Breakfast in Classic Movies (And How it Drives the Plot) - Part 3

This is the third and final installment of our series about that intimate morning meal as portrayed in classic movies, and what it means for the story.

Read the first part here: Breakfast in Classic Movies (And How it Drives the Plot) - Part 1
Second part here: Breakfast in Classic Movies (And How it Drives the Plot) - Part 2

Hungry? Let's have breakfast with the stars one more time.

Breakfast in a Tree
Movie: In Search of the Castaways (1962)

The Breakfast

Due to flash flooding, our adventure seekers are stranded in a large tree. 

As Maurice Chevalier and Hayley Mills harvest random bird's eggs in the tree and catch fish at the waterline for breakfast, they break into a song about finding the benefits of any situation.

Why care about bad weather?/Enjoy it.
Each moment is a treasure./Enjoy it.

The leader of the expedition, Lord Glenarvan (Wilfrid Hyde-White) is despondent that the group is off schedule and stranded. Chevalier will have none of that.

"Cheer up, Milord," says Chevalier, "We pay no rent. Mother Nature sets the table for us, and, fortunately, we have plenty of water."

How it Drives the Plot
The song and meal serve as a respite after several harrowing adventures in this film. It's also a nice life lesson in not being depressed by circumstances. Disney Studios for the win!

Hangover Breakfast
Movie: Teacher's Pet  (1958)

The Breakfast
A professor (Gig Young) has a hangover so he concocts one of the the most putrid liquid breakfasts known to man to deal with it - Tomato Juice, Hot Sauce, Raw Egg and Other Disgusting Things.

The night before, in an attempt to impress a fellow professor (Doris Day) he believes he can use the force of his own will to "hold his liquor." He can't.

How it Drives the Plot
Lesson 1: This binge knocks the professor unconscious and knocks him out of the running for his lady love's affections. He knows this and discusses it with our leading man, Clark Gable, while they make the beverage.

Gable is now freely able to pursue the lady without competition (and he certainly does).

Lesson 2: It's not the gin that's potent, it's the ice you have to watch.

Generational Differences Over Breakfast
Movie: Flower Drum Song (1961)

"Sit," says, Wang Chi-Yang to his sons, "Only cannibals eat standing up!"

This humorous directive at the breakfast table is one of pure frustration. The father (Benson Fong) has run out of ideas for keeping his sons under control.

Wang Chi-Yang has already eaten breakfast and is relaxing in his garden by the time the sons awaken and come to the table. The older son, Wang Ta (James Shigeta), drinks tea. The younger son, Wang San (Patrick Adiarte), heads straight for the milk and cornflakes.

How it Drives the Plot

So many things are going on here. Mostly it's showcasing the generational themes which are the thrust of the entire plot.

1. This scene sets up the next song, "The Other Generation," where parents and children complain about each other.

2. This scene shows differences in pace between generations.

    The father does not waste daylight;  he awakens early and he gives himself time to be methodical.
    The sons awaken later but rush outside with great energy to their appointments. This is why they are standing up. There's too much to do to have a leisurely meal.

3. The food choices flesh out the characters.

   The scene starts after the father has eaten this meal, but we do see the sons consuming food.  The younger son, San, chooses milk, corn flakes and (too much) sugar. This cereal was popular with children of the mid-20th century. He wears a baseball uniform and is going out to practice. He uses the latest slang. All of this plays up San's youth, vigor and modernity.

   The older son, Ta, chooses hot tea, suggesting his maturity and sophistication. He couldn't possibly drink hot tea in a rush without burning his mouth. However, he is still standing up like his younger brother.

  Ta wants to be like his father - stalwart, respectable, traditional- yet he also wants to be like his younger brother - hep, up-to-the-minute, modern. This kind of pull on Ta, this dichotomy, will continue throughout the film in larger themes (like whether he should he marry a traditional woman or a modern one ).

Morning Meal for Two in a Studio Apartment
Movie: On Our Merry Way (1948)

A young couple named Oliver and Martha (Burgess Meredith and Paulette Goddard) live in a crowded little apartment and go through their morning routine. He showers; she prepares breakfast. He shaves while standing over the breakfast table and guzzling juice and coffee; she summarizes the news headlines aloud. He admires her artistry with a paintbrush; they banter.
Oliver: When is the common man going to catch up to your style of painting?
Martha: You just did.
Oliver: In spite of your insults, I love your wit, I love your paintings, but most of all, I love... your coffee.
Who are these people? How did they meet? What's their story? We don't know. Husband goes off to work shortly after this.

How it Drives the Plot
This breakfast scene does not drive the plot any further than the front door of their apartment, which is a shame. They are charming, amiable people. You want to spend ninety minutes with them, but instead you get about ten minutes.

This is an anthology film - a series of vignettes connected by a theme. What this means is husband will go out the door and go to one adventure after another leaving wife (and anything interesting) behind.  This is a promising breakfast gone totally wrong.

Breakfast in the Old West
Movie: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

The Breakfast
Newlywed Millie makes the first breakfast in her new home with her husband and brothers-in-law who are "seven slumaky backwoodsmen." At supper the night before, the men are coarse and greedy, noisily grabbing anything that's not nailed down and shoving it into their faces.

So this morning she has a plan. Millie secretly washes her brothers-in-law's clothes in the night, leaving them with their underwear and later with nothing to wear. These barbaric men have an odd sense of propriety - they'll eat like hogs in front of a woman, step on top of her dinner table, not acknowledge her presence, but they won't appear in long underwear in front of her (that would be a bridge too far).

She tempts them with breakfast to get them to behave, saying, "I've got hot muffins waiting. Steak. Fire potatoes. Flap jacks. Fresh-ground coffee."

How it Drives the Plot
This meal is the beginning of Millie's rightful reign as the lady of the house. (Note that the night before at dinner she stands around in horror; this morning she is seated at the head of the table.)

Her brothers-in-law will be tamed -at breakfast and otherwise- so that she can get them out of her house and into their own families. At this point, it's Millie who wants those six other brides to show up more than anyone else ... ASAP!

Meals really do tell a lot about a character.
The next time you see a movie breakfast, pause and consider what the set designer, director, actors and script are telling you. It could be some deep psychological theme all tied up in bacon and eggs. Or it could be just breakfast. You never know until you think about it.

Ciao for now,

P.S.This series has been fun. It's not really over, it's simply taking a hiatus.

Further Reading
Read the first part here: Breakfast in Classic Movies (And How it Drives the Plot) - Part 1
Second part here: Breakfast in Classic Movies (And How it Drives the Plot) - Part 2


  1. Loved this series, so very perceptive and fun.

  2. Java, I've been waiting for my favorite breakfast scene and--voila!--this post describes the one in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS. I always thought that looked like an awesome breakfast and used to tease my mother-in-law about her replicating (she's laugh). Fun idea for a series of posts!

    1. Ha! Too bad you had to wait until the very end. :)
      This series is really endless! Like eating peanuts, you can never write just one.


Thanks for your contribution to Java's Journey.


About Java

"Java's Journey: A really fun, informative well-written blog that explores all of the things - and I mean all - I love about classic films."-- Flick Chick of A Person In The Dark Email:


Blog Archive

Writer's Block Doesn't Stand a Chance