James Mason’s White Colonial Casual-wear in Island in the Sun

James Mason as Maxwell Fleury in Island in the Sun

James Mason as Maxwell Fleury in Island in the Sun (1957)

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James Mason as Maxwell Fleury, short-tempered plantation owner

On the fictional Caribbean island of Santa Marta, Spring 1955

Film: Island in the Sun
Release Date: June 12, 1957
Director: Robert Rossen
Costume Design: Phyllis Dalton & David Ffolkes

Background

Today’s post celebrates the great James Mason, who was born 113 years ago today on May 15, 1909. Whether playing a hero or villain or navigating a moral gray area in between, the velvet-voiced Mason brought a dignified presence to his performances.

Opposing the shining talents of Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge, Mason stars in this vividly photographed but dark-hearted drama as Maxwell Fleury, a privileged aristocrat dwelling on one of his family’s estates on the eponymous island.

Upon returning home in his sleek new Jaguar roadster one afternoon, he finds Egyptian cigarettes in his ashtray that fuel his baseless paranoia regarding his wife’s marital fidelity, a suspicion that dangerously spirals as the summery Santa Marta heat intensifies. Continue reading

Brando’s “Night Sky” Navy Suit in Guys and Dolls

Marlon Brando as Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls

Marlon Brando as Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls (1955)

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Marlon Brando as Sky Masterson, smooth gambler

Havana to New York, Spring 1955

Film: Guys and Dolls
Release Date: November 3, 1955
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Costume Designer: Irene Sharaff

Background

On the traditionally unlucky day of Friday the 13th, we could all use a dash of lady luck, the concept popularized in the standard “Luck Be a Lady” that Frank Loesser had composed for the musical Guys and Dolls. Five years after Robert Alda had originated the song on stage in 1950, Marlon Brando overcame his own insecurities about his singing voice resembling “the mating call of a yak” to perform the song in Mank’s cinematic adaptation… much to the likely chagrin of his co-star Frank Sinatra, who would record it twice for his own Reprise Records label in the ’60s.

But before Sky Masterson asked lady luck to show him just how nice a dame she can be, he sets his sights on another doll, specifically the prim and pretty Sergeant Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) of the Save-a-Soul Mission, whose organizational goals could not be more antithetical to all Sky holds dear. To win a bet with fellow gambler Nathan Detroit (Sinatra), Sky invites her to dinner in Havana, where Sister Sarah’s uncharacteristic Thursday night results in plenty of Bacardi and barfighting. Continue reading

Sonatine: Ken’s Red Aloha Shirt

Susumu Terajima as Ken in Sonatine

Susumu Terajima as Ken in Sonatine (1993)

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Susumu Terajima as Ken, laconic yakuza lieutenant

Ishigaki Island, Japan, Summer 1993

Film: Sonatine
(Japanese title: ソナチネ)
Release Date: September 10, 1993
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Costume Design: Junichi Goto & Alen Mikudo

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Takeshi Kitano wrote, directed, edited, and starred in Sonatine, an offbeat yakuza film that blends the genre’s usual violence with elements of black comedy and an almost surreal, dreamlike beauty. Kitano stars as Murakawa, a Tokyo crime boss who has grown increasingly numb as he advances into middle age.

Murakawa and his loyal right-hand man, Ken (Susumu Terajima), are sent to Okinawa with a gang ranging from veteran gangsters to young gunsels like the eager Ryōji (Masanobu Katsumura).

Before any progress can be made in their ostensible mission to mediate and intra-gang conflict, the body count rises after their headquarters are bombed and their number further diminished during a barroom ambush. Murakawa and his fellow survivors—including the increasingly convivial Ken and Ryōji—take refuge on the isolated beaches of Ishigaki Island, where their day-to-day life devolves into a surreally idyllic getaway full of games, gags, and gunplay. Continue reading

Goodfellas: Tommy’s Gray Suit for Mob Mayhem and Mom Visits

Joe Pesci in Goodfellas

Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas (1990)

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Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito, volatile and violent Mafia associate

New York, Spring 1970

Film: Goodfellas
Release Date: September 19, 1990
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Richard Bruno

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Happy Mother’s Day! One of my favorite cinematic sequences depicting the relationship between a son and his mother comes by way of my favorite movie, in which master auteur Martin Scorsese cast his own mother Catherine as the charming Mrs. DeVito, mother to the psychotic gangster Tommy (Joe Pesci) who brings his cohorts Henry (Ray Liotta) and Jimmy (Robert De Niro) seeking a shovel in a covert night-time stop to fetch a shovel… only to be sweet-talked into an early breakfast.

Catherine Scorsese endearingly embodies the familiar archetype of the aging Italian-American matriarch with her plastic-covered furniture, the gift to effortlessly slip between American English and Italian dialects, and the fierce desire to feed her children and their friends… regardless of whether they’re hungry or not. Continue reading

George Clooney’s Double-Breasted Suit in Ocean’s Eleven

On George Clooney’s 61st birthday, I’m pleased to present another guest post contributed by my friend Ken Stauffer, who had also covered the actor’s plaid suit in Out of Sight and Clooney’s fashionable co-star Brad Pitt from this same scene in Ocean’s Eleven. You can learn more from him about the style of the Ocean’s film series on his Instagram account, @oceansographer.

George Clooney as Danny Ocean in Ocean's Eleven

Danny goes to Hollywood: George Clooney as Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

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George Clooney as Danny Ocean, recently paroled con man and casino heister

Los Angeles, Spring 2001

Film: Ocean’s Eleven
Release Date: December 7, 2001
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Costume Designer: Jeffrey Kurland
Tailor: Dominic Gherardi

Background

Happy birthday to George Clooney, who turns 61 today! To celebrate, we’re looking back at one of his most striking tailored looks in Ocean’s Eleven, the movie which arguably made him a household name and cemented his image as a suave leading man.

The film opens with Clooney’s Danny Ocean being released from North Jersey State Prison on a frigid winter morning. After a shave and a wardrobe change, his first stop is Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza to find Frank Caton (Bernie Mac), a fellow career criminal currently eking out a living under an alias as a blackjack dealer. Within a handful of lines, we learn that Danny is on the hunt for Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), whom he quickly learns is now “teaching movie stars how to play cards.” A day later, the parolee has flown across the country to rope in his felonious old friend at a Hollywood nightclub. Continue reading

East of Eden: James Dean’s 1917 Sport Jacket

James Dean and Julie Harris in East of Eden

James Dean and Julie Harris in East of Eden (1955)

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James Dean as Caleb “Cal” Trask, angsty and entrepreneurial farmer’s son

Salinas, California, Fall 1917

Film: East of Eden
Release Date: March 9, 1955
Director: Elia Kazan
Costume Designer: Anna Hill Johnstone

Background

James Dean’s first of only three major credited screen roles also resulted in his first of two posthumous Academy Award nominations, starring as the moody Cal Trask in Elia Kazan’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel East of Eden, itself a loose retelling of the story of Cain and Abel set in California’s Salinas Valley around the time of America’s entry into World War I.

Cal and his brother Aron (Richard Davalos) vie for the affections of their father Adam (Raymond Massey), a prominent farmer and draft board chairman, whom Cal hopes to impress by growing beans to raise funds that would support the family and supplant some of Adam’s own financial losses. As Cal’s success in the bean-fields grows, his competition with his brother extends to Aron’s girlfriend Abra (Julie Harris), growing closer to her after they meet up at a county fair. Continue reading

Roscoe Lee Browne in Topaz

Roscoe Lee Browne as Philippe Dubois in Topaz

Roscoe Lee Browne as Philippe Dubois in Topaz (1969)

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Roscoe Lee Browne as Philippe Dubois, smooth-talking Martinican-American sleeper agent

New York City, Fall 1962

Film: Topaz
Release Date: December 19, 1969
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Edith Head

Background

Following last month’s look at a “hero costume” from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1942 thriller Saboteur, I want to continue exploring style from the lesser-known entries in the Master of Suspense’s oeuvre. Loosely based on the “Martel affair” and events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Topaz was Hitch’s final movie centered around espionage, though I consider it to lack much of the spark that fueled his earlier successes like North by Northwest.

The single exception in Topaz may be a brief scene made more memorable by the appearance of Martinican agent Philippe Dubois, portrayed by Roscoe Lee Browne, the multi-talented star of stage and screen born 100 years ago today on May 2, 1922. Continue reading

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Tom Hardy Echoes Steve McQueen’s Baracuta Jacket

Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

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Tom Hardy as Ricki Tarr, disillusioned British spy

Paris, Spring 1974

Film: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Release Date: September 16, 2011
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Costume Designer: Jacqueline Durran

Background

With increasingly warmer weather as spring continues through the Northern Hemisphere, I’m swapping out wool coats for windbreakers at the front of my closet. Of course, on some recent climatically chaotic days that start at temperatures around freezing and then rise to over 70°F by mid-afternoon with the occasional burst of rain, I often rely on smart layers to effectively dress for this unpredictable weather.

One of my favorite examples of smart casual layering that illustrates versatility for different weather and situations is the combination of a Harrington jacket over a light sweater and open-necked shirt. William Claxton had famously photographed his friend Steve McQueen dressed accordingly in 1964, and these headshots are still used to illustrate the enduring style of both the jacket and the King of Cool himself.

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen, dressed in his stone-colored Baracuta G9, open-neck shirt, and V-neck sweater, as photographed by his friend William Claxton in 1964.

Decades after his death in 1980, McQueen remains a seminal style icon whose blend of practicality and toughness has influenced scores of men from stars to schlubs (like yours truly)… and a few movie spies, as well. McQueen’s legacy seemed particularly prevalent on silver screen espionage fashions beginning in the late 2000s as Daniel Craig’s James Bond fully embraced Harrington jackets, shawl-collar cardigans, and suede boots as particularly seen in Quantum of Solace, his 007’s action-packed sophomore adventure.

Three years later, costume designer Jacqueline Durran also saw McQueen as her muse when dressing a fellow British agent, the more grounded—and cynical—Ricki Tarr, as portrayed by Tom Hardy in Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of the John le Carré novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

“We very much looked to that kind of ’60s Steve McQueen look for all of them,” Durran explained to GQ of Ricki Tarr’s costumes, first dressing Tarr in a Belstaff shearling coat often associated with McQueen before pulling together the lighter layers as seen in McQueen’s MGM headshot shoot with Claxton as the film approached its conclusion with Tarr in Paris, working to flush out an MI6 mole. Continue reading

Alien: Harry Dean Stanton’s Tropical Shirt as Brett

Harry Dean Stanton as Brett in Alien

Harry Dean Stanton as Brett in Alien (1979)

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Harry Dean Stanton as Brett, wry engineering technician

Aboard the USCSS Nostromo, June 2122

Film: Alien
Release Date: May 25, 1979
Director: Ridley Scott
Costume Designer: John Mollo

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Alien Day was first celebrated several years ago on April 26, chosen in honor of the moon LV-426 where the crew of USCSS Nostromo first encountered the dangerous xenomorph that proceeded to terrorize and slaughter them as depicted in Ridley Scott’s suspenseful classic Alien.

A masterful blend of sci-fi and horror, Alien boasts an ensemble cast led by Sigourney Weaver as the resourceful warrant officer Ellen Ripley, in addition to Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright, and the great Harry Dean Stanton as the junior engineering technician known only as “Brett” (but whose full name was said to be Samuel Elias Brett.) Continue reading

Mad Men: Don Draper’s Casual Picnic Clothes

Jon Hamm and January Jones on Mad Men

Jon Hamm and January Jones on Mad Men (Episode 2.07: “The Gold Violin”)

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Jon Hamm as Don Draper, affluent ad man and Korean War veteran

Ossining, New York, Summer 1962

Series: Mad Men
Episode: “The Gold Violin” (Episode 2.07)
Air Date: September 7, 2008
Director: Andrew Bernstein
Creator: Matthew Weiner
Costume Designer: Janie Bryant

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Following yesterday’s observance of National Picnic Day, I wanted to focus on one of my favorite on-screen picnics. Midway through the second season of Mad Men, the Draper family spends part of a sunny Sunday afternoon bringing a Norman Rockwell painting to life.

By mid-century standards, advertising executive Don Draper (Jon Hamm) appears to illustrate the American dream, providing for his beautiful wife Betty (January Jones) and their two children and having just acquired a sleek new Cadillac that—as was pitched to him—indicates that he’s “already arrived.” Life looks easy for the family, reclining with nary a care in the world as The Pentagons serenade them from the Coupe de Ville’s radio with their dulcet 1962 B-side “I’m in Love”.

Betty: We should do this more often.
Don: We should only do this.

Continue reading