I like old movies, a lot. There are whole periods of my life when I didn’t sleep much and mostly spent my nights watching them. Not just the classics, but the mid-range stuff too. Hours spent learning how to be a fella from Bogart, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Jose Ferrer. It is crazy how much influence movies and books from your formative years have on who you become, or at least who you try to become. There are a handful of these films that are truly old friends. Those few ragged VHS tapes that traveled with me, always ready to keep me company at 2:57 AM. Liam has “a thing” with 3 minutes later than that so I had to change the time to mollify him. One of those came to mind the other night as I was thinking about drinks, so join me as we stand and make the Pink Lady.
This drink features prominently in the 1937, not quite a classic, Topper. In broad strokes, Cary Grant and Constance Bennett star as George and Marion Kerby, a wealthy married couple who spend most of their time singing and drinking and generally being irresponsible. They die in a car accident, but find themselves stuck as ghosts, figuring that they cannot move on, since they haven’t really done anything good or bad in their carefree lives. They decide to help their stodgy bank president acquaintance, Cosmo Topper, played beautifully by Roland Young, escape from his regimented life and have some fun. Hilarity ensues.
It really does. I have stolen lots of lines from this one. Watch it yourself, it is on YouTube, public domain and all. As the film nears the climax, Topper enjoys several Pink Lady cocktails, which may have impaired his judgment. I remember seeing those drinks, the glorious black and white composition making you imagine their pale pink color, and feeling it was strange that he became so hammered on such an unimposing beverage. Naturally, I had never had one, not being from a 1930’s supernatural comedy. So, I decided to look this little cocktail up and see if I had the right stuff to make one. I did and I did, so I did. Let’s slap this one together and see why they had Topper hugging that flamingo.
Grab your tins and pop in 1 1/2 ounces of gin, I went with Corsair because I love them; 3/4 of an ounce of Laird’s Applejack, 1/4 ounce of fresh squeezed lemon juice, a bar spoon of grenadine and 1/2 an ounce of egg white or aquafaba. Shake vigorously with ice, then strain from one tin to the other and discard the ice before giving it another healthy dry shake. Pour into a chilled coupe and garnish with a Luxardo cherry on a fancy silver cocktail pick, as one does.
I take it all back, Mr. Topper. This drink packs a punch, but it is oh so good. I can see why four of these in the suite followed by more in the ballroom would make a fella want to dance, just quietly to himself, here in the chair. I had expected this to be some sort of adult Shirley Temple, maybe a champagne and grenadine concoction, but this is a proper drink. Not too sweet, in fact, I think another bar spoon or grenadine might help it. It has astringent thing going on that surprised me at first, but then I really liked it. It’s a good drink and very pretty, as well. So pretty, that I can almost say that the film should be in color, it should not. Films of this era need black and white cinematography and that wonderfully faux, Mid-Atlantic accent. This is just how things should be. Sadly, Topper was actually the first of the classics to be digitally colorized in 1985. This was an abomination and we do not speak of it today.
It is a fun film and a great little drink. I didn’t find anywhere to work it in above, but Topper’s wife is played with aplomb by Billie Burke, who you will recognize as someone you know, immediately, though it may take a few scenes before you go, “Oh, that’s Glinda, the Good Witch”. This movie also does a thing I love with its soundtrack. There are only two songs in the whole thing, though it is filled with music. The Kerby’s often sing snatches of “The Old Oaken Bucket” in a few scenes, but what I really love is the use of the song “Old Man Moon“. As they work their way in and out of dance clubs and bars and ballrooms, this is the only song that plays, but in different styles. In the supper club, it is a big band, at the Luau it is a Hawaiian string group, the dance hall has a salsa band playing it, you get the picture. There is even a wonderful “end of the night” scene with Grant and Bennett lounging on an old piano singing along, while an uncredited Hoagy Carmichael finally gives us the lyrics to the tune we have heard all night. It is brilliant.
So there you go, a drink and a movie. Make the drink, watch the movie, practice a little escapism. That’s what folks were doing when they went to see this film. I am not saying it was a 2020, but 1937 was definitely a crap year for many in our country. Not forgetting that this was still in the Great Depression, they kicked off the year with the Ohio River Floods. In March we had the worst school disaster in our history, when 295 students were killed in a natural gas explosion in a New, London, Texas school. By May there was a secondary recession that saw the unemployed rate hit 14.7%, Chicago policemen opened fire on protesters and killed ten during the Memorial Day Massacre and the Hindenburg exploded over New Jersey. July saw the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the introduction of Spam, and racial tension and division as the falsely accused Scottsboro Boys were brought to trial for rape in Alabama. Oh, don’t forget that Chicago schools were closed and students learned “lessons by radio” as they tried to protect the children from the ravages of an ongoing Polio epidemic.
The good news is things seem to have settled down in the second half of the year, so maybe there is some light at the end of the tenuously bound strings of coincidental historically bad years tunnel. Of course, there were some crazy things going on in Europe, as Hitler announced his lebensraum plans, which would culminate in World War II. On the other hand, Tolkien published The Hobbit, so it wasn’t all bad there either. They, and by they I mean George Santayana, say “that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat”. Crazy, huh? He also says, “There is no cure for birth or death, save to enjoy the interval”. Maybe we should work harder on both of his lessons, I am pretty sure old movies and a Pink Lady will help. Stay sane, stay hydrated and stay safe, my friends.