We've all been there: you sit down to watch a movie and suddenly there's a whiskey bottle on the set. You start by looking for the brand label, the way the actors are drinking it, with ice or without, in a cocktail or as a shot, until eventually you've lost all track of the plot and your wife is mad at you for asking her about what happened. It's simply something we do as whiskey fans (I received at least four emails asking if I knew which Japanese whisky was used during the plane scene in the new Wolverine movie). Sometimes you become so inspired by the use of whiskey in a film that you can't help but hit the cupboard, grab a bottle, and pour yourself a glass as well. If the people on screen are drinking and having a good time, why shouldn't you?
This month's whisky-related movie is Giant (1956): the over-long, overly-ambitious Texan epic from George Stevens known mostly for being James Dean's final appearance. Until yesterday, I hadn't watched this movie since high-school, but I was interested in screening it again after briefly flipping through the final moments on AMC the other night. Flocks of nouveau-riche oilmen were clinking cocktail glasses and celebrating in a large banquet hall, while Rock Hudson and Jimmy Dean had their words in a giant supply room full of booze. As a teenager, I was more interested in the mystique behind these two men rather than all the liquor being consumed, but as the spirits buyer for K&L I was utterly transfixed this time around by how much Bourbon is guzzled during the three hours and twenty-one minutes this movie runs. There's a ton of Old Grand Dad orange label being drunk in Giant, amongst other various concoctions. At one point an inebriated Rock Hudson stirs up his own Bourbon punch recipe with what appears to be vermouth and other spices. Even the lovely Elizabeth Taylor herself gets into the brown water frequently.
No scene, however, is more bizarre and more hilarious than when a made-up-to-be-elderly Dean (who still looks twenty-four even with his gray hair and Clark Gable mustache) is so ridiculously drunk that he falls asleep during his big speech and completely biffs it over the stage table when he awakens. Even more bizarre and somewhat progressive are the racial themes concerning Texans and their treatment of native Mexicans, which often use Caucasian actors in "brown face" or goofy and rather laughable metaphors to make their point. But, hey, it was 1956. No one knew that big, tough, burly, all-American Rock Hudson was gay either. Nevertheless, there are plenty of redeeming moments in Giant, and definitely enough of them to justify spending more than three hours with a bottle of Bourbon on your living room sofa.
If you're looking for a bit of inspiration or just an excuse to whip up some Manhattans and hang out at home (there are some delicious looking Manhattans made towards the end of the film), then add Giant to your Netflix queue and watch some awfully-fine whiskey cinema. There are plenty of talking points, like how much James Dean resembles a young Brad Pitt and how much older Rock Hudson seems than thirty. Plus, there's a lot of whiskey on screen and it gets imbibed in numerous entertaining forms and fashions. By the end of the movie you'll be craving Texas barbecue and screaming "Yee-haw!"