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Tag Archives: classic film

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!

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!

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!

The Karate Kid

Image credit: The Karate Kid, 1984

Before going down the Cobra Kai rabbit hole (if you don’t know what this is, GET A NETFLIX SUBSCRIPTION NOW!!!), I decided to revisit the film that inspired the world’s new favorite soap-opera-for-the-middle-aged. Plus, with Halloween right around the corner, it seemed like a good time to examine the genesis of my childhood nightmares—those motorcycle-riding blonde villains in their skeleton costumes and terrifying makeup. The Karate Kid (Disc/Download) is a nostalgia trip to the 1980s, but you know what? I’m pretty excited to go back.

First things first—Ralph Macchio was and still is a BABE. Pre-teen Liz was all about sweet Daniel and his luscious olive skin, and don’t even get me started on that dopey shower curtain costume. So creative! My husband loves to champion his theory that Daniel LaRusso is the real bully of The Karate Kid, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Daniel does not dress up like a creepy skeleton and beat a kid within an inch of his life. He does not sweep the leg. All he does is fall for the wrong single girl (sorry Johnny, you had your chance), and douse his tormentor with water. However, the fact that my husband and I have such differing opinions on this proves that the film has very layered, nuanced characters. This is not just a group of one-note villains and heroes. They all have complex backstories, none more so than that of Daniel’s sensei, Mr. Miyagi. As a child watching this movie, Miyagi’s tragic past didn’t even register to me. But as an adult, my heart breaks for the war hero whose wife and child perished in a Japanese Internment Camp. The fact that this role was played by comic Pat Morita with such dignity and honesty (for he, too, had spent time in the camps), makes it all the more powerful. This is not just a movie about martial arts; this is a movie about finding the hero within oneself, even when the world may have turned its back on you.

My drink this week is an ode to Mr. Miyagi’s low-key, retro style. I can just imagine him sipping a tiki beverage in his Japanese garden, watching Daniel wax-on/wax-off. While watching The Karate Kid, I recommend enjoying this Hai Karate cocktail.

Hai Karate

2 oz Aged Rum

1 oz Lime Juice

1 oz Orange Juice

1 oz Pineapple Juice

1 tsp Maple Syrup

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Dried citrus/Luxardo Cherry for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then pour (unstrained) into a glass. Garnish with citrus slices and Luxardo Cherry.

One of the things I love so much about the television show Cobra Kai is that it goes out of its way to pay tribute to the fan-favorite aspects of The Karate Kid. Cutting in scenes from the movie, they weave a story that feels contemporary and classic all at once. We feel the joy of an ‘80s muscle car blasting power ballads, the thrill of finding familiar faces on our screens once again, and above all, we feel the loss of Mr. Miyagi. Daniel tries to spread his teachings of balance and peace, and somehow it feels like the big battle of our modern times. Can the Miyagi-do principles of tolerance and inclusivity triumph once again, or will the bullies win this round? I guess we’ll find out in about forty-four more days. Cheers!

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!

Summertime

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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!

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

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The Ghost and Mrs Muir

Image credit: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, 1947.

There has never been a more requested movie in the history of Cinema Sips than this week’s pick, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Disc/Download). After finally watching it for the first time (I know, I KNOW- I shouldn’t have waited this long), I finally understand why. This movie is literally the Venn Diagram of all my interests: Romance, Real Estate, and Rocky Beaches. Hell, let’s throw in another loop for Rex Harrison!

Starring the absurdly beautiful Gene Tierney, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir begins like any good episode of House Hunters. We see why this single mom is leaving her current home, followed by the meeting with the realtor where she talks about her budget and needs. They get in a motorized buggy, and drive up to see Gull Cottage in person. Mrs. Muir falls instantly in love with the open concept, the views, and the fact that it’s move-in-ready. The only catch? It’s haunted! But we’re not talking about just any ghost.  No, we’re talking about a sexy bearded sea captain ghost who wears black turtlenecks and gaudy belt buckles (a look he wears very well). Add to that a saucy maid and oodles of time to type up a novel, and let’s just be honest: this is my dream home.

Captain Gregg has enough stories from his seafaring days to generate a best-selling book, and although it’s not explicitly stated, I have to think most of those stories were fueled by alcohol. Let’s have this strong cocktail to celebrate the tales of sexy seamen everywhere, the Sea Captain’s Special.

Sea Captain’s Special

1 Sugar Cube

3 Dashes Angostura Bitters

2 1/2 oz Bourbon

1/4 oz Absinthe

3 oz Champagne

Club Soda

Lemon Twist (optional)

Place sugar cube in a glass, and soak with a few dashes of bitters and small amount of club soda. Muddle the sugar, rotating the glass so that the mixture lines the inside. Add a large ice cube, then pour in Bourbon. Top with Champagne, and Absinthe. Garnish with a twist of lemon (optional).

Sea Captain's Special

I really think HGTV needs to take a look at The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I can see it now- a whole season of “Haunted House Hunters”, for people who want a little supernatural spookiness with their soaking tubs. Until then, let’s just watch this classic over and over, dreaming of romance and turtlenecks by-the-sea.  Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

Sullivan’s Travels

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Sullivan's Travels

Image credit: Sullivan’s Travels, 1941.

I’m often struck by the way history continuously repeats itself. I wonder—do people not already know how this ends? You don’t even need to read a textbook; classic films  provide proof we’ve been through this before. Rampant unemployment, innocent lives lost, oppression of the poor and non-white communities—it’s all there, in this week’s masterpiece of a film, Sullivan’s Travels (Disc/Download). Maybe director Preston Sturges didn’t know how to fix the world’s problems, but he understood that laughter is sometimes the only medicine we’ve got.

Fictional Hollywood director John L. Sullivan is tired of being the Adam Sandler of the 1940s. He’s sick of making brain-dead comedies that fail to address the world’s problems. So he decides to adapt a Serious Novel called O Brother, Where Art Thou (before you ask, yes the beloved Coen Brothers film is a reference to this novel-within-a-movie). But before starting production, Sullivan decides to travel across the country incognito in order to witness and understand the lives of real, ordinary people. He ditches tuxedos in favor of hobo chic, meets Veronica Lake’s character, and together they go off to look for America. However, before their journey concludes, Sullivan gets hit on the head and accidentally assaults a cop. He doesn’t remember that he’s actually a wealthy man of privilege, so he never gets a proper defense in court. After being sentenced to a chain gang, he finally remembers who he is and has to prove his innocence. It’s during a chain gang movie night where he finally realizes the only thing bringing these guys joy is a silly Disney cartoon. It’s their one opportunity to smile and feel human. That’s true of most of America, he realizes. When it comes to entertainment, people don’t want to be told what their problems are; they want to laugh and forget, if only for a little while.

It says a lot about Veronica Lake that even when dressed up like a hobo, she still manages to be one of the sexiest actresses I’ve ever seen. She and Joel McCrea have amazing chemistry, whether they’re sitting beside his swimming pool, or riding the rails of a boxcar. Let’s toast them with this Tramp cocktail!

Tramp

1 oz Sloe Gin

1 oz Peach Liqueur

1 oz Lime Juice

3 oz Cava

Lime twist/dried lime for garnish

Combine sloe gin, peach liqueur, and lime juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a Collins glass filled with crushed ice. Top with Cava and lime garnish.

Tramp

In a weird twist of fate, I actually watched Sullivan’s Travels right after sitting through an old Adam Sandler rom-com. As expected, the Happy Madison flick was a little dumb, but I enjoyed the tropical setting and his schlubby earnestness. It felt good to laugh, at a time when everything in the news made me want to cry. However, it also made me understand how rare it is when a movie causes you smile and think and learn something about the world, which is why Sullivan’s Travels is so special, even today. So give yourself permission to laugh and enjoy a cocktail right now—we all need it. Cheers!