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Category Archives: Classic Films

Casablanca

Casablanca

Image credit: Casablanca, 1942

You Must Remember This…… No, this is not a cocktail tribute to Karina Longworth’s stellar podcast (though, that’s not a bad idea!). Rather, it’s a long-overdue post on one of the greatest romances in the history of cinema. I’m a sucker for tragic love and glamorous gin joints, so of course, Casablanca (Disc) is a perfect fit for Cinema Sips.

Starring Humphrey Bogart as a salty bar owner in 1940’s French-Morocco, Casablanca is a stirring testament to the power of cinematic storytelling during wartime.  The sets of this film remind me of an Epcot pavilion—almost too perfect to be real, but I would still move in tomorrow. To live above Rick’s Café, enjoying the piano stylings of Sam, watching expatriates wrangle visas to the United States while sipping on a cocktail or a glass of champagne—the image is so clear, I can even picture the satin dress I’d wear. Ingrid Bergman brings all the angst to this picture as the beautiful woman caught between her husband and former lover, both good men, and both hopelessly devoted to her. This is a love triangle for the ages, one that can only end in heartbreak for someone. Maybe their problems don’t amount to a “hill of beans” in their crazy world, but to me, there’s nothing insignificant about the ecstasy and agony of love.

There are so many wonderful cocktail moments in this film that it’s difficult to focus on just one. I love it when Rick’s floozy ex-girlfriend requests French ‘75’s Nora Charles-style (line ‘em up!), but Bogey also does some fairly admirable sulking over a bottle. The ambiance at Rick’s is so tantalizing, it almost makes you forget that half the patrons are Nazi’s. Let’s celebrate that bygone era of cocktails with a twist on an old favorite, the Moroccan ’75.

Moroccan ‘75

1 oz gin

½ oz lemon juice

½ oz Stirrings® Blood Orange syrup

½ oz Cointreau

2 oz Champagne

Combine gin, lemon juice, blood orange syrup, and Cointreau in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Top with Champagne.

Moroccan 75

When I think of Casablanca, I picture champagne bottles, coupe glasses, and beautiful people using evening gowns and tuxedos to disguise their desperation. This film is an example of how perfect cinema can be, when all the elements come together in just the right way. Here’s looking at you, Hollywood— you were great once, and I think you can be again.  Cheers!

Love Story

Love Story

Image credit: Love Story, 1970

We all know the classic line: Love means never having to say you’re sorry. But really… does it?? I may have only a decade of marriage under my belt, but I would’ve thought that love means defying your family to be with the person you want. Or working a crappy job to support the dreams of someone else. Or maybe love is holding your spouse in a hospital bed while they die from a mysterious illness that only makes them look more beautiful. Really, there’s a lot of love in Love Story (Disc/Download). It’s just not where the script wants it to be.

Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) and Jenny (Ali MacGraw) meet in college, trade barbs, then kisses, and eventually wedding rings. They struggle to make ends meet while he’s in law school, and just as things start looking up financially, Jenny gets sick. From what, we’re never told. All we know is she looks ah-mah-zing during mournful winter scenes in snowy New York, and especially on her death bed. We know from the very first line of this movie that Jenny’s not going to make it, and yet I spend 90 minutes thinking somehow, someone made a mistake. Maybe Ryan O’Neal is talking about a long-lost little sister, not the wisecracking wife who’s way too good for him.

For such a sad, serious movie set in a bitterly cold climate, all I can think about when I watch this film is an earthy, warming cocktail. Aptly named, this Widow’s Kiss will have you thinking about poor Oliver, cradling his wife for the last time. I’m not crying, you’re crying!!!!

Widow’s Kiss

1 ½ oz Calvados apple brandy

¾ oz Yellow Chartreuse

¾ oz Benedictine

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Luxardo Maraschino Cherry for garnish

Combine Calvados, Yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine, and bitters in a shaker filled with ice. Stir until chilled, then strain into a glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Widows Kiss

One of my great disappointments in life is that Ali MacGraw did not make more films. It’s through her performances in Love Story and Goodbye, Columbus that I learned how to dress with confidence, and how to stand up for myself in relationships. In Love Story, she’s brash, she swears, and she doesn’t take sh*t from anybody. But she also looks fabulous doing it, in wool peacoats, tights, and a scarf for every occasion. If clothes are a woman’s armor, she’s ready for anything, even the inevitabilities of love and death. Cheers!

The Days of Wine and Roses

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Days of Wine and Roses

Image credit: The Days of Wine and Roses, 1962.

I’ve spent a lot of time watching rom-coms and writing books with that all-important Happily Ever After, but this February, I’m planning a deep dive into the tragic romance genre. I want to celebrate those tear-jerker movies that leave you gutted, but nevertheless believing in the all-consuming power of love. This week, I’m subjecting myself to a serious punch to the face by watching The Days of Wine and Roses (Disc/Download).

I’ll be honest, when I hit play on this film, I was expecting something much different than what I got. I thought Blake Edwards + Henry Mancini + Jack Lemmon = a romantic comedy with great music and fabulous party scenes. Well, I got the music, parties, and romance, but there’s nothing funny about this movie about two alcoholics struggling to get sober. Like Reefer Madness before it, and Leaving Las Vegas decades after, this is a film that will make you want to give up all your vices and just stay home with a glass of water. It strays a little too far into propaganda-territory for Alcoholics Anonymous, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a powerful film about loving someone who can’t love themselves. Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick give powerhouse performances as a doomed husband and wife who fall on and off the wagon multiple times, and when each subsequent fall is from a greater height, you start to really ache for them. You hope that their love is enough to help them through this, but eventually, it becomes clear—it might not be.

When the film begins, Lee Remick is a teetotaler, until she meets the sweet, drunken charmer Jack Lemmon and his Brandy Alexander‘s. One sip, and it’s all downhill. You could certainly enjoy that cocktail with her, but this film is also a great excuse to use rosewater. Especially when Jack Lemmon is tearing through a greenhouse looking for the bottle he stashed in a plant. It’s so moving, you can almost smell the soil, roses, and bitter stench of cheap booze. While watching The Days of Wine and Roses, I recommend this Wilted Rose Martini. (But seriously- just one, dear reader.)

Wilted Rose Martini

2 ½ oz Lemon Vodka

½ oz Elderflower Liqueur

½ oz Lemon Juice

½ oz simple syrup

3 drops Rosewater

Lemon Twist

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Wilted Rose Martini

I count my lucky stars that I’m able to have only one or two cocktails and call it a night. I know how slippery that slope is for many people, and this film gives me empathy for their struggle. The ending is ambiguous, and we don’t know if either of these people will ever stay clean. But I have hope that they do—I believe in love, and I believe that people can conquer their demons.  Maybe there’s a Happily Ever After still to come. Cheers!

That Funny Feeling

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That Funny Feeling

Image credit: That Funny Feeling, 1965.

If I had to describe my favorite film genre, I’d have to say, “anything with 1960’s cocktail dresses”.   Even before Mad Men came on the scene, I was already obsessed.  Blame Doris Day, blame Sandra Dee– so many wonderful actresses took me down that A-line chiffon rabbit hole.  This week, I’ll be watching one of my favorites in the “pretty dress” canon, That Funny Feeling (Disc/Download).

Starring Sandra Dee and her then-husband, crooner Bobby Darin, That Funny Feeling follows the familiar Pillow Talk formula that worked so well for Doris and Rock. Sandra’s character Joan is a maid/struggling actress, who meets cute with Bobby Darin’s lothario character Tom, never realizing that he owns the apartment she cleans every morning. His trip gets cancelled, right after Joan allows him to escort her home to “her place”, which is actually his place! He has to move in with a friend (Donald O’Connor, in a truly bizarre role), to maintain the charade, during which time she covers his leather sofa with chintz slipcovers and hawks his suits– I’m still not sure why. Maybe so we can enjoy the sight gag of Bobby Darin climbing down a New York City fire escape in nothing but a plaid parka?   Strange plot devices aside, this movie is full of beautiful cocktail dresses, gin, midcentury interior décor, vintage stereo equipment, and sassy best friends. That’s enough to sell me on even the worst movie.

Sandra Dee is a classy lady in this film, allowing Bobby Darin to buy her gin and quinine that she takes one lousy sip of. Until later, when she has (oh dear!) a FULL GLASS and gets hammered. You can certainly watch this movie with a gin and tonic (I like the quinine ratio in Jack Rudy Tonic Syrup), but I also want to highlight the scene where her roommate dumps a bunch of brandy and Cointreau on a roast duck and lights it up with her cigarette. God, I love the 60’s. While watching That Funny Feeling, I recommend drinking a Big Apple Sidecar.

Big Apple Sidecar

1 ½ oz Calvados Apple Brandy

1 oz Cointreau

1 oz spiced apple cider

1 oz lime juice

½ oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass.

big apple sidecar

I will admit, there’s a cringe-inducing part of this film where Sandra Dee pretends to have a Japanese accent. It’s bad. It’s very, very bad. However, the script does lament the pervasive white-washing of Hollywood, much to my surprise. That’s the thing about these Sandra Dee movies- they may look all fluffy and retro on the surface, but dig deep and you’ll find some thoroughly modern problems.  After all, sometimes even the best cocktails need a little sweet to balance the bitter. Cheers!

Meet Me in St. Louis

Meet Me In St. Louis

Image credit: Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944.

After three weeks of black-and-white Christmas films, the technicolor explosion of Meet Me in St. Louis (Disc/Download) is quite a shock for the eyes. Visually stunning, this Judy Garland classic screams Hollywood Studio System, while signaling a modern auteur-driven type of storytelling still to come. With a creepy Victorian snow family, a night of trick-or-treating straight out of Stranger Things, and a horrifying platter of corned beef and cabbage, this movie is one crazy trolley ride.

Set in St. Louis at the turn of the century, the film is about the mundane lives of a large middle-class family, the Smiths (lord, even their name is boring).  The daughters are chasing after boys, the dad is rolling his eyes, and everyone’s all atwitter about the upcoming World’s Fair. Though the plot of Meet Me in St. Louis holds little interest for me,  the visual pop of Vincente Minnelli’s directorial style is what truly makes this film a classic. The vibrant costumes, unusual lighting, and ahead-of-its-time Halloween horror sequence—these are the elements I keep coming back to.

This film tends to get lumped into holiday movies due to Judy Garland’s heartbreakingly lovely rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, and the red velvet dress she wears. This was the moment the world sat up and took note of Garland, child actress no more. She’s beautiful and sexy, like something out of a John Singer Sargent painting. While watching Meet Me in St. Louis, celebrate Judy with this Red Velvet Martini.

Red Velvet Martini

2 oz Cake vodka

1 oz White Crème de Cacao

3/4 oz Grenadine

1/4 oz Simple syrup

2-3 dashes Aztec bitters

Chocolate drop for garnish

Mix liquid ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigoriously, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a chocolate drop.

Red Velvet Martini

Because this film is full of iconic costumes, it makes me eager to learn more about the stories behind them. Until the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures opens in Los Angeles, whet your appetite with the book Hollywood Costume. And for anyone interested in the scary underbelly of a World’s Fair, I highly recommend Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. Chronicling the true story of a serial killer targeting visitors to the Chicago World’s Fair, this book will have you wondering if the Smith family home is really as boring as it seems. Cheers, and happy reading!

Holiday Affair

Holiday Affair

Image credit: Holiday Affair, 1949.

Poor Carl. All he wants for Christmas is for Janet Leigh to accept his proposal of marriage. He’s been waiting TWO YEARS, for god sakes. Two years of putting up with her bratty kid, watching her walk around in pointy brassieres, and being treated like the family Labrador. And now, at Christmas, he’s forced to watch his lady fall for the bedroom eyes of Robert Mitchum, an unemployed bum who hangs out in the park and gets arrested for stealing salt and pepper shakers. Holiday Affair (Disc/Download) may be billed as a charming holiday romance, but make no mistake- this film is a sad reminder that nice guys finish last.

I thought I’d seen the pinnacle of annoying child actors in the 1953 western Shane. But then came Timmy. Timmy is the kind of kid who badgers his broke single mom for the most expensive Christmas present on the market, thus making her feel guilty for all of her life choices. Timmy also turns the “poor me” face on Robert Mitchum’s character Steve, convincing this guy who just lost his job to spend a bunch of money on a kid he barely knows. Meanwhile, Carl the Earnest Lawyer wants to give Timmy and his mom a stable home and a hefty joint bank account. Does Timmy want that? No, of course not. He kicks Carl in the leg, screams his head off, and tries his damnest to fix his mom up with the hot bum. I have two words for Timmy’s Mom: Birth. Control.

I’m of the opinion that pretty much every Robert Mitchum film should be watched with Bourbon. This is a man’s man if there ever was one. Because I spent this movie mostly wanting to smash Timmy’s face in, while watching Holiday Affair I recommend drinking a Holiday Bourbon Smash.

Holiday Bourbon Smash

2 oz Bourbon

1 oz Pear Liqueur

2 oz Apple Cider

1 oz Lemon Juice

2 tbsp Cinnamon Pear jam

Club Soda

Cinnamon Stick Garnish

Combine the bourbon, pear liqueur, apple cider, lemon juice, and jam in a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously until well mixed, then strain into a glass filled with ice. Top with club soda, and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Holiday Bourbon Smash.jpeg

The thing about this film is, I should love it. A single-mom-finding-romance-again is one of my favorite tropes! That Holiday Affair fails to light my yule log might be because I’ve read so many wonderful novels that do a much better job with this story. An old favorite of mine is Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Dream a Little Dream, which features an adorably sweet kid, the feisty widow of a televangelist, and her romance with a hunky drive-in movie theater owner. There isn’t a Christmas tree, but did I mention he owns a movie theater??  Cheers!

Christmas in Connecticut

Christmas in Connecticut

Image credit: Christmas in Connecticut, 1945.

Take a saucy career-minded city gal, put her on a farm, hand her a baby and force her to flip flapjacks, and what do you get? This week’s delightful classic rom-com Christmas in Connecticut (Disc/Download). Though it would later be remade by esteemed director Arnold Schwartzenegger (no, I am not joking), the original Barbara Stanwyck version holds up remarkably well. This is Hallmark Christmas with better clothes, better looking men, and better acting. What are you waiting for?!

The parallels between my life and Elizabeth’s are uncanny.  When I started Cinema Sips over five years ago, I’ll be honest- I had no idea what I was doing. I trusted recipe books and expert advice to get me through, kind of like Elizabeth relies on her Hungarian chef uncle to convince readers she knows her way around a kitchen. Also, we both have no clue what to do with a baby. Literally, none. And most importantly, we strive to be the best-dressed person in any room, meager paychecks be-damned. Therefore, I can really empathize when Elizabeth is forced to pretend to be a domestic goddess for one zany weekend at Christmas, all to impress her publisher and a Navy war hero. Sometimes, a lady doesn’t want to flip flapjacks or give a baby a bath, so back the f*ck off, okay???

Another reason I’m convinced we’re sorta the same person is because this columnist loves a good martini.  The holidays are a great time to make festive martinis, so while you’re watching Christmas in Connecticut, I recommend drinking this Sleigh Ride Martini.

Sleigh Ride Martini

2 oz Peppermint Twist vodka

0.5 oz Vanilla vodka

0.5 oz White crème de cacao

Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake until very cold, then strain into a chilled glass. 

Sleighride Martini

BTW, the Smirnoff Peppermint Twist bottle is scratch-and-sniff!!!!  What a time to be alive!

If I had to pick a modern Hollywood equivalent of Elizabeth Lane The Domestic Goddess, my mind goes immediately to Reese Witherspoon. From hot rolling your hair to whipping up a batch of fluffy biscuits, her new book Whiskey in a Teacup is Elizabeth Lane’s column for a new audience. It may be more Mint Juleps than Martinis, but hey- I applaud any lady who enjoys a good cocktail and also tells me how to make it. Cheers!