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The Last of Sheila

The Last of Sheila

Image credit: The Last of Sheila, 1973.

This week heralded a lot of firsts for me.  It was the first time I saw James Coburn in drag.  The first time I had impure thoughts about Ian McShane.  And the first time I saw this many pairs of white pants in one movie.  The Last of Sheila (Disc/Download) is a forgotten gem of the 1970s, and as a connoisseur of mid-century weird, I am here for it.

Equal parts Clue and The Cat’s Meow, The Last of Sheila is a Hollywood murder mystery set aboard a yacht in the south of France.  Based on the real-life parlor games staged by the film’s screenwriters Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim (yes, THAT Anthony Perkins, and THAT Stephen Sondheim), the plot follows a group of Hollywood players who have all agreed to spend a week on James Coburn’s yacht one year after the mysterious death of his wife Sheila Green.  Once aboard, they’re told they’ll be playing the Sheila Green Gossip Game, competing to discover one another’s secrets.  Alas, the game turns deadly, and it’s a booze-filled struggle to make it out alive.  With a cast that includes Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, James Mason, Raquel Welch, and a sexxxxxy young Ian McShane, this film combines my three main interests in life: big hair, alcohol, and murder.  It’s weird, it’s wild, and it should absolutely be watched with a cocktail.

Leave it to James Mason—this man epitomizes classy drunk.  With the amount of bourbon he throws back, you’d think he’d be dead or passed out halfway through the movie.  But (spoiler) James hangs on till the bitter end, glass in hand, ready to solve this thing once and for all.  Let’s toast James with the boat’s signature alcohol brand in a Jim Beam® Smash.

Jim Beam® Smash

2 oz Jim Beam® Bourbon

2 lemon wedges

1 oz mint simple syrup (or muddled mint and simple syrup)

Club Soda

Fill a glass with ice and lemon wedges.  Pour bourbon and mint simple syrup into a shaker, and gently shake to combine. Pour into prepared glass, and top with club soda.  Stir gently.

Jim Beam Smash

Having fallen in love with Richard Benjamin in Goodbye, Columbus, it’s odd to see him in this creepier role.  His Freddie Mercury-mustache, tight white pants, and turtleneck are…. not a good look.  And don’t even get me started on the puppets.  Luckily there are a lot of other charming, beautiful people to balance out the sinister elements on this boat.  After all, you gotta have friends.  Cheers!

Lolita

Image credit:  Lolita 1997 (left), Lolita 1962 (right)

Image credit: Lolita 1997 (left), Lolita 1962 (right)

Although it probably won’t ever make the required reading lists of any high school, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is one of the best books ever written. There, I said it. It was my favorite book as an adolescent, still my favorite in my 20’s, and even upon a recent re-reading, it remains a superb example of English prose. The sexual deviancy of the narrator (a man who preys upon teenage girls) would probably turn many people off, but they’d be missing the gorgeous linguistic skills of the author. “She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.” Sentences like this are what have kept me championing this book for decades, and what keep me going as a writer. I’ll never be Nabokov, but one should always have a distant level of genius to aspire toward.

This book is so great in fact, that it took two film adaptations to really tell the story. Most people know of Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 Lolita (DVD/Download) with James Mason as the sophisticated, depraved Humbert Humbert, and I’m certainly a fan. I think it’s beautifully shot, with symbolic close-ups standing in for more gruesome scenes (I’m thinking particularly of the final showdown with Quilty) but it isn’t exactly an accurate adaptation of the book. It’s playful and light, almost a comedy. It captures the spirit of America that I think Nabokov was striving for, but it leaves out most of the emotion and depravity of the book. In contrast, Adrian Lyne’s 1997 version of Lolita (DVD/Download), was a very accurate adaptation plot-wise, nearly to the point of being too much to handle. I’m thinking again of the final showdown with Quilty, which in this version becomes a bloody, gory, gruesome mess- think Tarantino without the humor. However, Jeremy Irons is AMAZING as Humbert. Unfortunately I don’t think either Sue Lyons or Dominique Swain were altogether fantastic as Lolita, but both versions have wonderful Quilty’s, played by Peter Sellers and Frank Langella, respectively.

Whichever version of Lolita you prefer (and I really do suggest watching them both), I recommend harkening back to the novel for cocktail inspiration.  Humbert mentions his preferred drink, the Pin (pineapple juice and gin), so I’ll be enjoying that combination, with an added flirtation of champagne. While watching Lolita, I recommend drinking a Nymphette.

Nymphette

1 oz Gin

2 oz Pineapple Juice

1 oz Champagne

Lemon sugar for rimming

Rim a coupe glass with lemon sugar.  Combine Gin and Pineapple Juice over ice in a shaker.  Shake until chilled, then strain into prepared glass.  Top with Champagne.

Nymphette

You may notice in the above photo that I’ve got a copy of the Lolita audio book as read by Jeremy Irons.  If you’ve never heard it, go find it today (don’t worry if you already threw out your Walkman- it’s available on Audible or CD too).  That velvet voice is a perfect complement to Nabokov’s words, and I find myself getting lost in the beautifully crafted sentences. As poor, tortured Humbert Humbert admits, “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.” Cheers!

North by Northwest

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Image credit: North by Northwest, 1959

Image credit: North by Northwest, 1959

As families across the US make their way to top summer tourist destinations, I got to thinking about a place that’s certainly on my bucket list of attractions to visit- Mount Rushmore. However, I’m terrified that my trip would be a letdown because I’ve already visited this engineering marvel through the eyes of Alfred Hitchcock in the film North by Northwest (DVD/Download) many, many times. Truly, without Cary Grant scaling Thomas Jefferson’s forehead, is there even a point to seeing it in person?

North by Northwest is one of my favorite Hitchcock films, full of twisty plot developments, nail-biting suspense, and chic mid-century style. Cary Grant’s iconic grey suit is perfect for his portrayal of a Mad Men-era advertising exec, who through a case of mistaken identity, becomes involved in a secret spy mission to recover government documents from villains played by James Mason and a very young Martin Landau. Along the way Grant meets Eva Marie Saint, and they share a risqué rendezvous on the 20th Century Limited train. Can I just say, if train travel were as glamorous as it appears in North by Northwest, summer journeys would become a whole lot more appealing to me. Just imagine- craft cocktails, white linen tablecloths, en suite bathrooms, and Cary Grant waiting for you on a comfy bed in your cabin- what could be better?

It was INCREDIBLY difficult to pick just one cocktail pairing for this movie because there are so many great beverage moments. First there’s bourbon, Martin Landau’s murder weapon of choice (see above photo). Then there’s the fabulous train that Cary Grant stows away on, the 20th Century, which incidentally has a cocktail named after it. But if I have to pick just one drink, I have to go with the beverage Grant orders in the dining car- The Gibson. It’s classic, it’s timeless, and sophisticated- just like this film. While watching North by Northwest, I recommend drinking a Gibson.

Gibson

2 oz Gin

1/3 oz Dry Vermouth

Pickled Cocktail Onion

Fill a shaker with ice, then add gin and vermouth. Stir well, then strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with an onion.

gibson

There are several famous moments in North by Northwest, such as the big scene where Cary Grant is chased through a corn field by a crop dusting plane, and the climax on Mount Rushmore, but my favorite part is when he tosses his monogrammed matchbook to Eva Marie Saint as she sits in James Mason’s Frank Lloyd Wright-esque lair. Walking around with your own personalized matches- now that’s about as classy as it gets. Cheers!