maggie-smithWhen I was twelve, my father took me to see a little film called Evil Under the Sun— the last in a trio of tony Agatha Christie whodunit films that somewhat shaped the person I am today. The first, Murder on the Orient Express, cemented my passion for train travel and smart suits; the second, Death on the Nile, ignited a fondness for women in floppy sun hats and beautiful, wee handguns. It was Evil Under the Sun, however, that really stayed with me. Some would understandably think the reason was Diana Rigg having a field day being a classic, haughty, soon-to-be-murdered bitch, or getting to see Roddy McDowall in a never-ending series of sailor suits, but they would be wrong. Not too far off, but wrong, all the same.

It was Maggie Smith. Maggie Smith and her cocktail parties. I don’t think my father had any idea what he was getting me into when he took me to see that picture.

It was a simple scene, really– almost a throw-away, apart from firming up the tension between Diana Rigg’s Arlena Marshall and just about everyone else residing at an exclusive, Mediterranean island resort. While passing around a tray of hors d’oeuvres to her guests, Smith asks the world-famous detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) if he would care for a cocktail. “Care for a cocktail, Monsieur Poirot? A White Lady, Sidecar, Mainbrace, or Between the Sheets?” Poirot rejects them all and asks instead for either crème de cassis or sirop de banane. With a bit of a sigh, she acquiesces, only to move on to offering Diana Rigg a sausage– the one thing of which one would think she had had enough, given her proclivities.

And that was it. I followed the murder well enough, and the inevitable, intricate unveiling of who-done-what. But I kept thinking about those cocktails. As I sat in that theater, I decided that I was going to be the sort of chap who drank Sidecars and Between the Sheets while Cole Porter tunes were played somewhere out of sight on a piano. I filed their names away in my memory and bided my time.

When the appropriately legal time finally came nine years later, I unleashed my inner Maggie Smith, marched into a very (to me) upper, upper lounge in Los Angeles, and ordered a Between the Sheets from the bartender.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “You’re going to have to tell me what’s in it.” When I recovered sufficiently from the shock, I next asked for a Sidecar. “Can you tell me what’s in a Sidecar? Maybe if you knew what you were asking for, I could help you.” Devastated, I settled for a martini to drown my nine years-worth of disappointment. How on earth could a bartender at the Atlas Bar & Grille– a place decorated in the luxe fashion of a 1930’s Supper Club, a venue that showed old films from that era on a giant screen, no less– not know how to make a Between the Sheets? Given its Hollywood location, I should have realized that everything, maybe even my beloved fantasy cocktail, was an illusion.

Perhaps he was right– I should have done a little research. I bought a book of classic cocktail recipes, just to make sure the screenwriters hadn’t made up the names.

They did not.

Very much relieved and filled with renewed hope, I made my way back to the bar the following week– this time armed with the recipe. I called out the ingredients in a voice that was only vaguely Smith-like, and finally got what I’d been waiting for. I got my Between the Sheets.


Between the Sheets

Like most cocktails, the origin of the Between the Sheets is murky. Some people believe it was created at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris (the place, incidentally, where George Gershwin partly composed An American in Paris) in the 1930’s. Others hold fast to the notion that it was the brainchild of a bartender at the Berkeley Hotel in London in 1921. It doesn’t matter much to me. I’m just grateful that someone created it.

The Between the Sheets is a very close cousin to the Sidecar– a drink most bartenders now know, thanks to the surge of interest in classic cocktails. Made of white rum, brandy, and Cointreau, it even comes with a sugared rim. It is a tart, refreshing member of the sour family of alcoholic beverages.

The following recipe is not the classic one. While white rum is well and good in its place, I think it has a bit of trouble competing with the brandy and other flavorings. I have substituted my favorite dark rum instead, which makes its own, indelible impression without overpowering the other players.

Not unlike Dame Maggie Smith herself, if you ask me. I know you didn’t ask me, but if you did, that is what I would tell you.


1 ounce dark rum. My personal preference is Zaya (thank you, Shannon).

1 ounce brandy

1/2 ounce Cointreau

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1/2 ounce simple syrup


A twist of lemon or orange peel for garnish, which is purely optional. Or sausage, if you are feeling saucy enough and think you can pull it off.


In a cocktail shaker, insert ice. Pour all liquid ingredient over ice. Close lid of shaker. Shake vigorously and pour into an awaiting martini glass. Garnish, if that pleases you.

Between the Sheets – Maggie Smith Drove Me to Drink. 26 October,2009Michael Procopio

  • Susan

    I enjoyed your article and was anticipating that you were going to end the aticle saying that you are now an alcoholic. I feel guity now that I feel slightly disappointed that you seem totally sober. That scene that you are writing about in Evil Under the Sun is one of my favorites. There is one scene that I found to be a little more interesting – the lunch buffet scene just outside. I always marveled at how Maggie Smith could be so come upbwith so much cheese and shrimp.

    • Susan,

      Apparently, you are a woman after my own heart.

      That buffet scene– I know it well. I keep thinking to myself, “I guess they didn’t much concern themselves with food poisoning much in those days”. All those shrimp sitting out in the Adriatic heat. Now that, my friend, is evil under the sun.

      And as for being sober, don’t feel too disappointed. I have my non-sober moments, you know. I just try not to have them when I am writing, that’s all.

      • Shelley Nash

        I found your blog while doing a search for Evil Under The Sun. It is one of my absolute favorites and in fact, I am watching it on my Kindle Fire right now. I love it!!! So glad to find others who also enjoy this film. 

  • Susan

    I know what you mean. Maybe E-Coli Under the Sun would have been a better title.

  • Jay

    Found this delightful article today while searching “Evil Under the Sun” cocktails at 8. I was watching this movie for the first time in a long time this morning. I’ve had plenty of Sidecars, but none of the others. Will be trying this recipe soon. I was curious why the cocktails were served so late? Are we to assume a dinner came afterwards?


Michael Procopio

I am terribly fond of martinis, Edward Gorey, and sleeping with many pillows.
You are more than welcome to follow me on Twitter: @procopster

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