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Dinner at Eight

Image credit: Dinner at Eight, 1933

Last year around this time, I watched Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner because I thought it was a movie about people eating. Too late, I realized my mistake (I was already three drinks in before anyone even mentioned the dining room). This year, Dinner at Eight (Disc/Download) has fooled me anew, offering all the promise of a five-course meal with none of the calories. Really, after a year of pandemic weight gain, maybe that’s a good thing. I’m not sure who in Hollywood started the trend of “movies with dinner in the title that have nothing to do with dinner,” but let me just say, I am here for it every Thanksgiving. After a big meal, the last thing I want to see is more food.

There are a lot of familiar faces in this flick (Barrymores! Glenda the Good Witch!), but the true standout is Miss Jean Harlow. As soon as she appears onscreen, lounging in a silk bed eating bon-bons in the middle of the day, I am putty in her manicured hands. She takes a character that could have been a silly throwaway and turns it into the one thing that saves this movie from being too full of itself. Harlow is radiant in her satin negligees, platinum blonde hair, and hilarious facial expressions, and I find myself waiting for other actors’ scenes to end just so she’ll come back. Dinner at Eight is built around the premise of a group of upper-crust New Yorkers gathering for a dinner party, all of them hiding their own personal secrets, but the thing that sets Jean apart is she lets it all hang out. She doesn’t have time for bras, or politeness- in other words, the ideal dinner companion.

As these neurotic people navigate bankruptcy, career suicide, alcoholism, and afternoon trysts, I can’t help but think that Millicent Jordan’s bar cart better be stocked- they’ll all need a strong drink by the time a meal is actually served! Let’s toast them with this autumnal variation on a Manhattan, the Big Apple Martini.

Big Apple Martini

2 oz Applejack Brandy

½ oz Sweet Vermouth

1 oz Apple cider

Dash of Angostura Bitters

Luxardo Maraschino cherry (for garnish)

Combine liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino cherry.

If you’re like me, you’ll get so wrapped up in the drama of this movie that you won’t even remember these characters are eventually supposed to break bread. As the day gets longer, and eight o’clock seems oh so far away, you start to realize that in the world of Classic Hollywood dinner parties, time doesn’t exist—it’s merely a suggestion. Cheers!

The Wizard of Oz

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Image Credit: The Wizard of Oz, 1939

When it comes to Halloween, Disney and Marvel usually get all the attention. True, I loved being Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and of course Ariel from The Little Mermaid (even though I had to wear a cardigan over my seashell bra), but the costume I still look back on with the most fondness was that of a warbling, bubblegum pink Glenda the Good Witch. MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (Disc/Download) is a movie I’d seen small parts of throughout the years, but rarely all the way through. Watching it again from beginning to end, I was shocked to realize A) how short it is without all the commercial breaks, and B) that I am still unable to keep my eyes open after the drowsy poppy scene. Talk about an immersive experience!

I think we can all agree that without the talent of Judy Garland, this movie would have ended up in the dustbin of history. Color film is no longer a novelty, costumes and special effects have become more realistic over time, and musical numbers have gotten more impressive. But there’s something about Judy’s innocent yet accomplished voice that gets me every time. The way she utters lines that have become classic in our lexicon (There’s no place like home…) evokes a feeling of magic that has nothing to do with munchkins, witches, or fantastical scarecrows and lions. The Wizard of Oz contains so much earnestness, you get the sense you’re watching a production made by people who truly believe in the power of movies. The silver-painted tin man didn’t need to look within himself or search for a powerful man behind the curtain—all he had to do was look around at the key grips, lighting technicians, costumers, and camera operators to see real wizardry and heart.

As mentioned before, I always fall asleep right after the poppy scene. Sorry Dorothy- your script drags a little there. To keep myself awake, I need to mix a caffeinated cocktail and wait patiently for the flying monkeys to pick the action up again. While watching The Wizard of Oz, I recommend drinking this Black Emerald cocktail, adapted from the book Celebrity Cocktails by Brian van Flandern.

Black Emerald

1 1/2 oz Vodka

1 Black Tea Bag

1 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

1/2 oz Lemon Juice

2 oz Club Soda

Fresh Mint Leaves

Steep tea bag in club soda for about five minutes. Add all other ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake vigorously. Add tea-infused club soda, tumble roll back and forth once, then double strain into a glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with mint.

Sometimes I wonder if Disney just couldn’t handle its main Halloween competitor and was always lurking in the shadows, waiting for a revenge opportunity. It took seventy years, but they finally had the last word as Disney World execs shut down the Great Movie Ride, robbing future generations of the opportunity to visit Munchkinland IRL. With its fake plastic flowers, colorful glitter sets, and bright yellow brick road, for five glorious minutes a group of tourists got to feel like Dorothy and Toto, dropped into a strange and magical world. Disney can keep their new Star Wars Land or Toy Story Land, or whatever lame substitution they’ve dreamed up—my home is forever with Dorothy, her ruby slippers, and a glistening pink ball coming down from the sky. Cheers!