RSS Feed

Category Archives: Classic Films

The Great Escape

Posted on
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

Posted on
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!

Posted on
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!

A Streetcar Named Desire

Posted on
Image credit: A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951

There isn’t much in this world we can count on, but at least I know I can always rely on Tennessee Williams to give me stories of hot, sweaty men and a lot of alcohol. I’ve already discussed the sex appeal of Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but running a close second is Marlon Brando in this week’s film A Streetcar Named Desire (Disc/Download). I think Vivien Leigh’s face speaks for all of us when he removes his shirt for the first time- Yowza.

As we’ve seen in other works by Tennessee Williams, this play-turned-film features an unhappy family trying to imbibe their way through the drama of life. Disgraced southern belle Blanche DuBois seeks refuge with her sister and brother-in-law in their derelict New Orleans apartment, becomes the world’s worst house guest, and watches an already-volatile marriage disintegrate. Would Stella and Stanley have lasted if Blanche had never graced their doorstep? I doubt it. Stanley was always a powder keg ready to blow. But throw in a mentally unstable woman who is the exact opposite of everything Stanley stands for, have her drink all his liquor and take baths all day to calm her nerves, and the fuse is officially lit. Honestly, I almost didn’t mind that Stanley and Blanche destroyed one another– they’re both kind of horrible human beings to begin with. Who I truly feel for is Stella, poor Stella, who now has to live with the knowledge that her husband is a brute, her sister is a mid-century Mary Kay Letourneau, and she and her baby aren’t getting air conditioning anytime soon. Somebody get this lady a drink.

Speaking of drinking, these characters only have to step outside their front door to find some of the finest watering holes in the French Quarter. I want to pay homage to a great drink I had at Galatoire’s a few years ago, the Ramos Gin Fizz. Someday, post-COVID, I look forward to having another one there. But until then, give your arm a nice workout with this tasty concoction.

Ramos Gin Fizz

2 oz Gin

3/4 oz Simple Syrup

1/2 oz Heavy Cream

1/2 oz Lemon Juice

1/2 oz Lime Juice

3 dashes Orange Flower Water

1 egg white

Club soda

Orange twist

Combine gin, simple syrup, lemon juice, lime juice, orange flower water, and egg white in a shaker. Shake for about 10 seconds, then add ice. Shake again vigorously for 30 seconds, then strain into a glass. Pour some club soda into your shaker, slosh it around to collect the remaining egg whites, then pour it over your drink. Garnish with an orange twist.

If done correctly, this drink will look as frothy as one of Blanche’s party dresses. It’s fun to see Vivien Leigh in another southern role, and I can’t help feeling that Scarlett O’Hara has really let herself go. Brando was perhaps never as electric as he was in the role of Stanley Kowalski, and no matter what your thoughts are on the man or the movie, you owe it to yourself to watch him scream STELLAAAAAA at least once in this lifetime. Cheers!

Blazing Saddles

Image credit: Blazing Saddles, 1974

Even though I’m not a big fan of westerns, I had to make an exception for this week’s pie pick Blazing Saddles (Disc/Download). It actually wasn’t that hard to do, since this is technically a western spoof, complete with Busby Berkeley dance number, Marlene Dietrich-inspired seductress named Lili von Shtüpp, and a whiskey-swilling Gene Wilder. Mel Brooks, you magnificent genius, you did it again. You made me spit my drink from laughing too hard.

Fair warning, the language used in this movie is sometimes difficult to hear, and in fact the film is often shown with a special introduction now. It’s actually a very progressive script for 1974 as well as today, but taken out of context, certain elements could be problematic. The thing to remember is, the ignorant racists are the ones who come off looking like fools, while the handsome black sheriff and his friends are the heroes. Like most Mel Brooks films, I don’t watch Blazing Saddles for the plot. I watch it for the one-liners, the funny character names, and the biting commentary on Hollywood and society-at-large.

The reason this movie made it into my month of pie flicks is due to the EPIC pie fight between villains, good guys, and assorted staff members of the Warner Bros. backlot. Normally I’d be sad about all these commissary pies being destroyed, but since it’s in the name of comedy, I suppose it’s okay. While watching Blazing Saddles, I recommend drinking this Pie Fight cocktail.

Pie Fight

1 oz Whiskey

1/2 oz Peach Schnapps

1 oz Bailey’s Irish Cream

2 oz Orange Juice

Whipped cream/pie crust for garnish

Combine whiskey, schnapps, Irish cream, and orange juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Top with whipped cream, and a piece of pie crust (I used store-bought refrigerated crust, cut out a shape, and placed in an air-fryer for 3-5 minutes to “bake”).

This cocktail is a great substitute for a cream pie, and if you’ve inexplicably found yourself with a racist sitting at your Thanksgiving table, feel free to toss it in their face. Far less clean-up than a whole dessert. Cheers!

Psycho

Posted on
Image credit: Psycho, 1960.

There’s a fine line between the kind of horror movie I can handle, and the kind I can’t. A great example of a “Liz Locke-approved Scary Movie” is this week’s pick Psycho (Disc/Download). Even though Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece makes me anxious about taking a shower ever again, the psychological suspense is so well crafted that I almost welcome the terror. Plus, you know I love any movie set in a hotel ;-).

Although this film would later be remade shot-for-shot in color by Gus Van Sant, I’ll always prefer the original black-and-white version. It removes the viewer from the action a little bit, reminding us that this is fiction, and Norman Bates is not peering at me through a peephole or waiting behind a curtain with a knife in his hand. The noise I heard halfway through shampooing my hair was just the dog.

IT’S JUST THE DOG.

In his performance as a disturbed serial killer, Anthony Perkins is equal parts creepy and likeable, similar to all those other famous murderers we’ve heard about in podcasts and documentaries. You know the type: average guy next door; he wouldn’t hurt a fly. And as one of his victims, Janet Leigh’s character Marion isn’t exactly innocent, but she’s so sweet and unsuspecting of what’s about to happen to her that the viewer almost forgets she’s a “bad girl” on the run. This is what I love about Psycho– you think you understand who the criminal is in the first ten minutes, only to realize you had no idea what level of depraved criminal you’re soon about to meet.

When Marion Crane checks into the Bates Motel, she’s probably expecting to relax with her suitcase full of money and a nice cold cocktail (I know that’s what I like to do on vacation, anyway). Instead, she’s stuck talking to a sad loner about his taxidermy collection, over a pile of white bread and pitcher of water. Is this the hospitality industry or prison?? Let’s bring some fun to this lobby party with a cocktail inspired by the upcoming shower scene. While watching Psycho, I recommend drinking this 12 Cabins, 12 Vacancies cocktail.

12 Cabins, 12 Vacancies

2 oz Red Wine

1 oz Pineapple Juice

¾ oz Simple Syrup

¾ oz Lime Juice

Club Soda

Add the red wine, pineapple juice, simple syrup, and lime juice to a highball glass over ice. Top with soda water, and stir well to combine. Garnish with a dehydrated blood orange.

As blood circles the drain in one of the most artistic murder scenes ever filmed, notice how it looks remarkably like the red wine in your cocktail. Apparently Hitch used chocolate syrup, but personally I prefer a boozier option. This is a refreshing drink that’s easy to refill as you watch Norman descend deeper and deeper into madness. But then again, don’t we all go a little mad sometimes? Especially after a few tipples? Cheers and Happy Halloween!

It Happened One Night

Image Credit: It Happened One Night, 1934.

I don’t know what this says about me, but I have a thing for grumpy heroes in popular culture. I guess when I really stop to think about it, I’m the grumpy hero of my own life: I don’t have time for nonsense, my baseline descriptors are sarcastic and pessimistic, but deep down inside I’m a romantic puddle of mush. Maybe that’s why I adore Clark Gable so much in this week’s film It Happened One Night (Disc/Download)—we are two cynics who found love, despite our better instincts.

Hailed as one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time, It Happened One Night 100% lives up to the hype. It’s amazing to me how this 1930s screwball comedy about a scandalized socialite falling for a wisecracking journalist still manages to feel fresh and relevant nearly a century later. Featuring tropes as old as time (enemies-to-lovers + forced proximity), Frank Capra’s ode to romance on the road is smart, daring, and unbelievably funny. While the script is great, it’s the acting that really sells it for me. Claudette Colbert is both ballsy and vulnerable, so desperate to get to The Wrong Man that she jumps off a yacht, hops on a Greyhound, spends the night with a total stranger (The Right Man), and flashes her gams while hitchhiking. And yet, she still needs Clark Gable to tell her how bus schedules work, and the proper way to dunk a donut, and how to not stand out like a sore thumb among the plebeians. Meanwhile, he needs a woman who makes him laugh, calls him out on his oversized ego, and is ready and willing to take the leap into a life of adventure. These two may be on opposite sides of the curtain, but we know it’s only a matter of time before those walls of Jericho come tumbling down.

Claudette Colbert’s character Ellie Andrews is described as a spoiled brat, but I think she’s more of a pissed-off brat. She’s tired of other people calling the shots in her life, and she’s ready to take the reins. This cocktail I found a few months ago in the New York Times cooking section seems tailor-made for Ellie- The Bitter Heiress!

The Bitter Heiress

3 oz Lillet

1 oz Fresh-squeezed Orange Juice

½ oz Campari

Orange peel

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, and add the first three ingredients. Stir until chilled, then strain into a chilled martini glass. Take the orange peel, hold it over the glass with the skin facing down, then strike a match and hold it between the peel and the drink. Squeeze peel toward match to spray citrus oil onto the surface of the drink, and discard. Garnish with a fresh slice of peel.

If you need a fun romp for an at-home date night, or just a solo screening that’ll make you feel a little less pessimistic about the world, quit bawlin’ and give It Happened One Night a chance. Here’s to the merry go round!

To Catch a Thief

To Catch a Thief

Image credit: To Catch a Thief, 1955

I’ve taken a lot of cinema travels this summer, so it’s fitting that I end the season with one last trip to the French Riviera. Alfred Hitchcock’s classic To Catch a Thief (Disc/Download) will make you feel like you’re sipping champagne at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, before meeting your lover for a sexy rendezvous. This week, say bonjour to style, suspense, and sun-drenched 1950s beaches.

This is one of those movies I could watch with the sound off and still feel like I got my money’s worth. To see Grace Kelly slink across the screen in her gorgeous Edith Head costumes is such a treat, but then Hitch had to go and add the Mediterranean Sea. And champagne. And Cary Grant in a lovely French farmhouse. Is he TRYING to make me swoon? If you like the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy, you’ll really enjoy this plot involving a retired cat burglar trying to clear his name after a string of “copycat” jewel thefts. Cary latches on to Grace Kelly’s jet set heiress, using her to draw the real thief out. But somewhere between sunbathing, picnicking, and enjoying the fireworks from a luxury hotel room, she falls for him. Can Cary catch the thief? Can Grace catch Cary? Can the world stop catching coronavirus so I can go to the French Riviera for real???

As previously mentioned, this is a champagne-heavy movie. For my cocktail pairing this week, I’m adapting the classic French Riviera cocktail into something a little more bubbly, and a little more American, in a nod to Grace Kelly’s roots. While watching To Catch a Thief, I recommend drinking this Copycat cocktail.

Copycat

1 ½ oz Bourbon

½ oz Rum

1 tsp Apricot Jam

½ oz Lemon Juice

1 oz Honey Syrup (2 to 1 ratio, honey to water, boiled then cooled)

3 oz Champagne

Combine Bourbon, rum, apricot jam, lemon juice, and honey syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with fresh ice. Top with champagne, and stir gently.

Copycat

This spritz cocktail is perfect for lounging near the beach or pool in your couture, as I know we’re all doing during quarantine. Maybe just me? No matter your plans this Labor Day, I hope you get to take a day off, and I hope that day off involves a fabulous movie or two. Cheers!

The Bad News Bears

Posted on

Bad News Bears

Image credit: The Bad News Bears, 1976

I have absolutely no idea what’s happening in the world of professional sports right now, but I’m guessing things are not normal. If you’re missing your peanuts and CrackerJack, and starting to wonder if you’ll ever get back, then allow Cinema Sips to tide you over with a classic baseball flick, The Bad News Bears (Disc/Download). Featuring an alcoholic coach, a feminist pitcher, and a ton of salty language, this 1976 ode to Little League and Southern California will have you experiencing all the flavors of summer.

In this perfect time capsule of a movie, Walter Matthau plays Buttermaker, a retired Minor League pitcher and current pool cleaner of the San Fernando Valley. He accepts a gig coaching a team of all the kids who weren’t good enough to play on the existing Little League teams, thinking it’ll be an easy day in the dugout with a cooler full of beer. As the misfits and all their schoolyard problems start to get under his skin, he realizes he has an opportunity to give these kids a badly needed confidence boost. He recruits the talented Amanda (Tatum O’Neal) for her golden arm, motorcycle-riding delinquent Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley) for his stellar batting average, and brainy Ogilvie (Alfred Lutter) to help him Moneyball the heck out of this league. Buttermaker’s strategy works, and eventually the Bears start winning games. The script is genius, but it’s the realistic performances that make me come back to this film year after year. I feel like I get to journey back to an era where people went inside a Pizza Hut to have dinner without irony, and a towheaded kid named Lupus could mix you the perfect martini.

Speaking of alcohol, it’s kind of amazing that Coach Buttermaker could hand out brewskies to a group of eleven-year-olds after the game and it wasn’t all over social media the next morning. I’m sure he still got to keep his job, and I bet those kids didn’t even care that they lost. While watching The Bad News Bears, join in the fun with this Honey-Bear Shandy.

Honey-Bear Shandy

1 oz Vodka

1 oz Orange Juice

½ oz Lemon Juice

½ oz Honey Syrup (2 parts Honey to 1 part Water, boiled and cooled)

5 oz Hefeweizen Beer

Orange Slice for garnish

Combine vodka, honey syrup, orange juice, and lemon juice in a shaker filled with ice. Shake well until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with crushed ice. Add beer, stirring to combine. Garnish with an orange slice.

Honeybear Shandy

If you’ve ever known what it is to get picked last in gym class, if you’ve ever been underestimated because you’re a girl, or if you’ve ever felt like you’ll never live up to the expectations someone has for you, then you’ll probably relate to this film. I always say, I love baseball movies not because of the sport, but because of the sportsmanship. This year may be full of bad news, but we’ll always have the Bears. Cheers!

Summertime

Posted on

Summertime

Image credit: Summertime, 1955

It’s official- the summer doldrums are here. Every July, I become a thoroughly unpleasant person to be around as I slog through a Groundhog Day existence of air conditioning and double showers. But this year, I made the wise choice to take a short jaunt to Venice with Katharine Hepburn in the lush 1950s drama Summertime (Disc/Download). And cookie, I’m glad I did.

When this film begins, Hepburn’s character Jane is excited about her trip to Venice. She’s saved up for it, made all the arrangements, and idealized the Italian city in her mind. She knows it’s a place for romance, but she doesn’t even dare hope for that. She’s been single a long time, and well…it’s enough just to see the beautiful canals. That’s what she tells herself, anyway. But then she actually arrives and discovers that Venice is THE WORST place to go if you’re single. I should know—I went there alone in 2002 and it was the loneliest trip of my life. Thankfully, she meets a charming antiques dealer, who may or may not be trustworthy, but still manages to pull her out of her shell and turn this trip from depressing to romantic. It’s here that Hepburn makes you feel what it is to fall for someone. To hope, but not let yourself hope too much, then to take that first tentative step before rushing in with open arms and saying “I love you” on the first date. She may get her heart broken, but oh, that first, initial joy is worth it. To truly live, is worth it.

Aside from my admiration for this character’s wardrobe (an enviable mix of shirt dresses and plucky hair bows), I also love that Jane travels with her own bourbon. You just can’t count on a foreign country to have all the comforts of home. Lucky for Jane, her pensione has all the ingredients on hand to turn that bourbon into a classic Boulevardier.

Boulevardier

1.5 oz Bourbon

1 oz Campari

1 oz Cinzano Sweet Red Vermouth

Orange Twist and Cherry garnish

Combine first three ingredients in a shaker with ice. Stir until chilled and combined, then strain into a glass filled with a large ice cube. Garnish with a twist of orange and Luxardo cherry.

Boulevardier

Cousin to the more popular Negroni, I actually prefer a Boulevardier if I’m going to commit to a heavier, alcohol-forward cocktail. And really, that’s what this movie needs. Something a little bitter, a little sweet, and very strong, just like Jane’s heart. Cheers!