Oct 2, 2020

Suggestible Me: Why Eating IN Is Better Than Eating AT The Movies

Return with us now to those thrilling meals of yesteryear…

By Ed Goldman
If I were in charge of what constitutes “a thing” in our current culture, Suggestible Eating would top the list.
If there’s a scene in a movie in which the characters eat breakfast, lunch or dinner, I begin to salivate—not just for any old food but precisely for what they’re having, especially if they appear to be enjoying it.

“You gonna finish that, Mr. B?” (with apologies to the Chic Young family)

In his only acting scene in his 1969 film “The Comic,” director Carl Reiner, playing an obnoxious talent agent, orders soft-boiled eggs for lunch in a tony Beverly Hills restaurant. The waiter brings him a plate of loosely scrambled eggs and Reiner goes ahead and eats them anyway. About 20 minutes later, I joined him. I had paused the film, bolted downstairs to my kitchen, made the same meal, ran back upstairs with it sliding all over my plate and enjoyed it as Carl continued to tuck into his. 

By then, it was roughly 2:45 a.m. I’d also have enjoyed a cup of coffee, as Carl did, but self-discipline—and the realization that if I had caffeine at that hour I’d be falling asleep sometime around 8 a.m.—stayed my bean-grinding hand.

People often talk about the scene in “The Godfather” where Richard Castellano, as Clemenza, is seen sliding meat and sausages into a near-vat of Sicilian pasta sauce, explaining the whole time to Al Pacino as Michael Corleone that this was part of his education: “You never know, you might have to cook for 20 guys someday.”

To be sure, the scene worked its way into my own cooking for a few years—but every time I re-watch the film (yearly), two other eating scenes claim my tastebuds: first, the one in which those “20 guys” scarf down Chinese takeout while waiting for a call to tell them the location to which Pacino should be driven for a mob “meet”; second, the mob “meet” itself in a little Italian restaurant in which the corrupt cop played by Sterling Hayden starts to inhale a plate of antipasto as the gangster Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo, played by Al Lettieri, recommends, for his entrée, that Pacino “Try the veal. It’s the best in the city.” 

Well, turns out the food is literally to die for. This is the memorable scene that climaxes with Pacino excusing himself from the table to go to the restroom, grabbing a gun that’s been hidden for him there and blasting to death his dinner companions as he returns to the table, then tossing the gun and beating a hasty retreat (after which the remaining diners squeak, “Check”—or so I’ve imagined). 

The theater audience gasped when I first saw the film—at a 1 a.m., showing in Westwood with my pal of 55 years, Phil Syracopoulos—but all I kept wondering was how the veal would have been prepared to make it “the best in the city.” I mean, this part of the film was set in New York City, my hometown. A lot of Italian restaurants there serve veal, so what was so special about this one, capisce?

If you’re of a certain age, and/or like watching Oscar-winning movies, the crème de la crème of food scenes may be the one in “Tom Jones,” the lusty 1963 Tony Richardson film based loosely on the 1749 novel by Henry Fielding. In one scene, the title character, played by Albert Finney, and a voluptuous older woman played by Joyce Redman, gorge on food while flirting outrageously with each other. We’re led to believe the older woman may actually be his mother, though the characters don’t know it—and it turns out she isn’t, thereby relieving the couple of the need to get an apartment in an Oedipus complex.

The not-so-subtle theme of the scene—in which each consumes (often in messy-faced close-ups) crab, what some places call “variety meats” on their menus, oysters and enough fresh fruit to make them seem thrillingly aphrodisiacal—is that these people plan to finish dinner then consume one another. (Note to school dietitians: This is the video you want to show kids to get them to eat the Granny Smiths, bananas and tangelos in their lunch pails. —Okay, teenage kids.)

Modesty bars my sharing any details of personal reenactments. But I will confess they put loosely scrambled eggs to shame.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).