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Category Archives: Classic Films

An Affair to Remember

Image credit: An Affair to Remember, 1957

If, like me, you’ve run out of Douglas Sirk films to watch, yet still feel the powerful pull of the melodrama, look no further than this week’s Cinema Sips pick An Affair to Remember (Disc/Download). With its beautiful 1950s gowns, sappy dialogue (“Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories…”), and romantic cruise ship setting, Leo McCarey has picked up where Sirk left off. Just let me grab my fur stole and champagne coupe- it’s time to set sail.

Starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr as star-crossed lovers who randomly meet on a European voyage, this film has me yearning for the days when cruising the high seas meant high fashion and sophisticated cocktails instead of buffet lines and Legionnaire’s. Kerr’s stateroom is MASSIVE, like a perfect mid-century modern time capsule, and it’s a wonder she leaves the room at all. But of course, she must leave it if she’s going to bump into the suave Cary Grant, playing American playboy Nickie Ferrante, who has one foot down the alter and another in a starving artist’s loft. He “paints pictures” the way Rock Hudson “renovates barns” in All That Heaven Allows, but I guess it doesn’t matter what hobby you turn to when you’re that good looking. People will buy whatever it is he’s selling.

Because Nickie’s family roots are in a villa along the French Riviera, I’m bringing in some Mediterranean flavors with this festive drink. While watching An Affair to Remember, I recommend drinking a Pink Champagne Life cocktail.

Pink Champagne Life

1 oz fresh-squeezed Clementine juice

4 oz Pink Champagne

2 dashes Orange Bitters

1 Sprig Rosemary

1 Clementine peel

Add clementine juice, champagne, and bitters to a coupe, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary and clementine peel.

Although parts of this movie take place at Christmas, I’ve struggled to define it as a “Christmas Movie”. I suppose if you’re looking for an excuse to drink more champagne around the holidays, you may as well pop this one in. After all, Cary always looks great near a Christmas tree. Cheers!

Dinner at Eight

Image credit: Dinner at Eight, 1933

Last year around this time, I watched Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner because I thought it was a movie about people eating. Too late, I realized my mistake (I was already three drinks in before anyone even mentioned the dining room). This year, Dinner at Eight (Disc/Download) has fooled me anew, offering all the promise of a five-course meal with none of the calories. Really, after a year of pandemic weight gain, maybe that’s a good thing. I’m not sure who in Hollywood started the trend of “movies with dinner in the title that have nothing to do with dinner,” but let me just say, I am here for it every Thanksgiving. After a big meal, the last thing I want to see is more food.

There are a lot of familiar faces in this flick (Barrymores! Glenda the Good Witch!), but the true standout is Miss Jean Harlow. As soon as she appears onscreen, lounging in a silk bed eating bon-bons in the middle of the day, I am putty in her manicured hands. She takes a character that could have been a silly throwaway and turns it into the one thing that saves this movie from being too full of itself. Harlow is radiant in her satin negligees, platinum blonde hair, and hilarious facial expressions, and I find myself waiting for other actors’ scenes to end just so she’ll come back. Dinner at Eight is built around the premise of a group of upper-crust New Yorkers gathering for a dinner party, all of them hiding their own personal secrets, but the thing that sets Jean apart is she lets it all hang out. She doesn’t have time for bras, or politeness- in other words, the ideal dinner companion.

As these neurotic people navigate bankruptcy, career suicide, alcoholism, and afternoon trysts, I can’t help but think that Millicent Jordan’s bar cart better be stocked- they’ll all need a strong drink by the time a meal is actually served! Let’s toast them with this autumnal variation on a Manhattan, the Big Apple Martini.

Big Apple Martini

2 oz Applejack Brandy

½ oz Sweet Vermouth

1 oz Apple cider

Dash of Angostura Bitters

Luxardo Maraschino cherry (for garnish)

Combine liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino cherry.

If you’re like me, you’ll get so wrapped up in the drama of this movie that you won’t even remember these characters are eventually supposed to break bread. As the day gets longer, and eight o’clock seems oh so far away, you start to realize that in the world of Classic Hollywood dinner parties, time doesn’t exist—it’s merely a suggestion. Cheers!

The Wizard of Oz

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Image Credit: The Wizard of Oz, 1939

When it comes to Halloween, Disney and Marvel usually get all the attention. True, I loved being Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and of course Ariel from The Little Mermaid (even though I had to wear a cardigan over my seashell bra), but the costume I still look back on with the most fondness was that of a warbling, bubblegum pink Glenda the Good Witch. MGM’s The Wizard of Oz (Disc/Download) is a movie I’d seen small parts of throughout the years, but rarely all the way through. Watching it again from beginning to end, I was shocked to realize A) how short it is without all the commercial breaks, and B) that I am still unable to keep my eyes open after the drowsy poppy scene. Talk about an immersive experience!

I think we can all agree that without the talent of Judy Garland, this movie would have ended up in the dustbin of history. Color film is no longer a novelty, costumes and special effects have become more realistic over time, and musical numbers have gotten more impressive. But there’s something about Judy’s innocent yet accomplished voice that gets me every time. The way she utters lines that have become classic in our lexicon (There’s no place like home…) evokes a feeling of magic that has nothing to do with munchkins, witches, or fantastical scarecrows and lions. The Wizard of Oz contains so much earnestness, you get the sense you’re watching a production made by people who truly believe in the power of movies. The silver-painted tin man didn’t need to look within himself or search for a powerful man behind the curtain—all he had to do was look around at the key grips, lighting technicians, costumers, and camera operators to see real wizardry and heart.

As mentioned before, I always fall asleep right after the poppy scene. Sorry Dorothy- your script drags a little there. To keep myself awake, I need to mix a caffeinated cocktail and wait patiently for the flying monkeys to pick the action up again. While watching The Wizard of Oz, I recommend drinking this Black Emerald cocktail, adapted from the book Celebrity Cocktails by Brian van Flandern.

Black Emerald

1 1/2 oz Vodka

1 Black Tea Bag

1 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

1/2 oz Lemon Juice

2 oz Club Soda

Fresh Mint Leaves

Steep tea bag in club soda for about five minutes. Add all other ingredients to a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake vigorously. Add tea-infused club soda, tumble roll back and forth once, then double strain into a glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with mint.

Sometimes I wonder if Disney just couldn’t handle its main Halloween competitor and was always lurking in the shadows, waiting for a revenge opportunity. It took seventy years, but they finally had the last word as Disney World execs shut down the Great Movie Ride, robbing future generations of the opportunity to visit Munchkinland IRL. With its fake plastic flowers, colorful glitter sets, and bright yellow brick road, for five glorious minutes a group of tourists got to feel like Dorothy and Toto, dropped into a strange and magical world. Disney can keep their new Star Wars Land or Toy Story Land, or whatever lame substitution they’ve dreamed up—my home is forever with Dorothy, her ruby slippers, and a glistening pink ball coming down from the sky. Cheers!

Cleopatra

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Image Credit: Cleopatra, 1963

I hope you stocked up on alcohol this week because Cleopatra (Disc/Download) is a real endurance test. It’ll take at least a few refills to carry you through a runtime of over four hours—and this is the short cut! If the director’s cut ever gets released, you’ll need a barge to carry all your liquor home.

Insane length aside, this is actually an incredibly sexy movie. History buffs will enjoy the scenes of Ancient Rome and Egypt, but personally, I’m here for the sizzling chemistry between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. “Liz and Dick” caused quite the scandal when their onscreen love story moved off-screen, but having now sat through hours worth of footage, it appears their romance was almost inevitable. How could Burton possibly resist Taylor in those cleavage-baring costumes? How could she not want to climb his muscular legs like a tree? It was always a question of when, not if. The film’s plot is interesting, if a little meandering, but if you enjoy a cornucopia of wigs, pink shag bedrooms, opulent baths, and the haughty attitude of Elizabeth Taylor in glittery eye shadow, you will not be disappointed.

Speaking of Taylor, this gal likes her gold. From boats to drinkware, Miss Cleo doesn’t skimp on the opulence. Celebrate her majesty with this gold-flecked drink, perfect for a Baccus-themed party. While watching Cleopatra, I recommend drinking a Golden Girl cocktail.

Golden Girl

4 oz Dry White Wine

1 oz Gin

½ oz Honey Rosemary Syrup (1/2 cup honey + 1/2 cup water + 3 sprigs rosemary, simmered then cooled)

½ oz Lemon Juice

2 ½ oz Club Soda

Pinch of edible glitter

Sprig of Rosemary for Garnish

Combine wine, gin, honey syrup, and lemon juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with club soda, and a pinch of edible glitter. Stir to combine, then garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

I will admit, it took me over two days to get through this movie. I was so alarmed by the sight of Archie Bunker stabbing Ceasar in the back that I needed a break. However, once Antony and Cleopatra began their epic romance, I was officially hooked. This turkey may be all breasts and thighs, but those parts sure are delicious. Cheers!

Rear Window

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Image credit: Rear Window, 1954

There’s nothing like a hot, humid night to make you want to cool off with an effortlessly chic film and icy cocktail. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (Disc/Download) may take place during the dog days of summer, but it never fails to chill me to the bone.

With a main character loosely based on real-life celebrity/lifestyle photographer Slim Aarons, this movie seems tailor made to fit my mid-century sensibilities. But throw in a tense murder mystery, voyeurism, and Hitchcockian suspense, and this Edith Head-flavored eye candy becomes a masterpiece. I’ve always loved Jimmy Stewart in a Hitchcock film because it’s an opportunity for cinema’s favorite everyman to dig a little deeper. As we see him lock eyes with a killer across the courtyard, it becomes apparent—this Jimmy has a dark side. One that compels him to watch his neighbors with the lights off, studying their movements, becoming involved in their dramas from afar. He can joke with Thelma Ritter and flirt with his socialite girlfriend, but there’s no denying the slight element of criminality to his behavior. Watching isn’t murder, but it’s still a violation.

Speaking of Thelma Ritter, I’d like to toast this 20th Century Queen of “Telling it Like it Is”. As the nurse who tends to Jimmy’s  L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries and his broken leg, she admonishes his semi-creepy voyeur habits while simultaneously musing about body disposal and blood spatter. Murderinos unite! When the action heats up, cool down with this Peeping Tom Collins.

Peeping Tom Collins

2 oz London Dry Gin

1 oz Lemon Juice

1 oz Ginger Liqueur

1/2 oz Simple Syrup

Club Soda to top

Lemon Wheel for garnish

Build drink over ice, stirring to combine. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

With just a hint of a spicy kick from the ginger liqueur, this drink will make you aware of how hot it is outside, but grateful you have air conditioning (unlike the poor folks in this Greenwich Village apartment complex). And be sure to watch out for a scene in which three people swirl brandy for about ten minutes straight, literally hypnotizing the viewer. If this was Hitch’s brand of misdirection, consider me duped. I have no idea what happened in that scene, other than the fact that Grace Kelly likes to aerate her alcohol and wear chunky charm bracelets. Cheers!

The Revolt of Mamie Stover

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Image credit: The Revolt of Mamie Stover, 1956

It took all of ten seconds to get me hooked on The Revolt of Mamie Stover (Disc), a campy 1950s melodrama directed by Roaul Walsh. As we watch Jane Russell step out of a police car to noirish music, the camera zooms in just as she turns to face the screen with a scowl of defiance. Talk about an entrance!!!!

Set in Hawaii on the cusp of the Pearl Harbor attack, this DeLuxe Color soap opera features strong female characters, romance, tiki drinks, and vinyl records. In other words, just a typical Sunday night in my living room. As sex-worker Mamie Stover, Jane Russell is smart, acerbic, and focused on one thing and one thing only—money. Although tempted into the straight life by writer Jim Blair (Richard Egan), Mamie understands sex is her ultimate weapon. If a guy can’t handle that, then aloha, buddy. Don’t let the bamboo door hit you on the way out. Sure, she makes a legit fortune buying up cheap properties in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack (shot in an incredibly moving, realistic way), but she still can’t relinquish the power that comes with her regular dance hall gig. Mamie is the star attraction, and club owner Agnes Moorehead (!!!) will stop at nothing to prevent her meal ticket from leaving.

If there was ever a movie that begs for a tiki cocktail, it’s this one. I’m taking inspiration from our red-headed star seductress for this drink, which goes up in flames just like Mamie’s love life. While watching The Revolt of Mamie Stover, I recommend drinking a Flaming Mamie.

Flaming Mamie

3 oz Jamaican Rum

1 oz Brandy

1 oz Lime Juice

1 oz Orange Juice

1 oz Cinnamon Syrup

½ oz Velvet Falernum

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

½ Fresh Lime

1 oz 151-proof Demerara Rum

Combine first seven ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Set aside. Fill a scorpion bowl with crushed ice, then strain cocktail into it. Place a hollowed-out 1/2 lime in the center reservoir, fill with 151-proof rum, and light on fire. Serve with two straws.

This spicy cocktail is a lot like Mamie herself- complex, hot-headed, and dangerous if you get too close. As much as I love to think of Mamie in a tropical paradise, cashing those rental checks forever, a part of me is glad she eventually decides to head back to her small, judgmental hometown. It means this revolt isn’t over yet. Cheers!

La Piscine

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Image credit: La Piscine, 1969

There’s a film I’ve wanted to feature on this blog for many years, but resisted because it’s never been widely available. In fact, for a long time La Piscine (Disc) was my white whale, missing from every streaming platform and physical media source out there. Eventually, my dad took pity and purchased an expensive Alain Delon box set for me, and I was finally able to watch and fall in love with this gorgeous film. Several years later, thanks to the fine folks at Criterion, it’s officially coming to a Blu-ray player near you. This calls for a toast!

Although I’ve previously covered Luca Guadagnino’s remake A Bigger Splash on Cinema Sips, La Piscine is the quieter, sexier, deadlier version of this psychological thriller. Impossibly chic, it features Alain Delon and Romy Schneider as wealthy vacationers in the south of France who spend their days lounging by the pool, drinking wine, and making out like teenagers. Talk about a dream summer! Things seem idyllic, until Maurice Ronet and model Jane Birkin arrive to throw chaos into the calm. Although the plot mirrors that of A Bigger Splash quite closely, the difference is in the visuals. The 1969 version is like a step back to a world where style reigned supreme, and tension lived in silences instead of shouts. There was never a world so beautiful, or so anxiety-inducing, as that of La Piscine.

Whether you’re watching this film or relaxing next to your own gorgeous pool (hey, I still think my inflatable version is quite attractive), you’ll want a cool beverage to take the edge off. Easy to make and perfect for the hottest days of summer, I recommend pouring a chilled Lillet Spritz.

Lillet Spritz

2 oz Lillet Blanc

3 oz Prosecco

1 oz Club Soda

Strawberry and mint for garnish

Fill a wine glass with ice, and layer in the Lillet, Prosecco, and Club Soda, stirring gently to combine. Drop in a few strawberry slices and sprig of mint for garnish.

Having seen several stunning screenshots from this film cross my feed over the years, I knew the aesthetic of La Piscine would be one that would appeal to me. However, I didn’t fully realize just how much this movie would be like a Slim Aarons photo come to life. It’s a world I want to dive into (pun intended), and now, we all finally can. Don’t forget your bathing suit*, or the wine. Cheers!

COCOSHIP Retro One-Piece suit, $29.99 on Amazon.com

*If you’re in search of your own sexy suit for pool-time this summer, I highly recommend this one! Unbelievably flattering, you’ll be ready to hit the beaches of the Côte d’Azur (or, more realistically, the backyard).

The Great Escape

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Image credit: The Great Escape, 1963

This might make me a traitor to the 1960s, but I’ve never totally understood the lure of Steve McQueen. After watching several of his films recently… I still don’t. (side note: am I the only one who realizes this man had a terribly unflattering haircut???). However, this week’s film The Great Escape (Disc/Download) is so much more than just a McQueen vehicle (pun-intended). Rather, it’s a well-choreographed ensemble piece that surprised me at every turn.

First, I assumed that a movie about military prisoners in World War II-era Germany would feature scene after scene of torture and random killings at the hands of the Nazis. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. The film opens with a jaunty Elmer Bernstein score, where we catch our first glimpse of a POW camp that encourages gardening and crafts instead of starvation and forced labor. It’s all so… civilized? I was slightly amazed by how frequently the prisoners are left to their own devices, allowing them time to dig three tunnels, sew new clothes, forge documents, and manufacture gadgets to aid in their escape. My second surprise was that although McQueen gets top billing, he doesn’t necessarily get the most screen time. I actually thought Charles Bronson and James Coburn were the true MVPs of the cast. Watching Bronson crawl through those tunnels with his RIPPED arm muscles was a sight to behold, and I can’t help but be reminded of my late father, who served as a tunnel rat in Vietnam. Now it makes sense to me why he owned this movie (and why I’ve now inherited it)- it wasn’t about McQueen. It was always about The Tunnel King.

You’d think alcohol would have no place in a POW camp, but remember this is a civilized camp. Prisoners make their own hooch with the potatoes they’ve grown, which serves two purposes—getting rid of the excavated tunnel dirt, plus letting off a little steam. This week, pay tribute to those Allied prisoners of The Great Escape with this Dirty Martini!

Dirty Martini

2 ½ oz Potato Vodka

½ oz Dry Vermouth

½ oz Olive Brine

Olives for garnish

Combine vodka, vermouth, and olive brine in a shaker with ice. Stir until well chilled and combined, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with olives.

It’s so interesting that the escapees didn’t just want their freedom—rather, they wanted to force the Nazis into devoting valuable resources to recover the prisoners. In that sense, the escape was successful. Yes, it has an unsatisfying ending for some of the characters, but nevertheless, this remains a fantastic cinematic example of what it means to be brave, selfless, and strong. Cheers!

Mildred Pierce

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Image credit: Mildred Pierce, 1945

This week, we’re taking a step back to 1940s Hollywood to examine one of the most iconic onscreen mother/daughter duos, Mildred and Veda in the classic Mildred Pierce (Disc/Download). Maybe, like me, you grew up with the Joan Crawford NO WIRE HANGERS image seared into your brain. Thus it might be jarring to see her playing a part like Mildred, a fabulous working mom saddled with a spoiled hellion of a daughter. If Joan was an abomination in real life, watching her play this patient, loving character only proves that she’s one of the greatest actresses of any generation.

Michael Curtiz’s suspenseful noir has a lot of things going for it: murder mystery, non-linear storytelling, beautiful clothing, a gorgeous beach house, and cocktails in just about every scene. And pie! Lots and lots of pies. In flashbacks, we learn that Mildred started out as a housewife who was just trying her best to give her children everything she never had. She sells baked goods to the neighbors, and after her husband leaves her for that simpering homewrecker Mrs. Biederhof, Mildred waits tables in a busy restaurant to make ends meet. Eventually, she learns enough about the business to start her own restaurant, which quickly becomes a smash hit. But is this good enough for eldest daughter Veda? Oh, no. She can’t stand the fact that her mother works for a living. No, Veda would rather earn her fortune through blackmailing and pregnancy scares. It can be frustrating to watch Mildred defend her child’s evil actions, but she’s a mom. She can’t help wanting to see the best in her daughter, even when that daughter seduces mom’s playboy husband for herself. Talk about a soap opera!

As I said, there are a ton of cocktails in this. Martinis, straight bourbon, scotch & soda—you name it, they drank it. One beverage in particular caught my attention during a scene where Mildred and her ex have a drink in a California tiki bar. I can’t transplant myself there, but I can mix up this simple, delicious cocktail. While watching Mildred Pierce, I recommend drinking a Rum Collins.

Rum Collins

2 oz Vida Caña 2-yr Aged Rum

1 oz Lime Juice

1 oz Simple Syrup

Topo Chico sparkling water

Lime Garnish

Combine Rum, lime juice, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with Topo Chico, and stir to combine. Garnish with Lime.

If you want to catch a glimpse of my dream abode, look no further than the opening scene at Monte’s beach house. Steps from the ocean, it features multiple bars, a glassed-in patio, spiral staircase, and plenty of lounge spaces, perfect for either entertaining or murder. I guess it depends on whether or not you made the mistake of procreating. Cheers!

Avanti!

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Image credit: Avanti!, 1972

I’ve got a bad case of wanderlust, and it’s all Jack Lemmon’s fault. He makes the Italian island of Ischia look purely magical in this week’s film Avanti! (Disc/Download), an underrated Billy Wilder gem from the 1970s. Though Ischia and it’s highly Instagrammable Mezzatorre Hotel have long held a place on my travel bucket list, this film has moved it straight to the top. What I wouldn’t give to have a room with a view of the sea, thick coffee, an attentive concierge, and a waiter who will ply you with pasta until you forget all about your pesky diet back home. When swimming naked in the Mediterranean is an option, who cares how you look in a bathing suit?

Of course, it’s not all skinny dipping and afternoon prosecco. Jack Lemmon’s character Wendell Armbruster arrives on the island to claim the body of his father, who died in a car crash with his mistress in the passenger seat. The daughter of this mistress is played by Juliet Mills (sister of Hayley), and though Wendell and Ms. Piggott start the film as strangers, they eventually pick up where their parents left off. I watched this film at a weird time in my life, having just spent six weeks dealing with my father’s death and all the legal headaches accompanying it. To say that I identify with Wendell’s frustration about how long and complicated the processes of body transport, death certificates, and funeral arrangements are would be an understatement (and similar to Ischia, nobody works weekends in Florida either). But what I loved about this movie is that by the end, Wendell is able to move past the minutia of death to truly celebrate the life his father lived, in the place where he was happiest. That is how we honor the dead, by experiencing the joy they would have wanted for us.

My one quibble with this fabulous movie is the unfortunate body dysmorphia and fat shaming experienced by Ms. Piggott (even the name is like an underhanded dig at the character). I’m not sure why we’re supposed to believe that the gorgeous Juliet Mills is overweight, but let’s just say by 2021 standards she is not. Luckily, after a couple Bacardi cocktails al fresco, she’s able to loosen up and enjoy herself without counting every calorie. Let’s join in the fun with this rum-based cocktail. While watching Avanti!, I recommend drinking a Daffodil.

Daffodil

1 1/2 oz Bacardi White Rum

1 oz Cocchi Americano

1 1/4 oz Orgeat

1 oz Lime Juice

2 dashes Orange Bitters

Dried Orange slice for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake until chilled. Fill a tumbler with crushed ice, then strain cocktail into prepared glass. Garnish with a dried orange slice (or twist of orange).

There’s a moment in Avanti! where Juliet Mills says, “Italy is not a country- it’s an emotion.” What this film captures so well are the complex emotions of love, loss, humor, frustration, and longing. After living through a year where it seems everything came to a complete stop, what a relief it is to hear the word avanti. In English, it means move forward. Proceed with living. Cheers!