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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

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MrSmithGoestoWashington

Image credit: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1939.

This week, I’m celebrating the Fourth of July with one of the most patriotic movies I can think of. A film that’s stood the test of time, through good presidents and bad, noble politicians and corrupt. I’m talking of course about Frank Capra’s classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (DVD/Download).

It’s astounding how often I’m reminded of the iconic image of Jimmy Stewart as Senator Jefferson Smith, weary after a lengthy filibuster, sweaty, distraught, his face an open wound, realizing his fight is hopeless. The corrupt politicians of Washington have broken him, as they have broken the rest of us too. Jimmy is America in this film. Whether we’re talking about the 1938 or 2018, it’s all the same. Leaders drunk with power can (and often do) run afoul of the people who voted for them. Mr. Smith goes to Washington with a dream of doing good work for the citizens of his state. Though the film has a satisfying ending, I wouldn’t necessarily call it “happy”. Happiness and politics are parallel paths that rarely intersect.

I love a lot of things about this film- plucky Jean Arthur and her little hats, disgruntled newspaperman Diz and his wry cynicism, even Claude Rains as the most sedate villain of all time. But the scene that gets my heart pounding is of course The Filibuster. For 24 hours Mr. Smith tries to postpone a crooked bill from getting through the Senate, and though he eventually falls, the fight is really something to see. While watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, I recommend drinking a Filibuster.

Filibuster

4 oz bourbon

2 oz simple syrup

2 oz lemon juice

2 tbsp fresh orange juice

1 egg white

Angostura bitters

Pour all ingredients except bitters into a cocktail shaker. Shake until combined, then fill with ice. Shake again with all the rage you feel toward our current United States government. Strain into a coupe glass. Top with a few dashes of Angostura bitters.

Filibuster

The thing I find slightly comforting about this film is that it was released in 1939. So, theoretically, Congress has been doing a crappy job for the last 80 years. And we’re still here!!! We still have joys and triumphs, and yes unspeakable rage and indignities. But we’re surviving, day-by-day.   Jefferson Smith didn’t stop fighting for his American ideals, and neither should those of us who believe in honesty, empathy, kindness, and the beauty of our American land.   Cheers!

Bell, Book and Candle

Bell Book and Candle

Image credit: Bell, Book and Candle, 1958

For all you Vertigo fans out there, consider this my Cinema Sips Christmas gift to you. Maybe you’ve longed for more of Kim Novak’s eyebrows. Or an aging, tan Jimmy Stewart. Or that weird hypnotic lighting. Bell, Book and Candle (DVD) covers all the bases. Plus, there are the added bonuses of a beatnik Jack Lemmon playing the bongo drums, and a very expressive Siamese cat. Happy Holidays to all!

Although the film starts on Dec. 24th and stars Mr. Christmas himself, Jimmy Stewart, It’s a Wonderful Life this is not. Kim Novak plays a witch who falls for a book publisher (Stewart), and she must decide whether to give in to love and become mortal, or keep her powers and lose him. The pair’s onscreen chemistry is every bit as sizzling as it was in Vertigo, and even though this is meant to be a romantic comedy, there’s something dark and powerful between these two actors. They’re sexy without even trying to be, and I am totally under their spell.

The movie takes a strange turn when Jimmy Stewart’s publishing house courts an expert on Mexican witchcraft. While it seems like an unnecessary plot element, I still love Ernie Kovacs in this role. (Let’s face it, I love Ernie Kovacs in any role). While watching Bell, Book and Candle, I recommend drinking a Mexican Séance.

Mexican Séance

1 ½ oz Patron XO Coffee Liqueur

1 ½ oz Chameleon Cold Brew Coffee- Mexican flavor

1 ½ oz Egg Nog

¾ oz Crème de Cacao

2-3 dashes chocolate bitters

Orange twist

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a twist of orange.

Mexican Spell

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the production design and costuming. Bell, Book and Candle is a perfect time capsule of 1960’s Greenwich Village style, from capri pants to mid-century modern furniture. Jimmy Stewart’s office, covered in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and featuring a gorgeous vintage couch, is the stuff of book lovers’ dreams. Witchcraft never looked so appealing. Cheers!

Harvey

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harvey

Image credit: Harvey, 1950

The devastating hurricane that pummeled my state over the weekend may have inspired this week’s  film choice, but rest assured, Harvey (DVD/Download) is the cheer-up film we all need right now.  I’m a fan of pretty much every Jimmy Stewart movie, and this is certainly one of the greats. Sure it’s based on a play, but let’s not hold that against it, shall we?

As Elwood P. Dowd, Jimmy Stewart is at the peak of his nice-guy charm as he drinks the day away, talks to his imaginary rabbit friend Harvey, and perplexes his relatives. Is he crazy? Is he drunk? Who cares?? He’s just so darn pleasant that you want to take his calling card and stop by for happy hour with him and Harvey. What is Harvey exactly? A 6’ 3 ½” “pooka” who’s a great friend to all, even if you can’t see him. Personally, I love the idea of an imaginary friend. For one thing, you never have to drink alone!

Throughout the film, Elwood likes to frequent the local bar, yet he never gets sloppy drunk. He’s just hanging out, having a good time, making new friends. We should all aspire to drink like Elwood. Although martinis seem to be his drink of choice, I’m making something special for his rabbit friend this week. While watching Harvey, I recommend drinking a Carrotini.

Carrotini

1 ½ oz gin

¾ oz Cointreau

1 oz carrot juice

½ oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice, and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

Carrotini

The lesson that I think we can all learn from both Elwood P. Dowd and Harvey is one of kindness. A little charm, and a little understanding can go a long way toward disarming any situation. Plus, if you’re a nice guy, they might not immediately send you to the sanitarium. Cheers!

The Shop Around the Corner

shop-around-the-corner

Image credit: The Shop Around the Corner, 1940

(Dear Friend,)

Although I adore a black & white Jimmy Stewart film at Christmas time, I’ve already covered the classic It’s a Wonderful Life on Cinema Sips. So instead this week I’ll be featuring another holiday favorite, The Shop Around the Corner (DVD/Download). While not as overtly sentimental as the Capra film he’d later become known for, it still features a good dose of Stewart charm and some delightful send-ups of the holiday shopping season.

I first came across this wonderful picture after watching the remake, You’ve Got Mail. Nora Ephron did a fabulous job of updating this classic for modern audiences, and it’s truly one of my favorites. But the original is no slouch either. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, the story of boy-meets-girl anonymously through mail is timeless. Think of it as Catfish pre-sexual predators and con artists. Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan trade barbs as they work side-by-side in a Budapest gift shop, never realizing that they’ve fallen in love with each other through their letters. Special mention goes to scene-stealer Pepi the delivery boy- I’m still trying to figure out how to get him as my outgoing voicemail message.

One of the famous scenes in this film (as well as in You’ve Got Mail) is the disastrous face-to-face meeting of the two lovers at a café. Identifying herself with a red flower in a book, Margaret Sullavan has no idea that her true love is standing across from her in the form of tall, lanky Jimmy Stewart. While watching The Shop Around the Corner, I recommend drinking a Red Carnation.

Red Carnation

1 ½ oz Vodka

2 oz Sparkling pomegranate juice

½ oz lime juice

½ oz Vanilla vodka

Dash of bitters

Topo Chico sparkling water

Sprig of mint for garnish

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, and stir to combine. Strain into a glass with crushed ice, top with Topo Chico, and garnish with mint.

red-carnation

This is a great movie to watch while you’re wrapping gifts because the dialogue is so darn snappy. And perhaps it will inspire you to go back out to the store for a cigarette case that plays music. Or, maybe you can just send Pepi. Cheers!

It’s a Wonderful Life

Image credit Liberty Films, 1946, It's a Wonderful Life

Image credit Liberty Films, 1946, It’s a Wonderful Life

As I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog, I had the pleasure/misfortune of growing up in Indiana, PA, hometown of Jimmy Stewart. Every year at Christmas, my little town in Pennsylvania pretty much claimed ownership of Christmas by declaring themselves not only “The Christmas Tree Capital of the World” (doubtful) but also, the real-life version of the town in the Frank Capra/Jimmy Stewart holiday film, It’s a Wonderful Life. Actually, it’s been said that Seneca Falls, NY was the real inspiration, but Jimmy Stewart was quoted as saying that the film’s set did remind him of Indiana, PA. That’s pretty much all the validation that the town needed to start selling gobs of It’s a Wonderful Life memorabilia in the local shops, and this blatant commercialization was all the validation I needed to boycott this movie for most of my childhood and adolescence. Was I wrong? Yes and no. After watching this film again, I still stand by my assertion that I wouldn’t have appreciated it as a child, but as an adult, it’s maybe my new favorite Christmas film.

In the past, I always boiled down It’s a Wonderful Life (DVD/Download) into just that sappy scene at the end where little Zuzu (seriously, who names their kid Zuzu??) says in her annoying baby voice “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” That scene is still too saccharine for my tastes, but the rest of the film plays like the best Twilight Zone episode you never saw. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) dreams of a life of travel and adventure, but is forced to put his dreams aside in order to take over his father’s Savings and Loan. He battles against the rich, money-grubbing Mr. Potter who wants nothing more than to make sure that he himself gets even richer while the poor get poorer. Sound familiar? (I wonder now why the Occupy Wall Street movement didn’t screen this as a propaganda film- a missed opportunity). When his bumbling uncle misplaces the day’s financial deposit, George is in danger of losing the business, going to jail, and losing his family. He contemplates suicide on Christmas Eve, but lucky for him, the angel-in-training Clarence comes down to earth to show him what it would have been like if he’d never been born. Realizing that he’s had an impact on everyone around him makes George see that he’s not the failure he thought he was, and he dashes home through the snow to his family.

You may not look at It’s A Wonderful Life as a particularly boozy Christmas film, but it totally is. George Bailey drinks bourbon, gets into fights, and hangs out at the local watering hole Martini’s. My favorite scene is early on when Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed do the Charleston at the school dance as the dance floor splits open and they fall into the swimming pool below. They walk home, singing the tune that was playing, “Buffalo Gals”. It’s such a sweet scene, and as with everything else he was in, Jimmy Stewart plays it brilliantly. Before watching It’s a Wonderful Life, I recommend buying yourself a bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon (it is my favorite brand after all) so that you can make this week’s cocktail, the Moon Lasso.

Moon Lasso

2 oz Apple Cider

1 oz Buffalo Trace Bourbon

½ tsp Allspice

½ tsp Nutmeg

Rosemary for garnish

Add apple cider and bourbon to a glass filled with ice. Sprinkle with Allspice and nutmeg, and garnish with rosemary.

 

moon lasso

After revisiting this film again, I think it’s almost a shame that it gets limited to Christmas viewings. Christmas is such a small part of what it’s about. To me, it’s about appreciating your life just as it is, and if that means putting your youthful dreams aside, don’t worry- you’ll make new dreams. My life is a million miles away from where I thought it would be growing up in Indiana, PA. Not better or worse than I pictured, just unimaginably different. After all, I’ve suddenly fallen in love with It’s a Wonderful Life. Now who would have ever seen that coming? Cheers!

Top 5 Drunken Movie Performances

This was a really hard list to make.  I had so many great scenes to pick from.  When you think about it, cinema is just filled with actors and actresses stumbling around, slurring their words, and eating greasy diner food.  Here, I’ve chosen my personal favorite drunken performances over the years.  To the list!

1) Jimmy Stewart as Macauley Conner in The Philadelphia Story

Image credit MGM, 1940, The Philadelphia Story

Image credit MGM, 1940, The Philadelphia Story

Hands down, my favorite drunken performance. His speech is slurred just enough, the hiccuping is perfection, and Cary Grant can barely contain his laughter during their memorable scene together. Oscar-worthy indeed. Oh C.K. Dexter Haaaven!

 

2) Kristen Wiig as Annie Walker in Bridesmaids

Image credit Universal Pictures, 2011, Bridesmaids

Image credit Universal Pictures, 2011, Bridesmaids

Taking a fear of flying to new levels, a drunk Kristen Wiig stumbles through the first class cabin, argues with “Stove” the flight attendant, and poses as Mrs. Iglesias.

 

3)  Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own

Image credit Columbia Pictures, 1992, A League of Their Own

Image credit Columbia Pictures, 1992, A League of Their Own

He comes out, he smiles, he waves his little hat, and he urinates for an incredibly long time.

 

4)  Dudley Moore as Arthur Bach in Arthur

Image Credit Orion Pictures, 1981, Arthur

Image Credit Orion Pictures, 1981, Arthur

Drunk becomes super-classy with a British accent and a manservant.

 

5)  Vince Vaughn as Trent in Swingers

Image credit Miramax Films, 1996, Swingers

Image credit Miramax Films, 1996, Swingers

Because you’re growns up and you’re growns up and you’re growns up.

 

(Feel free to sound off in the comments below about some of your favorite picks!)

Vertigo

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Image credit: Universal Studios, 1958, Vertigo

Image credit: Universal Studios, 1958, Vertigo

While planning an upcoming trip to San Francisco, I felt inspired to watch a film that beautifully captures the scenery, the history, and the mystery of this city. I settled on the Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo, which is sometimes remembered more for Jimmy Stewart’s odd Technicolor acid trip dream sequence, but in my mind will always be remembered for a beautiful Kim Novak throwing herself into the San Francisco Bay as the Golden Gate Bridge frames the scene. It’s a dark, confusing tale that manages to make even sunny California seem downright sinister. Furthermore, it’s the rare movie where Jimmy Stewart is a bit of a creep, hobbled by his fear of heights and a strange attachment to a lost love. He’s not exactly a villain, but making your new girlfriend dye her hair and dress up like your old dead girlfriend is definitely on the disturbing side.

In Vertigo (DVD/Download), Jimmy Stewart plays retired police detective Scottie Ferguson, who is hired by an old college friend to investigate the friend’s wife, played by Kim Novak (long before Botox and surgery froze her face- see 2014 Academy Awards). She is suspected of either being insane, or of actually being inhabited by the soul of a long-dead woman named Carlotta Valdes. Of course Scottie falls for her, shortly before she appears to throw herself out of the bell tower of an old California mission. The plot is initially a bit confusing, but Hitchcock manages to brilliantly weave everything together so that in the end it all makes perfect sense. Jimmy Stewart turns in a performance that’s intense and manic (I’d go so far as to call him the Nicholas Cage of the 50’s in this), and the Edith Head costumes for Kim Novak are so wonderful that I would gladly trade places with her for a day (though only as Madeleine Elster and not cheap, tawdry Judy).

My cocktail pairing for Vertigo is a San Francisco classic. Many believe that this drink was first served in the United States at San Francisco’s famed Buena Vista Café, the recipe having been brought over from Ireland by travel writer Stanton Delaplane. I’ll certainly be stopping at the Buena Vista to sample the real thing, but in the meantime, while watching Vertigo, I recommend making an Irish Coffee.

Irish Coffee

1 cup hot coffee

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 ½ oz Irish Whiskey

Heavy cream, slightly whipped

Pour piping hot coffee into a warmed glass mug until it is about ¾ full. Add the brown sugar and stir until dissolved. Blend in Irish Whiskey. Top with the whipped heavy cream by pouring gently over the back of a spoon. Serve hot.

Irish-Coffee

This drink will warm you up as Hitchcockian suspense sends shivers up and down your spine, and images of foggy evenings and the woman in the grey wool suit make you colder just watching them. I’m sure Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart could have definitely used a couple of Irish Coffees after their dip in the San Francisco Bay. Watching this film reminds me what a master filmmaker Hitchcock was, and it makes me even more excited to visit the city where ghosts and intrigue mingle with fog and warm whiskey. Cheers!