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Category Archives: Classic Films

BUtterfield 8

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Liz Taylor Butterfield 8

Image credit: BUtterfield 8, 1960.

The 1960s were an interesting time for the subject of sex workers in cinema.  The words ‘party girl’, ‘call girl’, and sometimes even ‘model wink-wink’, got thrown around, leaving modern audiences to decipher what was really going on when Holly Golightly received $50 for the powder room, or when Liz Taylor had that mysterious answering service in this week’s film BUtterfield 8 (Disc/Download).  Was there a grey area when it came to sex work vs. relationships?  According to the tragically wild Gloria Wandrous, the answer is yes.

Earning Elizabeth Taylor her first academy award, BUtterfield 8 is the story of a promiscuous Manhattan “party girl” who falls in love with a feckless married man. The story opens with Gloria waking in his apartment to find $250 on the nightstand, but instead of taking the money, she scrawls “no sale” on his mirror in pink lipstick, steals his wife’s mink coat, and walks out with a bottle of scotch.  I love her instantly.  Taylor brings such depth to the role, forcing the audience to empathize with this woman who seems strong and confident on the outside, but inside is struggling with the trauma of childhood sexual abuse and the fear that she’ll never be loved.  She has some chaste scenes with  real life husband-of-the-moment Eddie Fisher, but ultimately can’t move on from rich lover Weston (played by Ewan McGregor look-a-like Laurence Harvey). There are moments where you think maybe, just maybe, this will turn into a Pretty Woman situation, where he’ll rescue Gloria and she’ll rescue him right back, but fair warning:  BUtterfield 8 is no fairy tale.

There’s a lot of booze in this movie, but one of my favorite lines is when Elizabeth Taylor claims she was “soaked through with gin.”  Been there, doll.  While watching BUtterfield 8, pour yourself this gin-based Honey Trap cocktail.

Honey Trap

2 oz Gin

1 oz Lime Juice

¾ oz Honey syrup (3tbsp honey + 1 tbsp water)

Lime twist

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine honey and water. Once it’s just barely boiling, remove from heat and let cool.  In a shaker with ice, combine gin, lime juice, and honey syrup.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a twist of lime.

In a weird way, this film feels almost Hitchcockian.  Like Gloria is a mystery we’re trying to unravel within this world of dim lighting, stylish sets, and lush orchestral scores.  Is she a prostitute, or just a girl who got her heart broken one too many times?  And does it even matter?  You be the judge.  Cheers!

The Last of Sheila

The Last of Sheila

Image credit: The Last of Sheila, 1973.

This week heralded a lot of firsts for me.  It was the first time I saw James Coburn in drag.  The first time I had impure thoughts about Ian McShane.  And the first time I saw this many pairs of white pants in one movie.  The Last of Sheila (Disc/Download) is a forgotten gem of the 1970s, and as a connoisseur of mid-century weird, I am here for it.

Equal parts Clue and The Cat’s Meow, The Last of Sheila is a Hollywood murder mystery set aboard a yacht in the south of France.  Based on the real-life parlor games staged by the film’s screenwriters Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim (yes, THAT Anthony Perkins, and THAT Stephen Sondheim), the plot follows a group of Hollywood players who have all agreed to spend a week on James Coburn’s yacht one year after the mysterious death of his wife Sheila Green.  Once aboard, they’re told they’ll be playing the Sheila Green Gossip Game, competing to discover one another’s secrets.  Alas, the game turns deadly, and it’s a booze-filled struggle to make it out alive.  With a cast that includes Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, James Mason, Raquel Welch, and a sexxxxxy young Ian McShane, this film combines my three main interests in life: big hair, alcohol, and murder.  It’s weird, it’s wild, and it should absolutely be watched with a cocktail.

Leave it to James Mason—this man epitomizes classy drunk.  With the amount of bourbon he throws back, you’d think he’d be dead or passed out halfway through the movie.  But (spoiler) James hangs on till the bitter end, glass in hand, ready to solve this thing once and for all.  Let’s toast James with the boat’s signature alcohol brand in a Jim Beam® Smash.

Jim Beam® Smash

2 oz Jim Beam® Bourbon

2 lemon wedges

1 oz mint simple syrup (or muddled mint and simple syrup)

Club Soda

Fill a glass with ice and lemon wedges.  Pour bourbon and mint simple syrup into a shaker, and gently shake to combine. Pour into prepared glass, and top with club soda.  Stir gently.

Jim Beam Smash

Having fallen in love with Richard Benjamin in Goodbye, Columbus, it’s odd to see him in this creepier role.  His Freddie Mercury-mustache, tight white pants, and turtleneck are…. not a good look.  And don’t even get me started on the puppets.  Luckily there are a lot of other charming, beautiful people to balance out the sinister elements on this boat.  After all, you gotta have friends.  Cheers!

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Image credit: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958.

This week, I’m all about bourbon.  And honestly, you can’t find a better bourbon movie than Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Disc/Download).  I’m pretty sure Paul Newman had a highball glass glued to his hand throughout the shoot, and lord was there ever a sexier drunk than 1950s-era Newman?  I think not. If you’re sweltering through an endless summer like Brick, better grab the ice bucket and the full bottle—you’ll need them to get through this steamy drama.

Looking at this film purely from an aesthetic point of view, I’m immediately hooked by the gorgeous southern plantation sets, Elizabeth Taylor’s sensual costumes, and the rugged beauty of Paul Newman.  The man looks to be carved from marble, and is of course one hell of an actor.  Then there’s Elizabeth Taylor’s Maggie “the cat”, my role model for womanhood.  She’s tough, she’s conniving, and she’s not afraid to tell off bratty children.  Watching her smear ice cream over an annoying little girl’s head is SUCH a satisfying moment for me, and proof she’s the one with real Life in her.  It’s no wonder “Big Daddy” prefers her to his other daughter-in-law—you want the woman who will give you a cashmere robe for your birthday, not another loud-mouthed grandchild.

Although we’re supposed to feel anger or sympathy for Paul Newman’s alcoholic character Brick, I can’t help but be impressed.  This man knows how to hold his liquor!  Whether you’re sweating in a Mississippi plantation or just watching people onscreen do it, a cool drink will get you through the worst days of summer.  While watching Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, I recommend drinking this Mississippi Punch.

Mississippi Punch

2 oz Cognac

1 oz Bourbon

1 oz Jamaican Rum

½ oz Lemon Juice

½ oz simple syrup

Orange wedge for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with crushed ice.  Garnish with an orange wedge.

Mississippi Punch.jpeg

Just like this cocktail, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is INTENSE.  By the end I’m exhausted from the emotional turmoil of these characters, and I wish someone would put them all out of their misery. But then Brick smirks and tells Maggie to “lock the door,” and I get that warm, satisfied feeling only a classic film and a great line can deliver.  Well… a great line and a lot of bourbon.  Cheers!

Niagara

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Niagara

Image Credit: Niagara, 1953

I’m channeling my inner Marilyn this week with a trip to Niagara Falls, aka “Canada Vegas”.  If you want to get a sense of what this kitschy natural wonder is all about, look no further than the classic film noir Niagara (Disc/Download).  It’s a bold move to set a murder mystery in the capital of retro honeymoons, but the gamble pays off.  I’m not thinking about what germs are lurking in those heart-shaped bathtubs—I want to see if anyone’s getting pushed over the edge!

Starring Marilyn Monroe as a sultry adulteress plotting to murder her husband (Joseph Cotten), Niagara has a strong Hitchcockian vibe.  Although shot in color, the film is still considered a noir due to its heavy use of shadow and double-crossing villains.  The acting is fairly campy, but you can’t take your eyes off Marilyn in her hot pink dress and hips that don’t quit.  I won’t spoil the plot, but suffice it to say, there’s murder, there’s suspense, and there’s A LOT of water.  Thanks to this movie, I’m inspired to wear my pink dress and sturdy shoes to the falls, and I plan on being extra-nice to my husband.  Maybe we’ll both make it through alive.

Conveniently, there’s a classic cocktail named after this tourist mecca that’s right in my wheelhouse. Sparkling and vodka-based, this will make you feel like you’re partying with Marilyn.  While watching Niagara, I recommend drinking a Niagara Falls cocktail.

Niagara Falls

1 oz Vodka

1 oz Cointreau

½ oz Lemon Juice

½ oz Simple Syrup

Ginger Ale

Combine Vodka, Cointreau, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker filled with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a champagne flute.  Top with ginger ale.

Niagara Falls

I love films where the setting plays an integral role in the story, and indeed, this film could not have taken place anywhere else.  You need the pounding water, the unrelenting spray, the slippery tourist paths to bring a sense of danger.  Niagara had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, like a boat hurtling toward the edge of the Falls.  Here’s hoping my own trip is a little less stressful.  Cheers!

The Swimmer

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The Swimmer

Image credit: The Swimmer, 1968

In stumbling across The Swimmer (Disc/Download), I’ve found a film tailor made for Cinema Sips.  Made in the 1960s, featuring swimming pools and a hell of a lot of alcohol, this is the visual culmination of all my daydreams.

Based on a John Cheever story, The Swimmer stars Burt Lancaster as a sort of proto-Don Draper. He’s a mad man without a compass, having driven away his family long before the story begins, and largely in denial about his crumbling life.  While attending a party at his Connecticut neighbor’s house, he decides he’ll swim home through all the nearby pools, down a sapphire river of suburbia.  It’s not until the end that he realizes home doesn’t exist for him anymore—he’s completely alone. Throughout his journey, he encounters hungover couples who still clutch glasses of gin, a pair of elderly nudists, a doe-eyed teenager with a crush, and oddly enough, Joan Rivers.  At every stop he’s offered a drink, enabling him to swim and imbibe his way through the film.  The story is sad, at times bizarre, but still relatable.  What are pools, and cocktails, if not an escape?

The Swimmer also introduced me to perhaps the one drink I have zero interest in: the Bull Shot. Like a Bloody Mary made with beef broth instead of tomato juice, watching Burt drink his hefty glass of brown was pretty stomach turning.  Let’s celebrate the better parts of summer with a sweeter, more palatable drink:  Sugar on Strawberries.

Sugar on Strawberries

Sugar

3 strawberries

2 oz vodka

½ oz simple syrup

½ oz lemon juice

1 oz champagne

Wet the rim of a martini glass with lemon juice, then dip in sugar.  Set aside. Muddle the strawberries with simple syrup in the bottom of a shaker.  Fill with ice, then add the vodka and lemon juice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into prepared glass. Top with champagne.     

Sugar on Strawberries

Book pictured: Poolside With Slim Aarons

I don’t know what it is about swimming pools, but I’m undeniably drawn to them.  I have no desire to own one; I just want to look at them all day.  Maybe, like Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer, I’m responding to what they represent—an idea of American leisure and luxury.  Maybe I’m an explorer too, imagining what lies beneath the water of those giant turquoise boxes.  Or maybe, I simply want to know what it’s like to feel cool on a hot summer day. Cheers!

That Touch of Mink

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That Touch of Mink

Image credit: That Touch of Mink, 1962.

The world lost a shining light of female grace and gumption last week with the passing of Doris Day. Beloved by so many, it’s difficult to pinpoint what captivated us.  Was it her cheerful onscreen persona that could make even the worst day just a little bit better?  Or the way she portrayed working women as real people- driven to succeed but vulnerable enough to desire love?  Or perhaps it was her style- that perfect, not-a-hair-out-of-place style which made us understand how a woman could find pleasure and power in the art of beauty, just for herself.  For me, it was all of these things and more.  I’ve already covered one of my favorite movie characters Jan Morrow in Pillow Talk, but as we celebrate the life of Doris Day, I think it’s important to discuss another important role, Cathy Timberlake in That Touch of Mink (Disc/Download).

When I first saw this film twenty years ago, the only memory I took away was the Automat.  Such a quaint but brilliant concept- a vending machine for hot food!  Genius!  But watching it now, as an adult, and as a fan of the romance genre, I can say That Touch of Mink was ahead of its time.  Within the gorgeous Mad Men-esque world of the 1960s, we see Doris as an unemployed career-gal, meeting cute with Cary Grant over a Manhattan mud puddle.  You expect this film to progress a certain way (secretary falls for her charming, grumpy, billionaire boss, etc. etc.), but instead it ends up in a totally different place.  The rich tycoon doesn’t give her a job (at least not right away).  Rather, he offers her a trip around the world, a new wardrobe, and a lavish penthouse, all in exchange for… being with him.  Because it’s 1962, the sex is only implied, but we know what this arrangement entails.  We assume Doris will slap him in the face, but surprising everyone, she agrees! She jets off to Bermuda, wears his mink coat (in the tropics no less), and lets him parade her around in front of the other tycoons and party girls.  But this being Doris, she comes down with a rash and can’t actually go through with the act.  Cary, in his dopey Mr. Rogers cardigans, is pissed but gentlemanly about it.  She manages to snag him in the end by hatching a jealousy plot with John Astin, but already the damage is done.  The audience sees Doris as a Bad Girl.  A girl who essentially agrees to prostitute herself, who drinks a bottle of scotch, and invites the creepy guy at the Unemployment Office to join her in a weekend motel romp.  And the thing is, I’m still pretty smitten with this version of Doris.

One of my bucket-list items is to stay at Doris Day’s hotel in Carmel, CA, the Cypress Inn.  I’ve already perused their bar menu and picked out the drink I will have in Terry’s Bar (yeah, I’m that much of a planner).  It’s a champagne cocktail which pairs beautifully with this sophisticated, unusual film.  While watching That Touch of Mink, I recommend having a Day Drink.

Day Drink

Sparkling Rosé

Sugar Cube

Angostura Bitters

1/4 oz Peach Schnapps

1/2 oz Bourbon

Place sugar cube in the bottom of a champagne flute, and soak with a few dashes of bitters.  Top with Peach Schnapps and Bourbon, then Sparkling Rosé.

Day Drink.jpg

It’s incredibly striking to see the threads this movie shares with our modern counterpart, Fifty Shades of Grey.  Handsome, commitment-phobic billionaire seeks smart, pretty, innocent gal for exotic getaways, dress-up sessions, and sex?  Check, check, and check.  We’re missing the BDSM, but I don’t think I can picture Doris with a riding crop.  Unless we’re talking Calamity Jane, in which case she’s a natural.  So this week, let’s raise our glasses to Doris Day, patron saint of love, career, and family. Through her films, through her EPIC eye-rolls, I understand what it is to be a woman.  Cheers!

The Trouble with Angels

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The Trouble with Angels

Image credit: The Trouble with Angels, 1966.

I’ve got the most scathingly brilliant idea. Let’s revisit the wonderful female-centric ’60s film The Trouble with Angels (Disc/Download) while drinking cocktails and worshiping at the altar of Rosalind Russell. I’m not a religious gal myself, but I’d still like to say a prayer of thanks to whoever made this movie happen. Without it, I might never understand the true greatness that occurs when men get the hell out of the way and let women take over.

Starring Hayley Mills and June Harding as precocious teens stuck at an all-girls Catholic boarding school, The Trouble with Angels is a story of friendship and finding one’s place in the world. As a lonely child watching this for the first time, I envied the friendship of Mary and Rachel like nothing else. To have a best friend that would be there for you through thick and thin (even if it means years of scrubbing pots), seemed like an impossible dream. Sure, these girls annoy the heck out of Mother Superior, played by the commanding Rosalind Russell, but it’s such a joy to watch them make mistakes, learn from them, and grow closer. For all the “good girls” out there like Rachel (and me),  we need a “bad girl” to show us that life is meant to be lived, and sometimes, rules are meant to be broken.

This film was one of my first forays into 1960s cinema, and I credit it with triggering a lifelong obsession. I wanted it all- the teased hair, the clothes, the pop culture references, and still do. Rachel’s teen dream is none other than Jack Lemmon, which made me love the actor before I ever saw him strain spaghetti through a tennis racket in The Apartment. Rachel loves Jack Lemmon, so I love Jack Lemmon. I also love this lemon cocktail that’s as fizzy, sweet, and tart as the film itself. While watching The Trouble with Angels, I recommend drinking a glass of Lemmon-ade.

Lemmon-ade

1.5 oz vodka

1.5 oz Gabriello Lemon Cream Liqueur

½ oz simple syrup

½ oz lemon juice

Lemon Italian Soda

Lemon Twist

Combine vodka, lemon liqueur, simple syrup, and lemon juice over ice in a shaker. Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with crushed ice. Top with Italian soda, and garnish with a lemon twist.

Lemmon-ade

Watching this film as an adult, I’m delighted by how well it still holds up. I attribute this to the fact that it was directed by a woman (the trailblazing Ida Lupino), written by a woman, and starring all women. Their conversations don’t revolve around men, but around friendships, education, and self-discovery. For females of any generation, this is an important film that deserves to be toasted. Mothers, show it to your daughters—they’ll thank you for it someday. Cheers!