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Tag Archives: Billy Wilder

Irma la Douce

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Irma la Douce

Image credit: Irma la Douce, 1963

If you love the colorful costumes and sets of classic Hollywood musicals, but can’t abide characters spontaneously bursting into song, then Irma la Douce (Disc/Download) is your movie.  Starring Jack Lemmon as a police officer-turned-pimp and Shirley MacLaine as his prostitute love, this sixties gem is a Billy Wilder film on steroids.  Big visuals, big acting, big run-time—it’s a massive commitment.  But once you give into the world of the Hotel Casanova, you’re in for a real cinematic treat.

When we first see Irma, slouching against a doorway with that little dog under her arm, you instantly know—this is a woman who has seen it all, and just doesn’t give a sh*t anymore.  She views her profession for what it is (a job), and would never allow herself to be swept away by a sappy romance. Even when she “falls” for down-on-his-luck Nestor Patou, it’s with an eye-roll and a shrug.  I see glimpses of this character in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s fabulous work on HBO’s The Deuce, and at times Irma seems almost feminist in her attitudes.  She may have a boyfriend, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to stop working.  And thus, her boyfriend has to come up with an asinine scheme, pretending to be an English lord, wearing a silly disguise, working multiple jobs so he can afford to pay  for her time, all so she doesn’t sleep with other men.  This relationship seems doomed from the start, but with a sparkling script by Wilder and winning performances by Apartment co-stars Lemmon and MacLaine, somehow it just works.

Included within the elaborate sets built for this film is a charming bar Chez Moustache, where the pimps come for their union meetings and working gals pop in for a pastis between clients.  You could certainly join them in a straight shot of this herbal spirit diluted with a little water, but I prefer mine in a cocktail.  While watching Irma la Douce, I recommend drinking this Cocktail X.

Cocktail X

1 ½ oz Calvados apple brandy

1 oz Cointreau

½ oz Pastis

1 ½  oz Pineapple Juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Cocktail X

Yes, this film is long. Yes, it’s absurd.  But it’s fun to see the intersection of classic MGM musical and 1960s visual style.  There’s teased hair, plastic heart sunglasses, and movie streets too beautiful to be real, but there is also a heartfelt message about the changing social attitudes within the time period Irma la Douce was made.  As wise Moustache says of the business of sex work, “Love is illegal – but not hate. That you can do anywhere, anytime, to anybody. But if you want a little warmth, a little tenderness, a shoulder to cry on, a smile to cuddle up with, you have to hide in dark corners, like a criminal.”  Leave it to a bartender to speak the truth. Cheers!

Sunset Boulevard

 

gloria swanson & william holden 1950 - sunset boulevard

Image Credit Paramount Pictures 1950, Sunset Boulevard

Long before Orange is the New Black, there was the original Crazy Eyes- Norma Desmond. As depicted in this week’s Cinema Sips film Sunset Boulevard (DVD/Download), she really was the benchmark against which crazy should be measured. It wasn’t only her eyes; this lady dressed up like Charlie Chaplin, played poker with Buster Keaton, hired silent film director Erich Von Stroheim to be her butler, and held a funeral for her pet monkey. I know Halloween has been over for weeks, but I couldn’t resist one more ghoulish picture. This is a Hollywood horror story for the ages, and absolutely one of the greatest films ever made.

Released in 1959, Sunset Boulevard was written and directed by Billy Wilder. In a deliciously meta twist, it stars former silent movie star Gloria Swanson as former silent movie star Norma Desmond, an actress who was wildly popular during the 1920’s, but could never quite make the leap to talking pictures. This was the unfortunate case with many silent-era stars (ie. Mary Pickford and Clara Bow), and it’s been said that the character of Norma is an amalgam of many real-life actresses from the time. Struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis (played by William Holden) stumbles into her time capsule of a mansion (which bears striking resemblance to Disney World’s Tower of Terror), and because he’s flat broke, he agrees to move in and help her with a terrible screenplay that she thinks will be the start of her career renaissance. Eventually, improbably, they form a romantic relationship, and things pretty much unravel from there.

For my cocktail this week, I’m paying homage to one of the great cinematic funeral scenes. No, I’m not talking about (SPOILER ALERT) Joe Gillis facedown in the pool with a few bullet holes. I’m of course referencing Norma Desmond’s other poor dead companion. Like Michael Jackson, this looney woman has an unhealthy relationship with her pet monkey and upon his death, decides to give him a proper wake in her bedroom. When Joe Gillis stumbles into her mansion in the middle of the afternoon, I’m sure a dead monkey was the last thing he expected to see. Thus this week, my cocktail has to be that old Hemingway favorite, Death in the Afternoon.

Death in the Afternoon

1.5 oz Absinthe

5 oz chilled champagne

Pour absinthe into the bottom of a champagne flute, then slowly pour the champagne over it. The mixture will emulsify, forming a cloudy liquid.

(Note: Be prepared to giggle helplessly for the rest of the night after you drink this. I did.)*

*(Side Note: Is this why Absinthe was illegal in the US for so many years? Too much giggling?)

death-in-the-afternoon

There are so many wonderful, quote-able lines in this film, but I think my favorite has to be “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.” This really is an unfortunate truth about Hollywood these days. I’m hard-pressed to think of a movie star that is as big as say Mary Pickford once was, and I could name about ten films just in 2014 alone that to me signal the apocalypse of the film industry (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, anyone?). Sure there are still great films being made, but every year it seems like they are fewer and farther between. Particularly when you hold up a blockbuster, or even Oscar contender from today’s era next to this genius script by Wilder, they seem so, so small. So follow my lead and enjoy a truly classic film noir with your Death in the Afternoon, and get ready for that close-up. Cheers!

(For an extra treat, visit the Cinema Sips Facebook page for a great clip of Kristen Wiig as Norma Desmond, posted on Halloween.  I died laughing).

Some Like it Hot

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Image credit MGM 1959

Image credit MGM 1959

What do you get when you cross two burly jazz musicians in drag, a blonde ukulele-playing starlet, a hot water bottle full of whiskey, and a room full of tommy-gun toting gangsters? A heck of a good time, that’s what. This week’s film selection is the 1959 Billy Wilder classic  Some Like it Hot. Set against the backdrop of the roaring 20’s, this film features Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as two Chicago jazz musicians down on their luck and on the run from the mob. They hear of a female band in need of new members, so these two bosom buddies trade in their overcoats for dresses and wigs, and hop a train to Florida. On board, they meet Marilyn Monroe’s character Sugar Kane, and the rest of Sweet Sue’s Society Syncopators. These ladies like to party, and pretty soon the drunken shenanigans are off and running.

Probably my favorite scene in the film is one that lends itself well to this week’s cocktail selection. During the train ride down to Florida, Sugar Kane gets the party started in Jack Lemmon (aka Daphne)’s bunk. He provides the whiskey, she chips some ice off an ENORMOUS block (did all trains carry polar ice down to Florida back then?), and pretty soon the rest of the Syncopators have gathered in his bunk with a bottle of Vermouth and a pretty ingenious hot water bottle/cocktail shaker-thing. Manhattans are served in Dixie cups, and someone manages to produce some Saltine crackers (I don’t think I want to know from where). It becomes kind of a naughty sorority party, with Jack Lemmon in the center as the ugliest sorority sister I have ever seen.  Zowie!

While I’m watching this scene, of course all I want is a Manhattan so I can join in the party too. While I’ve typically posted cutesy variations on classic cocktails thus far, this week I’m going with something more traditional since this is such a classic comedic film. This week’s cocktail: The Classic Manhattan.

Classic Manhattan

2 oz Bourbon Whiskey

1 oz Sweet Vermouth

2 dashes Angostura bitters

1 maraschino cherry

Combine the rye, vermouth, and bitters in a mixing glass, fill with ice, and stir until cold. Strain into a chilled glass, garnish with the cherry or orange twist.

classic-manhattan

If you’re like me, one of these is all you need for sipping during the movie. But of course it’s more fun to invite some friends over, make a big batch, and laugh at Tony Curtis’ faux-Cary Grant accent midway through the film together. This is truly a film that encourages celebrating music, friendship, cocktails and womanhood. And if you’re not a woman, well, nobody’s perfect. Cheers!

The Apartment

Photo Credit Mirisch Corporation, 1960

Photo Credit Mirisch Corporation, 1960

Happy New Year from Cinema Sips! What a fabulous excuse to drink a cocktail. Tonight, I’m screening one of my favorite films, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. This picture takes place over the holiday season in Mad Men-era New York City, and ends with a climactic New Years Eve. What better way to ring in 2014 than with a sparkling cocktail and the sparkling chemistry between Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in this wonderful classic film. Additionally, the cocktails are certainly flowing in this movie, so I can think of no better film to end 2013 on than this one.

The Apartment tells the story of Jack Lemmon’s character C.C. Baxter, a lowly employee of a large life insurance firm. In order to work his way up in the firm, he lends his apartment out to company executives and their mistresses. Things turn sour when he realizes that one of those mistresses is the woman he’s already fallen for, adorable white-gloved elevator operator Shirley MacLaine. Although there is a lot of humor in this film, there is quite a lot of darkness too. MacLaine does a wonderful job of playing the wounded “other woman”, who is both funny and devastatingly sad at the same time. Jack Lemmon is charming with his bowler hats and tennis racket-strained spaghetti, yet his character also harbors a dark suicidal past. Billy Wilder’s script is perfect as usual, filled with witty banter and charming outdated phrases. Oh to be Shirley MacLaine with her cute little white gloves and her frozen daiquiris in a basement tiki bar- I love it all.

For my cocktail tonight, I’m referencing the multitude of martinis that are drunk during the course of this film, as well as the champagne that makes the final scene so climactic. I’m adding a splash of Cassis liquor to make it a bit more festive and sweeter, and just a hint of lemon to bring out the fruitiness of the champagne. This drink is similar to a Kir Royale, only with an addition of vodka and lemon. In this film, the most shocking thing of all is not that C.C. Baxter lets numerous men and women have trysts in his bed, but rather that he lives in an absolutely HUGE apartment in New York City, for which he pays a mere $85 a month. To that end, I’m serving up the Low Rent Royale Martini tonight.

1 ½ oz vodka

½ oz Cassis liqueur

Champagne or dry sparkling wine

Lemon twist

Shake vodka and cassis liqueur together over ice, and strain into a chilled glass. Top with Champagne and lemon twist.

kir-royale-martini

I hope you enjoy this sparkling cocktail as much as I do, and with any luck The Apartment will make you laugh while simultaneously tugging at your heart strings. Whether you already have your someone special to kiss at midnight, or you’re still looking for that person, this film makes me hopeful that good things are ahead. At least drinks-wise anyway. Happy New Year, and cheers!