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Category Archives: Classic Films

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!

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!