Joe, Frank, Bruce & the Summer Blockbuster

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Summer has always been synonymous with big blockbuster movies. You know the kind dear readers… big-scale, action-packed, testosterone fueled. If there is a building to be blown up or a car to be flipped or some sort of post-apocalyptic disaster to be explored you can bet you’ll experience it first-hand in a crowded movie theater on a steamy summer day.

One of the biggest summer blockbuster movies of all times premiered in July 1988, making Bruce Willis an international icon…

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Die Hard and the four sequels that followed…

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Die Hard 2 (1990), Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995), Live Free or Die Hard (2007), A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

spanned a total of twenty plus years of blockbuster magic. That’s one incredible feat! But the film series actually spanned even more years than that. Did you know dear readers, that Willis’ character, NYPD officer John McClane, really stems back another twenty years?

In late May of 1968, just as summer was getting underway, Frank Sinatra starred in this crime thriller…

as professionally capable yet personally troubled police detective Joe Leland determined to solve a grisly murder mystery. His character was adapted from the runaway bestselling novel of 1966, The Detective

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by American author Roderick Thorp. Containing just under 600 pages the book was lauded for its gritty yet sensitive themes and layered characters not often portrayed in the typical detective novels of the time.

Scene from The Detective. The movie also starred Lee Remick,  Jacqueline Bisset and Robert Duvall. Photo via pinterest.
Scene from The Detective. The movie also starred Lee Remick, Jacqueline Bisset and Robert Duvall. Photo via pinterest.

Frank Sinatra brought the character to life on the big screen making the movie just as sensational as the book. Due to the popularity of Roderick Thorp’s novel, the success of the Frank Sinatra film, and the enigmatic character of Joe Leland, Thorp wrote a sequel to The Detective which was published in 1979 titled Nothing Lasts Forever. In this new novel Thorp continued on with Joe’s adventures fighting crime while battling with his own inner demons.

Again, history repeated itself and Nothing Lasts Forever became a bestseller and was green-lighted for film adaptation. Only this time there was one hitch. When Frank Sinatra originally starred as Joe LeLand in 1968, his contract stated that he would be offered the title role to any and all sequels. But unlike his character, Sinatra aged at the normal speed of a human being, which means that by the time the film version of Nothing Lasts Forever was ready to be made in the 1980’s Frank Sinatra was in his early 70’s – too old to play Joe.

Frank Sinatra on set of The Detective, NYC 1967, photo via pinterest
Frank Sinatra on set of The Detective, NYC 1967, photo via pinterest

So legend has it – that in order to get around this clause in Sinatra’s contract, the title character’s name would have to be changed so that another actor could fill his spot. Joe Leland became John McClane and Bruce Willis replaced Frank Sinatra. Nothing Lasts Forever usually gets all the notoriety of being the inspiration for Die Hard, but really it all started with the roots of the main character in The Detective.

Roderick Thorp
Roderick Thorp

Thorp went on to write 10 other published works with some pieces being adapted for television, but none had the intensity nor the popularity of character quite like Joe. The Die Hard movies went on to become film industry gold earning over one billion dollars world-wide. Thorp died in 1999, which afforded him the ability to see at least the first three Die Hard movies made and experience the big-budget frenzy and marketing empire that they created. It must have been pretty exciting for him! To know that he created a character three decades before that was still storming the minds and hearts of crime readers and movie-goers around the world. A blockbuster indeed – write (pun inteded!) from the beginning!

You can find The Detective in Ms. Jeannie’s shop here and the trailer for Sintara’s 1968 film portrayal here.

What is your favorite summer blockbuster dear readers? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

Viva La Vintage: 1960’s Dinner and a Movie {Italian Style}

Vintage Italian Travel Poster by Island Art Store via Etsy
Vintage Italian Travel Poster by Island Art Store via Etsy

Dear readers, in this week’s post we are all heading on a European adventure to the country best known for two things: food and romance.  On this trip you will be transported through food and film back to 1960’s Florence, Italy for an authentically magical night of escapism that will make you feel like the fanciest of weekend jet-setters! .

On the menu: Tuna Viareggio with Sauteed Wild Arugula Greens (from the vintage 1960’s cookbook The Art of Regional Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto).

The Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto c. 1963 First Edition
The Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto c. 1963 First Edition

In your glass: 1967 Grifone Tosacana wine (slightly chilled)

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On the big screen: The 1962 romantic drama, The Light in the Piazza, starring Olivia de Havilland, Yvette Mimieux and George Hamilton which was shot entirely on location in Florence.

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Ms. Jeannie fell in love with this movie not only for its gorgeous location and costumes but also for its unexpected story and wonderful acting. Olivia deHavilland (who most famously played Melanie in Gone With the Wind) plays Meg, a modern American mid-century mother in a coming of age story centered around her daughter Clara’s budding romance with handsome Italian Fabrizio (played by George Hamilton).

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Its not your typical love story, Clara is not your typical young woman and Meg is not your typical mother. With a plot that takes all sorts of twists and turns in unexpected ways, each character reveals several layers of depth, facing situations that are complex and timeless.  It’s also very funny and Yvette as Meg’s daughter, Clara, does a delicate job of creating a woman who is both fresh and feisty. Ms. Jeannie will not say anything else so she doesn’t spoil the surprises in the movie but here is the original trailer so you can get a sense of the adventure…

Florence, located in central Italy is known for its gardens, beaches and simple delicate cuisine. So in keeping with the movie Ms. Jeannie chose a recipe from the vintage cookbook, The Art of Regional Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto which organizes the foods of Italy by section within the country.

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Combining the best of the beaches and the gardens – the dinner menu represented both attributes with wild fish and garden greens. Adding in a glass (or more!) of the Tuscan blend Grifone Toscana 1967-  a 2009 vintage made in the same central region as Florence and a rustic baguette on the side made this authentic Italian dinner complete.

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Both dishes were fresh, fast and easy to prepare – perfect summer cooking! Ms. Jeannie purchased both her fish and the wine from Trader Joe’s.  Just a little preparation note – tuna cooks best when its is semi-frozen. So if you buy frozen filets like Ms. Jeannie did, you want to just thaw them in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before slicing and cooking.

Tuna Viareggio Style (serves 4)

1.5lbs fresh tuna, sliced 1″ inch thick

1/2 cup flour

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, sliced

1 small clove garlic

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

2 anchovy filets, chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup warm water

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon basil, chopped

1/2 teaspoon oregano

salt to taste

Dust tuna slices with flour. Fry in skillet in two tablespoons of oil, over moderate flame, until lightly brown on both sides. Remove from pan and keep hot (on a plate covered with a lid works great!). In same pan saute onion, garlic and parsley in balance of oil. Remove garlic and add anchovies and wine: cook slowly until wine almost evaporates. Dilute tomato paste in warm water, and add with rest of ingredients. Cook covered over moderate flame for 15 minutes. Add fish carefully and cook 6-10 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

The Sauteed Arugula Greens were a modification from Maria Lo Pinto’s Sauteed Dandelion Greens recipe. Since Ms. Jeannie couldn’t find dandelion greens anywhere, the arugula was the next best substitute. You could also use spinach but cooking times will vary a little bit.

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Sauteed Arugula Greens (serves 4)

2 lbs. fresh arugula

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large garlic clove, cut in half

3 anchovy filets

Clean and wash greens. Roughly cut them in 2″ inch pieces. Heat oil in saucepan, add garlic and brown. Remove garlic and add greens, cover saucepan, and cook 5 minutes or until tender. Cut anchovies into small pieces and add. Mix well and cook 2 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

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And there you have it dear readers! A mini-mental vacation to the land of good living! If you were feeling especially festive, you could also plan an outdoor movie night and set this one up under the stars. It would be very romantic. Or as they’d say in Italian… questo e molto romantico!

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The Light in the Piazza is available for download or dvd purchase on Amazon here. The cookbook is available for purchase in Ms. Jeannie’s shop here. Catch up on past blog posts featuring other Italian recipes here. A special thanks to Mr. Jeannie Ology for the handsome hand modeling!