The Celluloid Pantry: Milk by the Quart and Léon: The Professional (1994)

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"I'm going to get some more milk."

First time we meet the title character in Léon: The Professional (1994) (played to perfection by Jean Reno, left), he's at the bar of The Supreme Macaroni Company. He's listening closely as his longtime boss, Tony (Danny Aiello) gives him the lowdown on his next kill. Léon wears impenetrably dark glasses and a skullcap. His hands are cupped around a glass of milk.
One of a long line of movie tough guys with a culinary soft side, the illiterate, Gene Kelly- and houseplant-loving Léon is an unlikely mix of cold-blooded killer, monk, and wide-eyed child. When not "cleaning clients," he executes endless rounds sit-ups and push-ups with military precision. He sleeps with one eye open. And he seems to run on milk.

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When his precocious 12-year-old neighbor, Mathilda (Natalie Portman, right), asks Léon if he needs anything from the store, he doesn't need to answer. She's seen him in the hallway with his cartons: "One quart or two - it's two, right?" Soon after, her family is killed by druglords, and Léon reluctantly takes in Mathilda. Sitting at his dining table, she asks him what his name is. "Léon." "Cute name," the girl shoots back. Léon spills milk all over his face.

Despite its wholesome, childhood associations, milk, taken in large enough quantities, might really be for tough guys after all: According to common wisdom - or urban legend - it's impossible for a human to drink (and retain) a gallon of milk within the space of an hour. Some say it's because of natural enzymes, others claim it's simply due to the sheer volume of liquid. Curious? One blogger put the theory to the test, documenting his results in a post called The Milk Bet.

- Nora Maynard

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The Celluloid Pantry

Nora Maynard is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her recent work has appeared in Salon, Drunken Boat, and The Millions. She recently completed her ninth marathon and her first novel, Burnt Hill Road. Nora wrote for The Kitchn from 2006 to 2011.

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