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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!

Goodbye, Columbus

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Image Credit: Paramount Pictures, 1969, Goodbye Columbus

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures, 1969, Goodbye Columbus

For many years, I’ve been slightly obsessed with photography and paintings depicting beautiful people in swimming pools (Slim Aarons and his society poolside photos are definite favorites of mine). How thrilled I was then, to discover a film that captured this beauty on celluloid. No longer were these subjects frozen in time, but finally, swimming through crystalline waters surrounded by concrete and sunbathers. The film I’m excited about this week is Goodbye, Columbus (DVD/Download). Based on the novella by Philip Roth, it stars Ali MacGraw as a college-aged Jewish-American-Princess, who is very attached to her wealthy family. She begins dating Richard Benjamin’s character, who is a lower class Jew working as a librarian in the Bronx. Class differences and parental interference create conflict in their relationship, but nevertheless they spend a glorious summer playing tennis, lounging poolside, and attending parties.

Released in 1969, Goodbye, Columbus was an early film in Ali MacGraw’s frustratingly short career, made even before she did Love Story. It’s sometimes difficult for me to watch her in this, just because she’s SO beautiful. Truly, she has that kind of naturally perfect skin and hair that makes you think she must just wake up looking camera-ready. Her clothes in this film are also stunning. Cute 60’s bikinis, tennis whites, and later, pleated skirts and pea coats after the summer ends- they’re all just fabulous. The film is a frank look at relationships between college-aged young adults, and in many ways reminds me of The Graduate. Richard Benjamin’s character is searching for something, and he stupidly thinks he’s found it in a smart, beautiful girl whose affections run hot and cold like tap water.

My drink this week was inspired by one of my favorite scenes in the book. It was given short shrift in the film adaptation, but I still think about it every time I see cherries suddenly appear in my grocery store’s produce section. In the novel, Roth describes the sheer opulence of a wealthy family’s refrigerator. Filled with a bounty of delicious fresh fruit, it’s a sight that the main character would never have experienced in his own home. He takes a cherry from a bowl, but is then immediately caught by his girlfriend’s annoying little sister. It’s ridiculous, of course the cherries are there for all to enjoy, but it’s such a foreign concept to him that he becomes embarrassed. Therefore, I’m urging my readers to go crazy this week- buy cherries and actually eat them with abandon! This week, I’m serving up a Cherry Gin Sling.

Cherry Gin Sling

1 oz gin

1/2 oz Cointreau

1/2 oz fresh lime juice

3 oz light cherry soda (I used Simply Balanced Cran-cherry soda)

Fresh, whole sweet cherries

Lime wheels, for garnish

In an empty highball glass, muddle one cherry. Fill the glass with ice. Then, in an ice-filled cocktail shaker, add gin, Cointreau, and lime juice. Shake to chill. Pour into ice filled glasses, then top with cherry soda, to taste. Garnish with cherries and lime wheels.

cherry-gin-sling

This is a great summertime drink that can be served up at backyard parties. Cherries are my absolute favorite fruit, and if I had been confronted with a giant bowl of gleaming cherries like this character, I would have dove in head first. Plus, I love using seasonal ingredients in my cocktails whenever I can. So mix up your gin sling, and get ready to enjoy watching Ali MacGraw frolic through summer while poor Richard Benjamin just tries to keep up. Cheers!