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Heaven Can Wait

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Image credit: Heaven Can Wait, 1943

Apparently, the gates of Hell are guarded by some extremely fabulous art deco furniture. At least, that’s how it appears in Ernst Lubitsch’s 1943 masterpiece Heaven Can Wait (Disc/Download). Starring Don Ameche as the recently deceased Henry Van Cleve (a man who thinks he’s done nothing in life to deserve a spot in Heaven), this movie is essentially Henry’s memoirs, as told to the guardian of Hell, His Excellency. Lucky for us, Henry’s life was one of Technicolor, romance, and whiskey- the perfect blend!

Set in the years between 1872 and 1942, the movie tells the stories of Henry’s “misdeeds”, which were actually, as it turns out, examples of his big heart. They were often things that society and/or his family frowned upon, yet Henry did them without malice, and usually for the right reasons. That’s the key to understanding Heaven Can Wait, for a person’s worth shouldn’t be measured in things like perfection or altruism, but in love and good intentions. Henry wasn’t perfect, but deep down, he was good. And damned if he didn’t have one of the most charming bookshop meet-cutes with his future wife, played by the lovely Gene Tierney. The romance sneaks up on you in this movie, but when it hits, it hits hard.

According to Henry, when he dreams of Heaven, it is a Heaven full of whiskey and soda. I might choose a different cocktail for my own personal afterlife (I like to believe there are rivers of French ’75s up there), but let’s at least see if he’s onto something. While watching Heaven Can Wait, I recommend drinking a Whiskey Soda.

Whiskey Soda

2 oz Whiskey (your favorite brand)

4 oz Club Soda

Citrus garnish

Build drink over ice, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with a citrus twist.

It’s a testament to the film’s script that what is essentially a comedy of manners turns out to be such a profound philosophical work of art. With humor and fantastic lines that make you ache inside they’re so good, we learn what the phrase “a life well-lived” actually means. If you believe in Heaven and Hell, then you know Henry carved out his spot in the good place long ago. Cheers!

Cool Hand Luke

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Image Credit: Cool Hand Luke, 1967

I’ve never been a fan of movies featuring dusty, sweaty actors, but when that movie contains Paul Newman and his impressive abs, all bets are off. Cool Hand Luke (Disc/Download) is an ironic title for a movie about an extremely hot man in an extremely hot place, but I’ve since realized there are a lot of ways to be cool. Leave it to this icon to school us.

I suppose winter is a great time to watch a film about a sweltering prison camp in the Deep South because you’ll really want to stick your head in a snowbank after Luke’s forth or fifth trip to “the box”. I don’t know what I expected going into this, but it wasn’t a Shawshank-esque tale of a maligned prisoner rising up against his sadistic guards. Frankly, I didn’t know work camps like this existed in the prison system after WWII. Paul Newman is perfect in his role as the smart, charismatic Luke because the viewer falls under his spell right along with his fellow prisoners. We believe that Luke is the one guy who can escape this hellhole because his smile, his zen attitude, his tenacity in an egg-eating competition tells us so. He doesn’t have much in the world, but he’s got the one thing that matters—grit.

Speaking of eggs, I’ll admit I had a hard time watching Luke chow down on fifty of the hard-boiled variety, his abs slowly disappearing under a sulfurous cloud of bloat. I like eggs, particularly in a cocktail, but only in moderation. While watching Cool Hand Luke, enjoy this classic egg-white cocktail, the Rum Sour.

Rum Sour

2 oz dark rum

¾ oz Lemon Juice

¾ oz Maple Syrup

1 Egg White

Combine rum, lemon juice, maple syrup, and egg white in a shaker without ice. Shake vigorously for ten seconds, then add ice. Shake for another thirty seconds to chill, then strain into a coupe glass.

With a strong supporting cast that includes Academy Award winner George Kennedy, Dennis Hopper, and Harry Dean Stanton, this classic film is one I wished I’d watched sooner. Don’t let the dust and sweat turn you off—this is a damn cool flick. Cheers!

Desk Set

Image credit: Desk Set, 1957

I’ve got a question for EMERAC—which 1950s film starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy will put me in a retro holiday mood? The answer, of course, is Desk Set (Disc/Download), the delightful romantic comedy written by Nora Ephron’s parents Phoebe and Henry. If it’s one thing the Ephron family understands, it’s how to make smart people fall in love.

If you’ve never seen this movie before, you might be shocked to learn that in the days before Google, actual humans were employed to answer mundane trivia questions from the general population. As reference librarian Bunny Watson, Hepburn looks perfectly at home surrounded by books, speaking authoritatively into a telephone. However, her peaceful workplace is soon disrupted by the arrival of Spencer Tracy and his living room-sized computer. EMERAC threatens both Bunny’s job and her pride when, due to a severe lack of communication, she and her co-workers start to worry the men upstairs will replace them all with a machine. Can Bunny save her status as the leading human computer? Will she ever get a chance to wear that gorgeous green dress from Bonwit Teller’s? WILL SHE MAKE IT TO THE OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY?? Watch and learn the answers to these burning questions.

Speaking of questions, one in particular came up while I was watching this film. Spencer Tracy’s character Richard seems awfully excited to be served something called “Floating Island”. Not having a reference librarian of my own to call up, I turned to Google to find out what this dish is. Turns out, it’s straight out of a Julia Child cookbook, and can be easily modified into a cocktail. While watching Desk Set, I recommend drinking an Eggnog Floating Island.

Eggnog Floating Island

3 oz store-bought Eggnog (I used Trader Joe’s oat milk version)

¾ oz Dark spiced rum

¾ oz Brandy

2 cups milk

For Meringue:

3 large egg whites

¼ tsp cream of tartar

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Ground Nutmeg (for garnish)

Edible Glitter (for garnish)

  • Combine eggnog with dark rum and brandy, pour into martini glass, and place in the fridge to chill.
  • Pour milk into a skillet, and turn on the heat to simmer.
  • Next, make the meringues. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar, and beat until they hold stiff peaks. Add sugar slowly, beating until the whites are stiff and glossy.
  • Scoop some (about the size of an egg) onto a spoon. Drop into the simmering milk on the stovetop, and cook for 2 minutes, turning meringue over halfway through. Repeat with as many other meringue scoops as you want.
  • Using a slotted spoon, transfer poached meringue to a clean towel, then onto a wax-lined sheet. Refrigerate for 1-3 hours.
  • Once the meringues have cooled and set, place one poached meringue on top of the eggnog in your martini glass. Dust with ground nutmeg and edible glitter. Serve with a small spoon.

I admit, this cocktail is a little more involved than I normally care to get. However, the holidays are always a good time to try out new recipes you don’t have time for the other eleven months of the year. And if you’re not up for anything complicated, you can always just pass a bottle of bubbly around like these boozy librarians—I’ll never tell. Cheers, and happy holidays from Cinema Sips!

An Affair to Remember

Image credit: An Affair to Remember, 1957

If, like me, you’ve run out of Douglas Sirk films to watch, yet still feel the powerful pull of the melodrama, look no further than this week’s Cinema Sips pick An Affair to Remember (Disc/Download). With its beautiful 1950s gowns, sappy dialogue (“Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories…”), and romantic cruise ship setting, Leo McCarey has picked up where Sirk left off. Just let me grab my fur stole and champagne coupe- it’s time to set sail.

Starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr as star-crossed lovers who randomly meet on a European voyage, this film has me yearning for the days when cruising the high seas meant high fashion and sophisticated cocktails instead of buffet lines and Legionnaire’s. Kerr’s stateroom is MASSIVE, like a perfect mid-century modern time capsule, and it’s a wonder she leaves the room at all. But of course, she must leave it if she’s going to bump into the suave Cary Grant, playing American playboy Nickie Ferrante, who has one foot down the alter and another in a starving artist’s loft. He “paints pictures” the way Rock Hudson “renovates barns” in All That Heaven Allows, but I guess it doesn’t matter what hobby you turn to when you’re that good looking. People will buy whatever it is he’s selling.

Because Nickie’s family roots are in a villa along the French Riviera, I’m bringing in some Mediterranean flavors with this festive drink. While watching An Affair to Remember, I recommend drinking a Pink Champagne Life cocktail.

Pink Champagne Life

1 oz fresh-squeezed Clementine juice

4 oz Pink Champagne

2 dashes Orange Bitters

1 Sprig Rosemary

1 Clementine peel

Add clementine juice, champagne, and bitters to a coupe, stirring gently to combine. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary and clementine peel.

Although parts of this movie take place at Christmas, I’ve struggled to define it as a “Christmas Movie”. I suppose if you’re looking for an excuse to drink more champagne around the holidays, you may as well pop this one in. After all, Cary always looks great near a Christmas tree. Cheers!

Dinner at Eight

Image credit: Dinner at Eight, 1933

Last year around this time, I watched Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner because I thought it was a movie about people eating. Too late, I realized my mistake (I was already three drinks in before anyone even mentioned the dining room). This year, Dinner at Eight (Disc/Download) has fooled me anew, offering all the promise of a five-course meal with none of the calories. Really, after a year of pandemic weight gain, maybe that’s a good thing. I’m not sure who in Hollywood started the trend of “movies with dinner in the title that have nothing to do with dinner,” but let me just say, I am here for it every Thanksgiving. After a big meal, the last thing I want to see is more food.

There are a lot of familiar faces in this flick (Barrymores! Glenda the Good Witch!), but the true standout is Miss Jean Harlow. As soon as she appears onscreen, lounging in a silk bed eating bon-bons in the middle of the day, I am putty in her manicured hands. She takes a character that could have been a silly throwaway and turns it into the one thing that saves this movie from being too full of itself. Harlow is radiant in her satin negligees, platinum blonde hair, and hilarious facial expressions, and I find myself waiting for other actors’ scenes to end just so she’ll come back. Dinner at Eight is built around the premise of a group of upper-crust New Yorkers gathering for a dinner party, all of them hiding their own personal secrets, but the thing that sets Jean apart is she lets it all hang out. She doesn’t have time for bras, or politeness- in other words, the ideal dinner companion.

As these neurotic people navigate bankruptcy, career suicide, alcoholism, and afternoon trysts, I can’t help but think that Millicent Jordan’s bar cart better be stocked- they’ll all need a strong drink by the time a meal is actually served! Let’s toast them with this autumnal variation on a Manhattan, the Big Apple Martini.

Big Apple Martini

2 oz Applejack Brandy

½ oz Sweet Vermouth

1 oz Apple cider

Dash of Angostura Bitters

Luxardo Maraschino cherry (for garnish)

Combine liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino cherry.

If you’re like me, you’ll get so wrapped up in the drama of this movie that you won’t even remember these characters are eventually supposed to break bread. As the day gets longer, and eight o’clock seems oh so far away, you start to realize that in the world of Classic Hollywood dinner parties, time doesn’t exist—it’s merely a suggestion. Cheers!

Driving Miss Daisy

Image Credit: Driving Miss Daisy, 1989

The question I’m asked most frequently when I tell people about this blog is, “Do you come up with the movie first, or the drink?” Nine times out of ten, it’s the movie. But in rare cases, such as this week, I stumble upon a cocktail I want to make and find a movie to fit. The cocktail in question is a Whiskey Daisy, and unfortunately, I’ve already covered The Great Gatsby, Harold & Maude, and You’ve Got Mail. That leaves me with either Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, Inside Daisy Clover, or the Jessica Tandy/Morgan Freeman classic Driving Miss Daisy (Disc/Download). As much as I love Doris and Natalie, I decided to go with the pick that gets talked about most frequently, for better or worse.

I’ll be honest, despite dozens of Miss Daisy jokes made while my husband drives me around in the classic car I recently inherited, I’d never actually seen this movie. A heartwarming friendship between a black chauffeur and the surly, clueless white woman he drives around? Pass- I’ve already watched Green Book, and didn’t feel like I needed its role-reversed ancestor. However, despite some problematic content that simply comes with the territory of a story set in a less-enlightened time period, I found myself solidly charmed upon my initial watch. Jessica Tandy is a delight, especially when paired with Morgan Freeman and perennial friend-to-vodka-lovers Dan Aykroyd. What could have been a one note allegory about racism in America actually ended up being a really touching illustration of the aging process and loss of independence. As the wrinkles get more pronounced, the glasses thicker, and the memories more jumbled, all the social constructs seem to strip away, leaving these two people with the realization that they were always more than the labels society thrust upon them. They were friends.

Now, back to that cocktail. I like the sound of this drink because it seems easy to make and uses ingredients I already have. Driving Miss Daisy isn’t really a booze-heavy movie, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it one. Just remember- no drinking and driving!

Whiskey Daisy

2 oz Bourbon Whiskey

1 oz Lemon Juice

¼ oz Simple Syrup

½ oz Cointreau

Club Soda

Add bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, and Cointreau to a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Top with a splash of club soda.

I’m not about to dive into the controversy of “did this movie deserve all the Oscars it received” because that’s an argument with no winners. But I will say, this is a film that knows how to take an audience along for the ride, whether or not it was a trip you felt like making. I’m glad I finally watched Driving Miss Daisy, and I’m even more glad to add this cocktail to my repertoire. Cheers!

Cleopatra

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Image Credit: Cleopatra, 1963

I hope you stocked up on alcohol this week because Cleopatra (Disc/Download) is a real endurance test. It’ll take at least a few refills to carry you through a runtime of over four hours—and this is the short cut! If the director’s cut ever gets released, you’ll need a barge to carry all your liquor home.

Insane length aside, this is actually an incredibly sexy movie. History buffs will enjoy the scenes of Ancient Rome and Egypt, but personally, I’m here for the sizzling chemistry between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. “Liz and Dick” caused quite the scandal when their onscreen love story moved off-screen, but having now sat through hours worth of footage, it appears their romance was almost inevitable. How could Burton possibly resist Taylor in those cleavage-baring costumes? How could she not want to climb his muscular legs like a tree? It was always a question of when, not if. The film’s plot is interesting, if a little meandering, but if you enjoy a cornucopia of wigs, pink shag bedrooms, opulent baths, and the haughty attitude of Elizabeth Taylor in glittery eye shadow, you will not be disappointed.

Speaking of Taylor, this gal likes her gold. From boats to drinkware, Miss Cleo doesn’t skimp on the opulence. Celebrate her majesty with this gold-flecked drink, perfect for a Baccus-themed party. While watching Cleopatra, I recommend drinking a Golden Girl cocktail.

Golden Girl

4 oz Dry White Wine

1 oz Gin

½ oz Honey Rosemary Syrup (1/2 cup honey + 1/2 cup water + 3 sprigs rosemary, simmered then cooled)

½ oz Lemon Juice

2 ½ oz Club Soda

Pinch of edible glitter

Sprig of Rosemary for Garnish

Combine wine, gin, honey syrup, and lemon juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with club soda, and a pinch of edible glitter. Stir to combine, then garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

I will admit, it took me over two days to get through this movie. I was so alarmed by the sight of Archie Bunker stabbing Ceasar in the back that I needed a break. However, once Antony and Cleopatra began their epic romance, I was officially hooked. This turkey may be all breasts and thighs, but those parts sure are delicious. Cheers!

Rear Window

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Image credit: Rear Window, 1954

There’s nothing like a hot, humid night to make you want to cool off with an effortlessly chic film and icy cocktail. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (Disc/Download) may take place during the dog days of summer, but it never fails to chill me to the bone.

With a main character loosely based on real-life celebrity/lifestyle photographer Slim Aarons, this movie seems tailor made to fit my mid-century sensibilities. But throw in a tense murder mystery, voyeurism, and Hitchcockian suspense, and this Edith Head-flavored eye candy becomes a masterpiece. I’ve always loved Jimmy Stewart in a Hitchcock film because it’s an opportunity for cinema’s favorite everyman to dig a little deeper. As we see him lock eyes with a killer across the courtyard, it becomes apparent—this Jimmy has a dark side. One that compels him to watch his neighbors with the lights off, studying their movements, becoming involved in their dramas from afar. He can joke with Thelma Ritter and flirt with his socialite girlfriend, but there’s no denying the slight element of criminality to his behavior. Watching isn’t murder, but it’s still a violation.

Speaking of Thelma Ritter, I’d like to toast this 20th Century Queen of “Telling it Like it Is”. As the nurse who tends to Jimmy’s  L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries and his broken leg, she admonishes his semi-creepy voyeur habits while simultaneously musing about body disposal and blood spatter. Murderinos unite! When the action heats up, cool down with this Peeping Tom Collins.

Peeping Tom Collins

2 oz London Dry Gin

1 oz Lemon Juice

1 oz Ginger Liqueur

1/2 oz Simple Syrup

Club Soda to top

Lemon Wheel for garnish

Build drink over ice, stirring to combine. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

With just a hint of a spicy kick from the ginger liqueur, this drink will make you aware of how hot it is outside, but grateful you have air conditioning (unlike the poor folks in this Greenwich Village apartment complex). And be sure to watch out for a scene in which three people swirl brandy for about ten minutes straight, literally hypnotizing the viewer. If this was Hitch’s brand of misdirection, consider me duped. I have no idea what happened in that scene, other than the fact that Grace Kelly likes to aerate her alcohol and wear chunky charm bracelets. Cheers!

The Great Escape

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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!

Avanti!

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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!