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Category Archives: Classic Films

Dangerous When Wet

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Dangerous When Wet

Image credit: Dangerous When Wet, 1953.

I have a confession to make: I’ve been cheating on Doris Day with Esther Williams. I never thought I would find an actress as charming, classy, and strong as Doris, but then Esther swam into my life. I loved her in Million Dollar Mermaid, but thought the film as a whole could have used more cocktails. THEN, I caught this week’s flick Dangerous When Wet (Disc/Download), which features roughly the same plot as her most iconic role, with the essential additions of alcohol and Fernando Lamas. Dear reader, I’m in cinema heaven.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to dive into (pun intended) the Esther Williams filmography. After all, I am long-obsessed with swimming pools, and I happen to own an Esther Williams-brand bathing suit. I admired her as an innovator and symbol of athletic grace long before I saw any of her movies, but now that I’ve watched a few, I can’t get enough. In Dangerous When Wet, Esther plays a wholesome farmer’s daughter from Arkansas who gets hired by phony vitamin company Liquipep to swim the English Channel with her entire family. While across the pond, she meets cute with a French champagne maker (I know, I KNOW!!) who shows her there’s more to life than swimming. Fernando Lamas is decidedly dreamy as her romantic lead, and let’s just say there is a very risqué scene set in a bathhouse changing room that has some major Pillow Talk vibes. The two lovers follow it up with a moonlight swim in his family’s pool, synchronizing their movements in the water. Busby Berkeley really was not needed in this picture, with so much chemistry heating up the screen.

Romance aside, what I enjoy most about Esther Williams films is their interpretation of what it means to be a women. Esther is allowed to be vulnerable in regards to her personal relationships, but also brave enough to take on incredible physical challenges. She’s graceful in her underwater sequences, and strong while proving her endurance in long-distance swimming. She can do back-flips with Tom & Jerry and swim twenty miles across the English Channel, all while nursing a wicked Liquipep hangover. While watching Dangerous When Wet, toast Esther and the other fierce women in your life with this English Channel cocktail.

English Channel

2 oz Earl Grey Tea, cooled

¾ oz Galliano

¾ oz Cointreau

Dried Bergamot (or lemon) slice

Brew tea and allow to cool. Combine with Galliano and Cointreau in a shaker with ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass, and garnish with Bergamot or lemon.

English Channel

There’s a moment toward the end of the movie when Esther’s French lover jumps into the Channel to help coach her across the finish line. I literally rubbed my arms with glee when this happened, not because Fernando Lamas stripped down to his boxer briefs (though, that didn’t hurt), but because he didn’t try to stop her from continuing. He knew she could make it all the way; she just needed a cheerleader. And now, in the year 2020, she’s got another one in me. Cheers!

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

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The Ghost and Mrs Muir

Image credit: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, 1947.

There has never been a more requested movie in the history of Cinema Sips than this week’s pick, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Disc/Download). After finally watching it for the first time (I know, I KNOW- I shouldn’t have waited this long), I finally understand why. This movie is literally the Venn Diagram of all my interests: Romance, Real Estate, and Rocky Beaches. Hell, let’s throw in another loop for Rex Harrison!

Starring the absurdly beautiful Gene Tierney, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir begins like any good episode of House Hunters. We see why this single mom is leaving her current home, followed by the meeting with the realtor where she talks about her budget and needs. They get in a motorized buggy, and drive up to see Gull Cottage in person. Mrs. Muir falls instantly in love with the open concept, the views, and the fact that it’s move-in-ready. The only catch? It’s haunted! But we’re not talking about just any ghost.  No, we’re talking about a sexy bearded sea captain ghost who wears black turtlenecks and gaudy belt buckles (a look he wears very well). Add to that a saucy maid and oodles of time to type up a novel, and let’s just be honest: this is my dream home.

Captain Gregg has enough stories from his seafaring days to generate a best-selling book, and although it’s not explicitly stated, I have to think most of those stories were fueled by alcohol. Let’s have this strong cocktail to celebrate the tales of sexy seamen everywhere, the Sea Captain’s Special.

Sea Captain’s Special

1 Sugar Cube

3 Dashes Angostura Bitters

2 1/2 oz Bourbon

1/4 oz Absinthe

3 oz Champagne

Club Soda

Lemon Twist (optional)

Place sugar cube in a glass, and soak with a few dashes of bitters and small amount of club soda. Muddle the sugar, rotating the glass so that the mixture lines the inside. Add a large ice cube, then pour in Bourbon. Top with Champagne, and Absinthe. Garnish with a twist of lemon (optional).

Sea Captain's Special

I really think HGTV needs to take a look at The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I can see it now- a whole season of “Haunted House Hunters”, for people who want a little supernatural spookiness with their soaking tubs. Until then, let’s just watch this classic over and over, dreaming of romance and turtlenecks by-the-sea.  Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

Sullivan’s Travels

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Sullivan's Travels

Image credit: Sullivan’s Travels, 1941.

I’m often struck by the way history continuously repeats itself. I wonder—do people not already know how this ends? You don’t even need to read a textbook; classic films  provide proof we’ve been through this before. Rampant unemployment, innocent lives lost, oppression of the poor and non-white communities—it’s all there, in this week’s masterpiece of a film, Sullivan’s Travels (Disc/Download). Maybe director Preston Sturges didn’t know how to fix the world’s problems, but he understood that laughter is sometimes the only medicine we’ve got.

Fictional Hollywood director John L. Sullivan is tired of being the Adam Sandler of the 1940s. He’s sick of making brain-dead comedies that fail to address the world’s problems. So he decides to adapt a Serious Novel called O Brother, Where Art Thou (before you ask, yes the beloved Coen Brothers film is a reference to this novel-within-a-movie). But before starting production, Sullivan decides to travel across the country incognito in order to witness and understand the lives of real, ordinary people. He ditches tuxedos in favor of hobo chic, meets Veronica Lake’s character, and together they go off to look for America. However, before their journey concludes, Sullivan gets hit on the head and accidentally assaults a cop. He doesn’t remember that he’s actually a wealthy man of privilege, so he never gets a proper defense in court. After being sentenced to a chain gang, he finally remembers who he is and has to prove his innocence. It’s during a chain gang movie night where he finally realizes the only thing bringing these guys joy is a silly Disney cartoon. It’s their one opportunity to smile and feel human. That’s true of most of America, he realizes. When it comes to entertainment, people don’t want to be told what their problems are; they want to laugh and forget, if only for a little while.

It says a lot about Veronica Lake that even when dressed up like a hobo, she still manages to be one of the sexiest actresses I’ve ever seen. She and Joel McCrea have amazing chemistry, whether they’re sitting beside his swimming pool, or riding the rails of a boxcar. Let’s toast them with this Tramp cocktail!

Tramp

1 oz Sloe Gin

1 oz Peach Liqueur

1 oz Lime Juice

3 oz Cava

Lime twist/dried lime for garnish

Combine sloe gin, peach liqueur, and lime juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a Collins glass filled with crushed ice. Top with Cava and lime garnish.

Tramp

In a weird twist of fate, I actually watched Sullivan’s Travels right after sitting through an old Adam Sandler rom-com. As expected, the Happy Madison flick was a little dumb, but I enjoyed the tropical setting and his schlubby earnestness. It felt good to laugh, at a time when everything in the news made me want to cry. However, it also made me understand how rare it is when a movie causes you smile and think and learn something about the world, which is why Sullivan’s Travels is so special, even today. So give yourself permission to laugh and enjoy a cocktail right now—we all need it. Cheers!

Key Largo

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Key Largo

Image credit: Key Largo, 1948

Consider this my pick for a classic lockdown screening. Whether it’s a virus or a natural disaster that has you stuck inside your home, you can watch Key Largo (Disc/Download) and feel a little bit better about your current situation. One, if you’re reading this, then you probably have easy access to alcohol. Two, you’re most likely not trapped inside the house with a murderous band of gangsters. And three, air conditioning is now standard in a way it wasn’t in the ‘40s. Score one for the present day.

I’ll admit, it was a catchy yacht rock song that drove me to watch this film. Bertie Higgins’ ‘Key Largo’ always puts me in the mood for frozen drinks and a captain’s hat. Havin’ it all, like Bogie and Bacall sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? Well, after watching this film, I’m going to label the song false advertising. 1940s Key Largo does not look like a place I want to sail away to. Humphrey Bogart spends most of his time under a fresh slick of forehead sweat, as he tries to be the smart, capable hero in a hotel held hostage. Lauren Bacall is there to make heart eyes at him, which is sweet, but ultimately unhelpful. Truly, it’s only the drunken gangster’s moll (Academy Award-winner Claire Trevor) who shows any real gumption. Somebody get this lady another drink please!

Speaking of drinks, the Hotel Largo has a pretty paltry cocktail list. We’re talking scotch and… scotch. Just watching them drink it WITH NO ICE makes me hot. Let’s cool off with this Key Lime Colada.

Key Lime Colada

2 cups ice

2 ½ oz dark spiced rum

1 ½ oz Key Lime Juice (From 3 key limes)

1 ½ oz Pineapple Juice

3 oz Cream of Coconut

Combine all ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. Pour into a hurricane glass, and garnish with a slice of fresh lime.

Key Lime Colada

Tropical film noir is a new genre for me, and I really thought I’d miss seeing the gorgeous colors of the Florida Keys. But as the movie progressed, I started to enjoy the shadows of the palmetto leaves on the curtains, the black, menacing ocean, and the reflection of light on the bar glasses. Lockdown never looked so sexy. Cheers!

 

Victor/Victoria

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Victor Victoria

Image credit: Victor/Victoria, 1982.

From Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to The Party, to the Pink Panther films, I am devoted to the comic genius of Blake Edwards. The man does party scenes like nobody else, giving us a blend of style and cheekiness that all but defines 1960s cinema. Victor/Victoria (Disc/Download) may fit squarely in the 1980s (blame Robert Preston’s hair), but I still put it alongside those other classic ‘60s gems. It’s got flair, whit, and above all, it pushes boundaries.

Starring Edwards’ wife Julie Andrews as a hungry soprano masquerading as a female impersonator in 1930s Paris, this film broke a lot of social barriers. Mary Poppins playing a woman, playing a man, who’s playing a woman is something I never thought I’d see, but this role was unexpectedly perfect for Andrews. She struts about the nightclub stage with confidence, making her audience forget about pedestrian concepts like gender and sexuality. Svengali/Manager Toddy (a role originally intended for Peter Sellers before his sudden death) provides witty banter and one-liners for days, their friendship serving as the true heart of the movie. Sure, we’re meant to root for love interest James Garner, the Chicago mobster who can’t figure out why he’s in love with a man (until realizing “he’s” a “she”), but by the end I don’t even care if James and Julie run off into the Pre-World War II sunset. I just want her to drink champagne in bed with Toddy forever.

Speaking of champagne, these characters drink a lot of it. There’s even one impressive number done by an acrobat balancing on a champagne bottle (CLASSIC Edwards physical comedy). Let’s join these liberal, sophisticated Parisians by drinking a Shady Dame.

Shady Dame

4 oz champagne

½ oz Lillet Blanc

½ oz Cointreau

½ oz Lemon Juice

Lemon Twist

Combine Lillet, Cointreau, and Lemon Juice in a shaker over ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Top with champagne, and a twist of lemon.

Shady Lady

In a lot of ways, this film is a snapshot of “before” (before WWII, before the Nazi occupation of Paris), and yet, also a preview of “after”. After we learn to give up our arbitrary rules regarding gender and sexuality and just let people be who they are. After we say it’s okay for anybody, male, female, or non-binary, to wear flamenco dresses, drink champagne, and laugh. Cheers!

Jules and Jim

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Jules and Jim

Image credit: Jules and Jim, 1962.

Leave it to the French to shock me. Here I was, thinking of polyamory as a concept not fully embraced until the swingin’ ‘70s, but as Jules and Jim (Disc/Download) would suggest, throuples have been around long before Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice; long before that “groundbreaking” episode of House Hunters. Apparently, Paris was a hotbed of free love, even before the Great War.

Directed by Francois Truffaut, Jules and Jim is really about Jules and Jim and Catherine—the free-spirited girl at the center of this complicated love triangle. When we meet them, Jules and Jim are carefree writers who share good times and the occasional woman. But Catherine is something different. Jules stakes a claim early on, even though we can see there’s a strong attraction from Jim as well. She flirts, Jim pines, then Jules marries her and everyone goes off to war. Jules fights on the Austrian side, Jim for the French, and both are afraid of inadvertently killing their best friend on the battlefield. Coming home, Jules settles into an unhappy marriage with Catherine, though both realize something is missing. Eventually, Jim steps in to help right the balance. Despite turbulent times ahead, for a short while in the Black Forest, this throuple is undeniably, unexpectedly happy.

Watching this gorgeous movie at home makes me wish I were instead watching it on the big screen at one of my favorite cinemas, the Austin Film Society* . They have a special gin & tonic on their lobby menu that pairs perfectly with this angsty French love story. While watching Jules and Jim, I recommend drinking the AFS Gin & Tonic.

AFS Gin & Tonic

2 oz Dry Gin

¼ oz Lillet Rose

½ oz Lime Juice

4 oz Elderflower Tonic (I use Fever Tree)

Lime Wheel/Juniper berries for garnish

Combine Gin, Lillet, and lime juice in a shaker filled with ice. Stir to combine and chill, then strain into a glass filled with ice. Top with Elderflower tonic, garnish with lime wheel and juniper berries.

Lillet Gin & Tonic

As with most French New Wave films, lead actress Jeanne Moreau is sexy, cool, funny, and real. Jules and Jim are somewhat forgettable, but Catherine is a woman ahead of her time. This film was made in the 1960s, takes place in 1914-1920s, but feels completely relevant to the 2020s. Let’s touch toes and toast to this unconventional, enduring masterpiece. Cheers!

*If you’re a supporter of indie film, please consider donating to the Austin Film Society so we can all enjoy films and cocktails after the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us.

Doctor Zhivago

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Doctor Zhivago

Image: Doctor Zhivago, 1965 (Also: The Great Coronavirus Quarantine 2020)

Unlike Doctor Zhivago’s runtime, the following post will be brief. I had enormously high hopes for this film (Disc/Download), thinking it would be hot men in the snow, meets three-and-a-half hours of Julie Christie looking sad and gorgeous. I took advantage of the orchestral overture to mix a cocktail and settled in to be transported to glamorous Moscow. Expecting snow-covered romance and emotional angst, imagine my shock upon realizing I’d committed to watching an extremely tedious episode of Little Kremlin on the Prairie.

I won’t bore you with all the reasons why this movie failed me. As any writer of romance can affirm, we’re told to show, not tell. Well, I was told that Omar Sharif and Julie Christie were hopelessly in love with each other; I just wasn’t shown it. Every time even a whisper of passion came across the screen, the film made an abrupt cut. I couldn’t understand why poet/physician Zhivago would wander through the barren frozen wasteland of Russia in search of his former nurse (and patient?) Lara, when they’d shared only about 20 minutes of screen time thus far. Was it just that she was so beautiful? I’m honestly still confused.

The one bright spot in my three-and-a-half hour trip to Cinema Siberia was the cocktail pairing I chose. As previously mentioned, grand epics are tailor-made for drinkers because the lengthy overture and intermission give you plenty of time for mixing. While watching Doctor Zhivago, replicate the feeling of walking through snow and ice to kiss a girl you kinda, sorta once knew with this Russian Frostbite cocktail.

Russian Frostbite

1½ oz Vodka

¾ oz Brandy

1 oz Coffee Liqueur

1 oz Cold Brew Coffee

1 oz Rumchata

1 ½ oz Half-and-Half

Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice, and shake until mixed and chilled. Strain into a glass filled with fresh ice.

Frostbite

It’s not a coincidence that this cocktail has coffee in it; you’ll need it to stay awake. While I loved the visuals of an ice-covered onion dome, Julie Christie’s shiny coif, and Omar Sharif’s forearms (!!!), Doctor Zhivago ultimately didn’t move me. It didn’t even nudge me. In the future, if I ever find myself in the mood for impossible love in the middle of a communist revolution, I’ll stick with the book. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

Model Shop

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Model Shop

Image credit: Model Shop, 1969

When I found out that two of my favorite movies of last year, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Echo in the Canyon, were reportedly influenced by Jacques Demy’s 1969 film Model Shop (Disc/Download), I needed to see what all the fuss was about. If you’re searching for a slice-of-life ride through ‘60s Los Angeles, look no further than this gorgeous film about love, mortality, and the mistakes of youth.

As the sun rises on a rundown LA bungalow, we meet George Matthews, a former architect at a crossroads in his life. His girlfriend’s got one foot out the door, his car’s about to be repossessed, and he doesn’t know what he wants to do ten minutes from now, let alone ten years. But then he spots a mysterious woman (Anouk Aimée) on the Sunset Strip and follows her up into the hills in his little MG. She goes into a house, he looks out over the city that doesn’t feel like home anymore, then turns around and leaves. But fate forces their paths to cross again, and this time he follows her into a Model Shop.  In this strange make-your-own-porn business that could have only existed in the 1960s, men pay to take pictures of women in their underwear, eventually leaving with negatives and a sweaty brow. For George, this sets off a Before Sunrise-esque 24hr love affair, fueled by the looming threat of a Vietnam draft notice which just arrived in the mail. That’s the thing about the ’60s—things happened fast because they had to.

Even though George’s model strips down for his camera, it isn’t until they’re back at her place that she really starts to reveal herself (a good drink will always get you talking well into the night). Equal parts sweet and bitter, while watching Model Shop, I suggest drinking this Sunset Stripped cocktail.

Sunset Stripped

1 oz Brandy

1 oz Lillet Blanc

¼ oz Honey Syrup (Equal parts honey and water boiled together, then cooled).

Dash of Angostura Bitters

Dash of Orange Bitters

Orange peel or dried orange slice

Combine Brandy, Lillet, honey syrup, and bitters in a shaker with ice. Stir until well chilled, then strain into a tumbler with a fresh cube of ice. Garnish with an orange peel or dried orange slice.

Sunset Stripped

For anyone wanting to see what Los Angeles looked like in the late 1960s, this movie is a perfect time capsule. The cars, the signage, the mini-skirts, the tanned pre-cancerous skin—Model Shop places you right in the center of it all. Sure you could watch someone else’s modern interpretation of this time period, but isn’t it more fun to go straight to the source? Cheers!

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Image credit: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1967.

This week marks yet another Thanksgiving for Cinema Sips, and although in the past we’ve covered cinema feasts such as those in The Godfather and Giant, I really don’t feel like cooking this year. Luckily, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Disc/Download) features no actual dinner; only cocktails.  In other words, my kind of party!

Made in 1967 during the height of the civil rights movement, this final Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy film collaboration features Sidney Poitier as the fiancé of a white, upper-class daughter of two liberals who have difficulty practicing what they preach.  Sure, they proudly proclaim that African Americans should have equal rights, but when their daughter gets off a plane from Hawaii with a handsome black doctor, those beliefs become complicated.  Directed by Stanley Kramer, this richly drawn film presents all sides to the debate of love vs. societal prejudice.  The daughter (played by Hepburn’s niece Katharine Houghton) comes across as naïve, but with a pure heart untouched by prejudice and hate.  And isn’t that what we all wish for?  That kids would never have to hear ugly racist words, and never be faced with a “pigmentation problem” as Tracy puts it. This girl has found the perfect man, one who’s handsome, smart, and respectful, and looks ever-so-charming with a daisy behind his ear.  I’d say that’s worth fighting a few bigots for.

As this dinner party at a San Francisco mansion grows to include the bride’s parents, the groom’s parents, the central couple, and a priest, the bar cart gets some heavy use. Meanwhile, the sassy maid is hiding in the kitchen with her cauldron of turtle soup, wondering why these crazy people won’t sit down and eat something.  Let’s take our lead from the moms in this movie, those sensible moms with a preference for sherry and young love.  While watching Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, I recommend drinking a Sherry Cobbler.

Sherry Cobbler

3 ½ oz Sherry

½ oz simple syrup

2 orange slices

2 lemon slices

Cranberries for garnish

Combine simple syrup and one slice each of orange and lemon in the bottom of a shaker.  Muddle oranges, then add sherry and ice.  Shake well, until chilled.  Strain into a Collins glass filled with crushed ice, then garnish with a fresh orange slice, lemon slice and fresh cranberries.

Sherry Cobbler

As I write this post, many dinner tables across America are still deeply divided.  There is a chasm between young and old, liberal and conservative, much as there was over fifty years ago in this movie.  Equal rights are still a dream we’re fighting for, but as this movie shows us, it’s worth fighting for.  It’s worth it to stand up to your elders and say love is all that matters; hate has no place at the table.  Cheers!

The World of Henry Orient

The World of Henry Orient

Image credit: The World of Henry Orient, 1964.

YA literature of the 1950’s and ‘60’s knew what girls wanted. I think of it as the three F’s:  Friendship, Freedom, and Fun. Some of my favorite authors of the time period, including Jane Trahey (The Trouble With Angels), Mary Rogers (Freaky Friday), and Beverly Cleary (Ramona books) covered the three F’s so well that their books and movie adaptations will always be timeless.  Such is the case with this week’s film, based on the novel by Nora Johnson, The World of Henry Orient (Disc/Download).

In many ways, this movie displays a fairy-tale version of Manhattan.  Two teenage girls roam freely through Central Park, leaping over sidewalk trash cans, having grand and glorious adventures under the shadow of skyscrapers and brownstones without fear of being raped, murdered, or mugged. Marian and Viv are like charming characters from a Wes Anderson film (down to the fur coat worn by disaffected Viv); more concerned with meeting heartthrob pianist Henry Orient (played by Peter Sellers) than they are with their parents’ divorces.  In fact, it’s only when Viv’s adulterous mother (played by a sexxxxxxy Angela Lansbury) has an affair with Orient that the adult world starts to seep into their halcyon afternoons.  They’re suddenly forced to grow up, to realize that the people who are supposed to protect them aren’t doing such a good job of it.  Maybe all a girl can really count on is her BFF. And, a cuddly Tom Bosley.

The Peter Sellers character Henry Orient is a strange bird.  He spends most of his time having affairs and playing piano very, very badly. His name gives rise to some Asian-influenced style choices by the girls, including one scene with conical hats, and his apartment is very red and very lacquered.  He also sounds like he hails from either Italy or New Jersey, depending on the scene and the sentence.  Truly, a man of mystery.  While watching The World of Henry Orient, I suggest drinking this Red Lotus cocktail

Red Lotus

1.5 oz Vodka

1.5 oz Hana Lychee Sake

1.5 oz Cranberry juice

1.5 oz Lime Juice

.5 oz Grenadine

Combine ingredients in a shaker filled with ice, shake until chilled, then strain into a martini glass. 

Red Lotus

There’s something about these vintage teen girl stories which resonates even stronger with me than the YA literature we know today. In discovering The World of Henry Orient as an adult, I’ve found a tale that feels like a cool wind whipping through the leaves of Central Park. It allows me to imagine an innocent place where precocious girls giggle, whisper, and “adventure” long after the sun has set, experiencing the heady rush of true freedom. Cheers!