I’m all for viewing parties that have perfect pairings of food and film — like fish tacos being served at a screening of JAWS.
And I will be forever grateful that I went to a home screening of the documentary, OFF THE MENU: THE LAST DAYS OF CHASEN’S (1997). I probably would never have savored Chasen’s chili. How good is it? Liz Taylor had batches shipped to her every two weeks when she was in Rome filming CLEOPATRA. I don’t blame her.
Chasen’s was one of the Old Hollywood legendary eateries, and it managed to stay alive until 1995 when it was demolished to make room for a new retail site.
This delicious documentary, by independent filmmakers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, is an homage to the stories of its glamorous clientele — from Hitchcock to Sinatra, Gable to Gleason — and even contemporary stars like Donna Summer who wrote “She Works Hard for the Money” in honor of a female bathroom attendant at the restaurant.
But the real emphasis of the work is on the stories and recollections of Chasen’s dedicated captains, waiters, and staff who loved doing their jobs as much as they loved rubbing elbows with celebrities. Like an extended family with all of its ups and downs, love and dysfunction, arguments and clashes, they stuck together and had a helluva a good time.
The New York Times called OFF THE MENU, a “poignant farewell” to another era, gone but not at all forgotten. Some critics assailed the film for not delving into the labor and social inequities of the time. That’s another story for another documentary.
This film is a charming celebration of character and characters. I can only dream of sitting in one of those banquettes watching Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre get drunk.
Now, for that chili recipe….go to Where Hollywood Dined.
Siskel & Ebert talk about OFF THE MENU: THE LAST DAYS OF CHASEN’S