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.
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.
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).
Booze and the movies go way back. From the self-medicating part-time hooker heroine of 1931’s “Safe in Hell” — a highlight of 2013’s Turner Classic Movies Festival — to the lovable dipsomaniacs of “The Thin Man” and “Harvey” and on into more recent times with such frequently soused superheros as James Bond and Tony Stark, the movies have glamorized alcohol. When the movies wanted to, they could make habitual drunkenness charming, funny, and, of course, sexy.
While the movies once celebrated cigarette smoking as well, modern day Hollywood Boulevard makes it tricky for smokers to indulge in their passion, give or take some hookah bars and a medical marijuana “clinic.” Booze, however can be obtained with great ease. All you need is plenty of ready cash to afford the inflated prices or a clean credit card or two and you can have your fill of cocktails.
And that’s exactly what I did between classic, near classic, and merely really interesting movies the weekend of the 2013 TCM Fest. What follows is a (relatively) brief journal of the drinks I found going up and down the boulevard we call Hollywood the final weekend of April.
Now, I should add that this listing is my no means exhaustive and is, with one exception, limited to cocktails one can purchase on Hollywood Boulevard proper, no side streets allowed. They can all be obtained within a fairly easy walk of Sid Grauman’s old Chinese and Egyptian Theaters and the legendary Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, the heart of Hollywood and the home base of the TCM Fest.
And so we begin our journey across the street from the Egyptian at what is still Los Angeles’s most famous bar.