Well thanks again to those amazing people at Bitten for allowing me to continue to carry on discussing ‘food on film’ and how it can be the leading light. So far I have shown in previous articles how such food as marshmallow, spaghetti and beans can take the leading role. This time however I have decided to take a different angle and change from food to drinks. Strictly speaking I am not straying too far from form. So how can a simple drink be more important and take the limelight away from our favourite million dollar stars. Allow me to show you how.
The first film I want to bring to the party uses an innocent glass of milk. But how can something so obvious and timid as a glass of milk possibly be the star of the show. In this film the scene in question revolves around the possibility of a husband trying to poison his wife. The director of this film is without question the master of suspense cinema. So you are carried along in the story always on the edge of your seat and at times shouting at the screen as if the actors could hear you and take your advice. I am talking about Alfred Hitchcock and the film in question is ‘Suspicion’ starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine. It is the story of a timid, shy woman who marries a suave, sophisticated, charming gentleman. However as the story progresses she begins to doubt her husband and eventually suspects him of trying to murder her. Remember that all of this is playing out under the masterful direction of Hitchcock, so the tension and suspense is on overload. Now back to the suspect in question in this article, the glass of milk.
Picture this scene in the film, a grand hallway in a darkened house late at night. A doorway opens throwing a shaft of light across a shadow filled hall. A darkened figure enters the shot carrying a tray atop of which is an innocent glass of milk. Now we have already, due to Hitchcock’s direction plus the brilliant acting of the lead characters, begun to doubt Cary Grant’s character and begun to suspect him ourselves of foul deeds. By this point in the film it is safe to say the Joan Fontaine’s character is also very suspicious. The glass of milk atop of the tray is the next step on the ladder of suspicion. Is it poisoned, is it not? So let’s get back to the scene in the film. The doorway in the hall closes and we slowly watch and focus upon the glass of milk being carried up the staircase toward the camera.
Now you may be saying “hang on it’s night time, no lights are on, the hallway is dark and the staircase is also bathed in darkness. How can you see a glass of milk?” So how does Hitchcock make you focus on the possibly poisoned glass of milk being carried up a darkened staircase? How do you make a glass of milk menacing and keep our focus on what could be the instrument of murder. Well Hitchcock was as we know a very clever and innovative director and in this scene he had a moment of genius. He put a light bulb in the glass of milk! Seriously he illuminated the glass of milk. This gives it an eerie, sinister and malevolent glow which makes us in the scene look at nothing but the glass of milk. They say actors can shine like a star, well in this scene the star does shine and glow, but it is not an actor this time that takes the limelight or nightlight! This star provides its own light courtesy of a light bulb, making it without question the most sinister glass of milk in cinema.
The second film utilizes an iconic moment in film history. This comes from a film made in 1958 starring the amazing talents of John Mills, Sylvia Syms and Anthony Quayle. The film in question is of course ‘Ice cold in Alex’. For those of you who haven’t seen this film it is a story of personal journey, honour, strength, resolve and character. All of this set in an ambulance in the arid blistering heat of a desert during the Second World War.
The story revolves around Captain Anson, John Mills’ character, trying to get an ambulance and some nurses to Alexandria. Captain Anson also has a personal struggle to overcome a drinking problem. Added to this we have the German army, the arid, blistering heat of the desert, an old ambulance that is their only transport and finally a snake in the grass that is a spy hidden in their ranks. The journey is long and arduous across the savage terrain of the desert, attempting to avoid German patrols all the time, not realising the South African officer who hitchhiked a lift with them – Captain van der Poel, Anthony Quayle’s character – was a German spy.
However let’s get back to the point of this article and discuss the scene-stealing drink in this film. This requires mention of a conversation that occurs in the film. Captain Anson describes a bar in Alexandria where they sell ice cold beer, the kind with condensation running down the outside of the glass. The scene that eventually involves this drink is at the end of the film when after their journey from hell across the desert the weary band of survivors make it to the bar in Alexandria. I will point out at this juncture that the way the drink in question is displayed would today be classed as pure product placement. However here it is seen as nothing more than the well-deserved reward for surviving their amazing ordeal. The centre frame close up of a cool, long, crisp, cold glass of Carlsberg fills the shot. Glasses of Carlsberg are poured for all the stars as they sit at the bar. “Worth waiting for” says Captain Anson as he downs his cold glass of beer. But the sole star here, the reward for all their efforts at this point is the glass of beer. It takes centre stage and dominates the scene at this point. Once again even amongst such amazing stars of cinema in a remarkable film the drink takes centre stage.
Now it would be hugely remiss of me to leave this article without mentioning a few of the other most famous drinks in film. I would start with the ‘White Russian’ that the Dude in Big Lebowski drinks. The ‘Chianti’ that Hannibal Lector drinks in Silence of the lambs. But without doubt the most famous drink in a film has to be a Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred – [cue Sean Connery accent] “My name is Bond, James Bond”.
Once again I hope I have not only managed to show you that sometimes food on film, or in this case drink on film, can be the star, but also inspired you to watch at least two films that you may have not seen before. I would however as a film fan suggest that you watch the films first and have a drink after!