Monday, June 20, 2016

The Maltese Falcon Booze in the Book and Movie

On May 30th over at my Tumblr page devoted to Booze in Movies, I posted a series of images from John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941) showing the drinking that occurs in the movie. I recently finished reading Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon and decided to see how the book and movie compares with its alcohol references.

Now keep in mind that Huston's version of the movie is very faithful to the source material. It was hard to not visualize the characters from the movie while reading the book. Obviously, there were certain things that were omitted from the movie that were in the book due to the Hays Codes regulations of the time which regulated what content could be seen in movies. But it is one of the most faithful adaptations to a book that I have ever watched.

The first instance where someone has a drink, is when Sam Spade, played by Humphrey Bogart, comes back home after visiting the crime scene where his partner in the detective agency has been killed. In the movie, he sits down and pours himself a drink, though we can't see what exactly he is drinking. The book is more specific on what he drinks. In the book, Spade pours himself a wine glass full of Bacardí and is drinking a few of them straight up when police detectives Dundy and Polhaus arrive.

Now I don't know about you, but I can't drink Bacardí Superior straight, let alone at room temperature. At the very least, chill the rum before sipping on it. Keep in mind that I am assuming that Spade is drinking Bacardí Superior over Bacardí Gold. Why? I would think that Superior would be easier to find during Prohibition than the Gold rum. The book was written during 1929, with Prohibition being four years away from being abolished. Who know, maybe Spade has had that bottle squirreled away. But considering that he puts down at least five glasses in this scene plus the two he serves his guests, its a safe bet that a bottle of booze won't last long in the possession of Sam Spade. But I digress.

Bacardí Superior is the flagship rum for Bacardí, being the first rum put on the market by master blender Don Facundo Bacardí Massó in 1862. I am going to drink Bacardí Superior, its going to be in a classic like a Cuba Libre, a Daiquirí or a Piña Colada. If I am going sip anything Bacardí makes, its going to be the Bacardí Ocho, which is barrel aged for a minimum of eight years. On to the next reference.

This next one is exclusive to the book. After we're introduced to the character Joel Cairo, who is played by Peter Lorre in the movie, Spade sits down at his office desk and takes out a bottle of Manhattan Cocktail and pours himself a paper cup two-thirds filled with the cocktail. As you can see from the image to the right, the Heublein company not only made one such bottled Manhattan Cocktail but they bottled many different cocktails. But who or what was the Heublein company. According to Jeffrey Pogash in his post The Legacy of Heublein dated May 31, 2014 from the Beverage Media wesbite:
Jerry Thomas’s classic How To Mix Drinks, published in 1862, cites the utility of pre-mixed drinks for various outings, such as “fishing and other sporting parties.” His first recipe listed under the heading “Cocktail and Crusta” is Bottle Cocktail, using brandy, water, bitters, gum syrup and Curaçao. Thomas even refers to the flexibility of such portable potables, noting that whiskey or gin could be substituted for brandy.
It was another three decades before bottled cocktails took their first great leap to market, courtesy of Gilbert and Louis Heublein, who would go on to impact the wine and spirits industry in multiple ways. Their father created the Heublein Hotel in Hartford in 1859, and it became so famous that it was known affectionately as “Heubs,” and it served as a dining mecca for businessmen, visiting celebrities, actors, politicians and Trinity College intellectuals. It is almost certain that Samuel Longhorn Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, a Hartford resident from 1871-1891, held court there regularly.
The Heublein brothers, who were born in Germany but practically raised at the hotel, grew into the business in legendary fashion. With “Heubs” known for its “continental atmosphere” and selection of fine beers, wine and spirits, it was only natural that when Hartford’s prestigious First Company Governor’s Foot Guard was preparing its annual summer picnic and military display in 1892, the brothers were asked to supply gallon jugs of pre-mixed cocktails for the thirsty revelers. Gilbert and Louis chose the Martini and the Manhattan as the featured drinks. 
As we all know, we make plans and mother nature laughs. The party was rained out and the jugs were put away until the party was rescheduled. Again, the event was rained out causing the jugs of cocktails to remain stored away. Inspiration does come in the darnedest of ways.

Right when the jugs were going to be emptied and the cocktails disposed of, a bartender took a sip and realized that the aged cocktails were still good. And voilà, the “Club Cocktails” line was born. The peak era for Heublein's Club Cocktails were the 1950's to the 1970's with many a celebrity advertising for Heublein.

A series of Heublin Club Cocktail Ads from the 1930's-1950's
Onward we go. Spade and the femme fatale of the story, Brigid O'Shaughnessy, played by Mary Astor, sit down in Spade's apartment where Spade tries to get her to elaborate on what exactly is going on. As she talks about the elusive Black Bird that the book and movie is named after, Spade serves himself and O'Shaughnessy a coffee and brandy. When he notices that she isn't being forthright with him in terms of all the details, he tells her "We've got all night before us. I'll put some more brandy in some more coffee and we'll try again." Lo and behold its not coffee and brandy that Spade and O'Shaugnessy spend the rest of their nightime hours doing. I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

Later on when Spade meets the main antagonist in both the book and movie, the fat man named Gutman, played by Sydney Greenstreet, Spade is at Gutman's suite at the Alexandria Hotel. Gutman offers Spade some Johnnie Walker whisky and a Coronas del Ritz cigar. I would think that a man of style like Gutman is, he would have a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black label at the ready.

Personally I can't say that I have ever had a good experience with Johnnie Walker Red label. I find it way too harsh. The two extra years in aging between the red and the black makes a world of difference. Black has a much smoother blend of whiskys. What I wanted to find out is how old is the Johnnie Walker brand. For a more detailed and nuanced review of both Johnnie Walker Red and Black labels, check out my friend Josh Feldman aka the Coopered Tot's post from March 5, 2012 entitled Back to basics: Johnnie Walker Black and Red compared head to head.

According to the Whiskey Exchange's timeline for Johnnie Walker, the roots for the Johnnie Walker brand lie as far back as 1820 as The Old Highland Whisky brand. In 1909, the brand was officially changed from The Old Highland Whisky to Johnnie Walker and its offerings includes the Red Label 10 year old, the Black Label 12 year old, along with the short-lived White Label 6 year old. By 1918 the White label is discontinued.

For the sake of the post, Gutman would have either the Red or the Black since the Blue Label wouldn't be introduced until 1992, the Gold Label in 1995, the formerly discontinued Green Label 15 year old in 1997, the Double Black Label in 2010, the Platinum Label 18 year old whisky in 2011 and the Gold Label Reserve in 2012. (The Green Label is being reintroduced to the public after being eliminated in 2012. For more on that read JOHNNIE WALKER GREEN LABEL RETURNS by Richard Woodard from the website dated 18 February 2016.)

Later on when Gutman and Spade meet up at the Alexandria, Spade is given mixed whisky and carbonated water along with a little doozy of a knockout which puts Spade out after we are given the backstory to the Falcon. And that's pretty much it. The drinking is pretty mild compared to Hammett's other detective stories, especially the Nick and Nora stories.

I've just started reading Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye and when I am done with it, I'll give it a comparison with the Robert Altman directed The Long Goodbye (1973) starring Elliot Gould.

Until Then Happy Drinking,