in one of Joseph Lao’s two spine-tingling faux trailers, this one demonstrating the construction of a high-end La Paloma. Moreover, the last time we dealt with that drink — some four years ago and, it seems, a lifetime away — I offered the more popular, but arguably less refined, take on the beverage. This time, we’re setting aside the Jarritos grapefruit soda, and very definitely the Squirt, and going for a somewhat healthier and arguably more satisfying version of a cocktail that deserves its place alongside many better-known drinks.

La Paloma

2 ounces white tequila (Avion Silver, if you’ve got it, I guess)
1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup or about 2 1/2 teaspoons of superfine sugar
1 splash or two of club soda
1 lime web (desirable garnish)

This is one you build in a Tom Collins-type glass, though it might be good idea to pre-chill it as well in this case. Anyhow, just add all the liquid ingredients over ice and stir, and then add the lime wedge, which really does seem to improve the overall flavor.

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