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Tag Archives: classic film stars

Peyton Place

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Peyton Place

Image credit: Peyton Place, 1957

I’m a sucker for vintage New England, so naturally this week’s film Peyton Place (DVD/Download) is right up my Episcopalian-and-lobster-roll-alley. Though it would later be turned into a hit TV soap opera, the film adaptation of the Grace Metalious novel is pretty soapy on its own. Teenage sex; adultery; abortion; murder in front of the Christmas tree- pretty scandalous stuff even now, let alone in the 1950s. But what I love about this film (in addition to Lana Turner’s wardrobe) is that it doesn’t feel dated.  Rather, it succeeds in shining a light on social issues we’re still dealing with today.

Set in the sleepy New England town of Peyton Place just before World War II breaks out, the film follows teenage characters as they struggle with the prudish views of their parents. Lana Turner rants about how sex ed shouldn’t be taught in schools, yet she refuses to talk to her own daughter about it at home, thus pushing her away. Cute little Russ Tamblyn plays a Norman Bates-type henpecked boy whose own mother is even worse. Did Hitchcock use Tamblyn’s Norman as inspiration? I have to wonder. The film leaves it to the town doctor and the high school principal to educate the rest of the community on their backwards thinking, and I just want to stand up and cheer anytime these men are onscreen. Finally, someone in this film is using common sense and science to make a compelling argument, societal backlash be damned.

Lana Turner does a brilliant job in her role as a supreme ice queen, causing the men in the town to shy away for fear of “frostbite”. She’s buttoned up, beautiful, and sardonic- a classic film icon if I’ve ever seen one. While watching Peyton Place, celebrate Ms. Turner with an Ice Queen cocktail.

Ice Queen

Cucumber slice

1 1/2 oz light rum

¾ oz lime juice

½ oz simple syrup

1 tsp crème de menthe

2 oz prosecco

Lime twist

Muddle cucumber at the bottom of a cocktail shaker with the rum, lime juice, and simple syrup. Add ice and crème de menthe. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Top with prosecco, and garnish with a lime twist.

Ice Queen

By the end of the film, I’m still marveling to myself that the battles being waged onscreen are still the same ones we’re fighting today. Should sex ed be taught in schools? Should abortion be legal in cases of rape and incest (and any other damn time it’s a bad situation)? Are churches doing a disservice by preaching abstinence-only? The film comes down pretty hard on the left (as do I) but I find it depressing to realize that after 70 years we’re STILL fighting about these things. All I can say is, pass the rum. Cheers!

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Rebel Without a Cause

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rebel-without-a-cause

Image credit: Rebel Without a Cause, 1955

Every five years or so, I pull out Rebel Without a Cause and take a deep breath. I know what’s coming- a film with so much tension that I feel wrecked afterward. Why do I watch? Because I like to be reminded of the power of cinema, and the actor’s ability to make emotions resonate with a viewer. James Dean was one such prolific actor, and Rebel Without a Cause (DVD/Download) is his enduring masterpiece.

Before the teen films of John Hughes or Amy Heckerling, even before Splendor in the Grass, there was Rebel. This film is important to our cinematic history because it’s one of the first widely viewed films that gives an honest portrayal of teen angst. That restless feeling of being scared even when you’re not sure what you’re scared of, like you’re crawling out of your own skin (what Holly Golightly categorized as “the mean reds”)- that’s the emotion that this film captures so perfectly. By watching a day in the life of these Los Angeles teens, we start to empathize with the hopeless feelings of being misunderstood and judged for reasons beyond one’s control. Rebel may have been made in 1955, but it will never feel dated because those emotions will never stop being real.

The film opens with a scene of James Dean rolling around drunk on the sidewalk. Eventually his public display of disorderly behavior lands him in a jail cell where he meets fellow delinquents played by Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo. I’m not saying you should drink enough to find yourself in the same boat, but if there was ever a movie that needed to be chased with a cocktail, it’s this one. While watching Rebel Without a Cause, I recommend drinking a Toreador.

Toreador

1 part Spanish red wine (such as Tempranillo)

1 part lemon-lime soda

Slice of lemon

Build drink in a glass over ice, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with the lemon slice.

toreador

This cocktail reminds me of that iconic jacket James Dean wears- a fire-engine red number that’s slightly geeky by today’s standards, but on him, with that popped collar, looks effortlessly cool.  The color symbolizes the fire and passion churning under his skin, and as bullies and thugs taunt him, he actually becomes that toreador, wielding his switchblade like a spear.  Rebel Without a Cause gained notoriety due to Dean’s untimely death just before the picture’s release, but even without the backstory, the film itself is Shakespearean in its tragedy.  You might need that full bottle of wine tonight.  Cheers!

The Aviator

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Image credit: The Aviator, 2004

Image credit: The Aviator, 2004

I’m sure I’ve previously mentioned that I adore movies about old Hollywood. The glamour, the scandals- I can’t get enough. This week I’ll be watching Scorsese’s The Aviator (DVD/Download), one of the best films to feature re-imagined classic film stars. Cate Blanchett as Katherine Hepburn; Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow; Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner- the list goes on and on. And yes, there is Leonardo DiCaprio as mogul Howard Hughes, but who are we kidding here- the ladies are the stars of this show.

The Aviator follows Howard Hughes’ career as a movie producer and aviation pioneer, his success overshadowed by a raging case of OCD. Hughes’ money and charm attract a cavalcade of beautiful starlets, but it’s Hepburn who really connects with him. I know, I know, she was meant to be with Spencer Tracy, but a part of me wanted her to end up with Howard Hughes. Cate Blanchett does Hepburn like nobody’s business, completely nailing the WASP-y New England accent and athletic stride. I was less impressed by Kate Beckinsale’s breathy portrayal of Ava Gardner, though of course I loved her costumes! Really though, the best part for me is the fabulous wallpaper in the bathroom of the Beverly Hills Hotel. That iconic giant palm-leaf design is a welcome distraction from DiCaprio’s sweaty overacting mess below it.

The 1930’s must have been an amazing time to be in Hollywood. Not just for the films (though those were good too), but also for the cocktails! Imagine sipping a gin cocktail at the Cocoanut Grove, a drunken Errol Flynn at the next table over, hitting on starlets left and right. Paying tribute to classic drinks and Hughes’ obsession with flying, while watching The Aviator I recommend drinking an Aviation cocktail.

Aviation

1 ½ oz gin

½ oz lemon juice

¾ oz maraschino liqueur

¼ oz crème de violette

Maraschino cherry (optional)

Add all ingredients to a shaker filled with ice, shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry (optional).

Aviator

Obviously, The Aviator focuses a great deal on Hughes’ aviation experience (including one harrowing plane crash over Beverly Hills), but it’s also a love letter to cinema. Watching the filming of Hell’s Angels is pure fun, and I love seeing how the coloration and technology of cinema changes over time. In short, come for the glitz and action, but continue watching for the style and history. Cheers!