The Scarlet and the Black: The Bitter Irishman Cocktail Recipe

Year Released: 1983
Director: Jerry London
Starring: Gregory Peck, Christopher Plummer, John Gielgud
(Not Rated, 143 min.)


‘I believe than man will not merely endure.  He will prevail.”  William Faulkner

This film is what Different Drummer is all about – finding a superb little sleeper that is as extraordinary as it is little known. And this 1983 gem starring such greats as Gregory Peck, John Gielgud, and Christopher Plummer is that in spades. 

Maybe the reason The Scarlet and the Blackdoesn’t roll of the tongue with Gregory Peck’s other classics, like To Kill a Mockingbird, Spellbound, or Twelve O’Clock High is that it never had a theatrical release.

Yes, if you can believe it, The Scarlet and the Black was actually a made for television film, but it is not even in the same league with those mostly sub par features.  On its release in 1983 CBS actually distributed its script to be read aloud in more than 500,000 elementary and high schools to “stimulate interest in English and history.”  Sadly, not much of that going on today, it seems.

Based on the book, The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, the film is about the real life of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, an Irish-born priest and Vatican official credited with saving 6,500 Jews and Allied war prisoners from the Nazis.

Played to perfection by Gregory Peck, Monsignor O’Flaherty is the perfect mixture of ascetic Sherlock Holmes and the bicycle riding Father Brown, with a little Batman thrown in for good measure.  Like Father Brown, he is more concerned with doing right than “rendering unto Caesar,” and he has Father Brown’s tenacity, as well as his very own Irish sense of humor.  

Tall and lean like Holmes, with a similar propensity for disguises – we see him passing himself off as a peasant, a Gestapo officer, and a nun, to name a few – Peck’s O’Flahert is always at least 3 steps ahead of his enemies and has a network of silent allies.  In this case, it is not the Baker Street irregulars, a network of filthy street urchins acting as intelligence agents, but  in the monsignor’s case, those from Rome’s highest echelons helping him hide Rome’s Jews and escaped prisoners of war.

And finally, like a modern version of the Scarlet Pimpernel himself, the playboy alter ego of Batman, Bruce Wayne, Monsignor Flaherty is the toast of Rome, a fixture at high society’s balls, galas, and the theater.  

But these analogies only go so far.  Homes, Brown, and Batman are all fictional characters, although Different Drummer sometimes forgets that in the case of her beloved Holmes.   Our Monsignor was a very real character and his battle is forged during one of the most horrendous pieces of modern history.  The stakes could not be higher.

His Moriarty is Colonel Herbert Klapper (Christopher Plummer), based on the real life SS commander and war criminal.  In Rome, however, even the Nazis have to tread lightly with the Vatican, which, under Pope Pius XII (John Gielgud), is officially neutral.  Colonel Klapper has his troops draw a white line around the Vatican, defining just where this official neutrality ends.  Despite feigned smiles and polite words, outside that white line, there are no guarantees.  And even within, secret assassins permeate, targeting O’Flaherty, whose success in defying Klapper turns the Nazi Colonel into a vertitable Captain Ahab with Vatican monsignor his Moby Dick. 

This film is a masterpiece and should be enjoyed by the whole family, with the stipulation that its subject matter is a too intense for youngsters. 

Forget the endless bread and circuses offered by Hollywood, our modern day ancient Rome, and see Rome under siege several centuries later.  Not to be missed by discriminating filmgoers.

–Kathy Borich
5 Drums


Film-Loving Foodie

As someone who is both Italian and Irish, Different Drummer decided to focus on our Irishman in Rome and chose the perfect Cocktail combining Irish Whiskey and Italian amaro.  Here is what Elana Lepowski has to say about it along with a very nice personal note:

As a kid growing up in Rhode Island, I experienced another holiday when my Irish Catholic school burned down under suspicious circumstances and I transferred to an Italian parochial school. The Italians celebrated St. Joseph's Day, which is two days after St. Patrick's. Everyone ate zeppole (which were so, so good) and wore red and white to the Knights of Columbus parade. There were flowers and candles, an explosion of color.

That part of my childhood left me with a lasting love of both saint's day traditions (and a strange association between slow cooked, cured beef and fried pastries filled to the brim with sweetened cream). I had these two celebrations in mind when concocting this simple cocktail.

Everyone knows about Ireland's long tradition of making whiskey, but most of us are just starting to dig deeper into Italy's booze. Over the past few years I've fallen in love with the sweet and bitter amari that are wonderful after dinner and mixed into drinks. Often, they add just an accent of rich herbs and roots, but why stop at just an accent? To celebrate both cultures and holidays I've decided to make a cocktail that's an even split of Irish whiskey and Italian amaro.” 

The whiskey is light and almost floral, and the amaro is spicy and rich. Fresh lemon gives the drink a punch of refreshing sour flavor, and the drink finishes up with the whiskey's bite and a little bitterness from the amaro. If you can find Luxardo cherries, they're worth the expense, and delicious on all sorts of cocktails. 

Note: To make demerara syrup, combine 1 cup water with 1 cup demerara sugar in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Cool before using. Simple syrup will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. – Elana Lepowski

The Bitter Irishman Cocktail

THe Bitter irishman2.jpg


·       1 ounce Irish whiskey, such as Bushmills 10

·       1 ounce Averna

·       3/4 ounce freshly squeezed juice from 1 lemon

·       1/4 ounce demerara syrup (see note) or Italian Amaro Liqueur

·       Luxardo cherry, for garnish


Combine whiskey, Averna, lemon juice, and syrup together in a shaker filled 2/3 with ice. Shake until thoroughly chilled, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry and serve.