The breathtaking Cary Grant at his jealous, raging hottest. The stunning, seductive Constance Bennett. The hilarious (and too much forgotten) physical comedian Roland Young. Topper is a screwball comedy for the ages, but unlike most screwball comedies, the screwball in this case is also the straight man: Young, as the uptight banker Cosmo Topper (they should have expected some fireworks, with the name Cosmo!). His descent, or rather, evolution, from stick up his ass pillar of society to notorious and seductive society figure is engineered by two of his least-best friends: George and Marion Kerby, a high-living couple of swells whose hedonistic lifestyle eventually costs them their lives.
Not to worry. They get over it.
Once they get over it, they pick the straight laced Cosmo Topper to be their special pet project. In order for them to get to heaven, it seems they must do a good deed; never having done one in their lives, nor an evil one either, they are stuck until the act can be performed. They decide to turn Topper on to the joys of life, of which they have sampled more than a few.
Unsurprisingly, this does not meet with the approval of either Mister or (the formidable) Mrs. Topper.
Mayhem accompanied by many, many beverages. You see, the book on which the movie was based was written by the legendarily lushy Thorne Smith. If you like light novels about booze and sex, I can tell you that you’ve found your totem animal in Thorne Smith. The only problem with his books is that they tend not to outlast the gin, unless you get a mickey.
Picking a specific alcoholic companion for this particular movie is like trying to sip from Niagara Falls, but after considering Champagne, whisky, generic wine, milk (yes) and an awful lot of rotgut consumed in speakeasies, I’ve finally settled on the one iconic cocktail that appears in the film: The Pink Lady.
Nowadays, it would take an awfully confident man to order a Pink Lady, but back then it was still considered okay for men to drink pink and order cocktails that were fancier than “on the rocks, Joe.” And the Pink Lady, it must be said, is wonderful.
Because this is a Thorne Smith story, and thus super-boozy, it must also be said that one of the wonderful things about it is, it’s so complicated that if you’re truly drunk, you can’t make them anymore. So, that’s a plus.
It’s a beautiful, blush-coloured drink that looks just grand in a coupe glass. It may not seem like much on the page, but it’s still strong, so don’t make them too big. Here’s a classic recipe:
1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce applejack
1/4 ounce lemon juice
1-2 dashes grenadine
1 egg white
Maraschino cherry for garnish
Pour everything but the cherry into a cocktail shaker over some rinsed ice (only cads don’t rinse their ice!). Shake vigorously and I MEAN VIGOROUSLY LET’S SEE YOU PUT SOME ELBOW GREASE INTO IT YOU SLACKER and then strain into a cocktail or coupe glass. Garnish with the cherry.
Don’t use a cherry macerated in anything other than gin or normal maraschino toxic dyes. It will muddy the flavour and waste your money, because bourbon macerated cherries ain’t cheap.
And speaking of ingredients, only use the freshest eggs. If you’re really paranoid about salmonella (and as one recovering from food poisoning, I say you should be; I lost a whole Christmas to Tom&Jerry once) rinse the egg before cracking it, as the salmonella clings to the outside of the shell.
The Pink Lady is an elegant cocktail that really epitomizes everything about the great Golden Age of the cocktail, which to my mind was the few years after Prohibition when everyone could get great ingredients cheaply and go wild with them.
Cheers! And now, to our movie.