Marcello Mastroianni as Marcello Rubini in La Dolce Vita (1960)
Marcello Mastroianni as Marcello Rubini, playboy gossip journalist-turned-publicity agent
Fregene, Italy, Summer 1959
Film: La Dolce Vita
Release Date: February 5, 1960 Director: Federico Fellini Costume Designer: Piero Gherardi Tailor: Brioni
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
No, no one’s leaving. It’s a long way ’til dawn.
The seventh and final “episode” of Fellini’s divine comedy La Dolce Vita catches up with our sleek protagonist Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni), erstwhile chronicler of Roman nightlife, as he and a group of friends descend upon his friend Riccardo’s beach house in Fregene, about 25 miles west of Rome on the Tyrrhenian coast. Continue reading →
Robert Shaw as Romer Treece, adventurous treasure hunter and lighthouse-keeper
Off the Bermuda coast, Summer 1976
Film: The Deep Release Date: June 17, 1977 Director: Peter Yates Costume Designer: Ron Talsky
Following the record-setting blockbuster success of Jaws, adapted from Peter Benchley’s debut novel of the same name, Columbia Pictures quickly purchased the rights to Benchley’s next novel before it was even published. The Deep proved to be another box-office hit, if not as critically acclaimed as its predecessor, with much of its success attributed to an effective marketing campaign centered around Jacqueline Bisset’s white T-shirt.
Another casting decision that worked in The Deep‘s favor was Robert Shaw, born 95 years ago today on August 9, 1927. Continue reading →
Promotional poster for No Time to Die (2021) featuring Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter
Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter, cynical CIA agent
Jamaica, Spring 2020
Film:No Time to Die Release Date: September 30, 2021 Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga Costume Designer: Suttirat Anne Larlarb
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
On the 00-7th of August, let’s celebrate the return of Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter to the 007 franchise in No Time to Die. Years after the events of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, Felix and his politically appointed State Department crony Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen) track down the now-retired James Bond (Daniel Craig) to his secluded life in Jamaica, hoping to recruit him into assisting them in locating a missing MI6 scientist.
“It’ll be like old times,” Leiter pitches to Bond over beers, adding that “I wanna get back to my family, tell ’em I saved the world again!” Continue reading →
Johnny Depp as George Jung, successful cocaine smuggler
Massachusetts, Fall 1979
Film:Blow Release Date: April 6, 2001 Director: Ted Demme Costume Designer: Mark Bridges
One of the more formative movies in developing my appreciation for more outlandish period style is Blow, Ted Demme’s Scorsese-inspired chronicle of the rise and fall of real-life drug smuggler George Jung, who was born 80 years ago today in Weymouth, Massachusetts. The DVD (does anyone remember its white case?) was in almost constant rotation when friends would come over in high school, and Mark Bridges’ costume design resonated to such a degree that, thanks to eBay, I may have been one of the few high-schoolers in the early 2000s to own a vintage polyester leisure suit. Continue reading →
Marilyn Monroe as Roslyn Tabor in The Misfits (1961). Photo by Eve Arnold.
Marilyn Monroe as Roslyn Tabor, recent divorcée
Nevada desert, Summer 1960
Film:The Misfits Release Date: February 1, 1961 Director: John Huston
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Sixty years after her fatal overdose on August 4, 1962, Marilyn Monroe remains a major figure in pop culture, the subject of countless books, art, music, and movies, including Blonde, scheduled to release next month starring Ana de Armas as the actress. Monroe’s final completed film was John Huston’s The Misfits, an elegiac contemporary Western written by her then-husband Arthur Miller that afforded the actress with the opportunity to provide her arguably best performance, which earned her the 1961 Golden Globe Award for “World Film Favorite” despite her own reported contempt for her performance. Continue reading →
Peter O’Toole as Alan Swann in My Favorite Year (1982)
Peter O’Toole as Alan Swann, self-destructive screen swashbuckler
New York City, Fall 1954
Film:My Favorite Year Release Date: October 8, 1982 Director: Richard Benjamin Costume Designer: May Routh
Today would have been the 90th birthday of Peter O’Toole, legend of stage and screen. Though he was ultimately presented with an Academy Honorary Award, O’Toole holds the dubious distinction of having received the most Academy Award nominations without a win. One of his eight nominations was for the 1982 comedy My Favorite Year, Richard Benjamin’s directorial debut written by Norman Steinberg and Dennis Palumbo, set behind the scenes at NBC’s famous studio at 30 Rockefeller Plaza during the Golden Age of live television.
“1954. You don’t get years like that anymore… it was my favorite year,” begins the narration by Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker), a junior comedy writer reportedly based on Mel Brooks and Woody Allen, who had both written for Your Show of Shows in the early ’50s. The story was inspired by Errol Flynn’s real-life guest appearance on Your Show of Shows, with Flynn reimagined as the erratic Alan Swann. Benjy describes Swann as the greatest screen idol of all time, despite his boss dismissing Swann’s performances as no more than “kissing and jumping and drinking and humping.”
Richard Benjamin explained in an interview with Donald Leibenson that “in the original script, there’s a scene which I shot that would have played after what’s in the movie. It took place in a Hollywood cemetery, and Benjy is walking past the gravestones. He says in voiceover that Alan Swann made him promise he would do something on his birthday every year. Alan has passed away, and Benjy comes to his grave, kneels down and pours a bottle of Courvoisier over the tombstone. That’s what’s on the last page. Peter asked me to read the date that was on the tombstone. It was Aug. 2. He said, ‘Aug. 2 is my birthday; did you know that?’ I asked Norman if he knew that, and Norman said no, he had made it up. And Peter says, ‘Therefore, I must do the film.'” Continue reading →
William Daniels as Austin Tucker in The Parallax View (1974)
William Daniels as Austin Tucker, paranoid ex-political aide
Marina Del Rey, California, Spring 1974
Film:The Parallax View Release Date: June 14, 1974 Director: Alan J. Pakula Costume Designer: Frank L. Thompson
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Based on Loren Singer’s novel of the same name, The Parallax View became the second installment of director Alan J. Pakula’s political paranoia “trilogy” across the 1970s, reflecting the uncertainty and cynicism of an era increasingly marred by assassination, war, and government scandal.
The cast included William Daniels, one of the steadiest character actors of the era with credits like Two for the Road, The Graduate, and 1776 in his filmography before his memorable appearance in The Parallax View as Austin Tucker, the one-time aide to a presidential contender who had been assassinated three years earlier. (The now 95-year-old Daniels would later gain lasting recognition among more modern audiences as the principled principal Mr. Feeny on Boy Meets World.) Now, Tucker remains the only remaining witness to the crime… and is justifiably paranoid regarding his prospects as he agrees to meet the crusading reporter Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) on his boat.
Today, I’ll be joining friends for less lethal nautical adventures—specifically, sipping tequila on a pontoon boat up the Allegheny River—but it felt like the right opportunity to see how the once buttoned-up Tucker now embraces a more casual sense of dress while dodging the dangerous clutches of the shadowy Parallax Corporation. Continue reading →
Paul Newman as Michael Gallagher in Absence of Malice (1981)
Paul Newman as Michael Gallagher, wholesale liquor distributor
Miami, Fall 1980
Film:Absence of Malice Release Date: December 18, 1981 Director: Sydney Pollack Costume Designer: Bernie Pollack
Ethan Hawke’s recently released HBO Max docuseries The Last Movie Stars chronicling Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward’s iconic marriage inspired me to respond to a few earlier requests analyzing the blue-eyed actor’s warm-weather everyman style in Absence of Malice, Sydney Pollack’s 1981 exploration of journalistic integrity.
Newman stars as Michael Gallagher, a Miami liquor wholesaler surprised to find himself the subject of a front-page Miami Standard newspaper story written by reporter Megan Carter (Sally Field), suggesting his potential involvement in the presumed murder of a local union official. He directly confronts Megan and her bosses to understand the basis for their claims, beginning a relationship with the reporter that ranges from contentious to flirtatious. Finally, Michael takes Megan up on her offer to listen to his side of the story, thus ostensibly ensuring that her reporting is as accurate and comprehensive a possible.
Michael: How long you got for lunch? Megan: Long as I want! Michael: Good job…
Megan slyly invites a photographer—the “weird” and conspicuous Walker (William Kerwin)—to follow them, but this part of the plan is foiled when Michael surprises her by inviting her to lunch on his yacht, the 1934-built “Rum Runner” so named in tribute to his bootlegger father. Continue reading →
Film: Key Largo Release Date: July 16, 1948 Director: John Huston Wardrobe Credit: Leah Rhodes
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
One of the most familiar—if under-credited—faces of the 1940s, the distinctive-looking character actor Dan Seymour was often cast as a sinister local in an “exotic” setting. Seymour’s most prominent movies starred his friend Humphrey Bogart, including his performance as Moroccan doorman Abdul in Casablanca, a corrupt Martinican official in To Have and Have Not, and mob lackey Angel Garcia in Key Largo, John Huston’s moody noir set in a storm-isolated tropical hotel. Continue reading →
Tony Bickley as Donald Westerhazy in The Swimmer (1968)
Tony Bickley as Donald Westerhazy, affable and affluent advertising executive
Suburban Connecticut, Summer 1966
Film:The Swimmer Release Date: May 15, 1968 Director: Frank Perry Wardrobe Designer: Anna Hill Johnstone
It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying, “I drank too much last night.”
… begins John Cheever’s 1964 short story “The Swimmer”, which was adapted by the husband-and-wife team of director Frank Perry and screenwriter Eleanor Perry into a hallucinatory drama starring Burt Lancaster as the eponymous Ned Merrill, a well-tanned embodiment of the failed American dream.
The focus of today’s post is a little more esoteric than usual, not necessarily because of the movie—which is relatively well-known, if offbeat—but more the relatively minor character and his little-known portrayer, Tony Bickley. The Swimmer was Bickley’s fifth and final screen credit and his only significant movie role, more than a decade after his four sporadic appearances in TV anthologies during the early 1950s.
Bickley co-starred in The Swimmer as Donald Westerhazy, a gregarious suburbanite whose palatial home is Ned’s first stop on what becomes his route to “swim home” through the backyard pools of his neighbors. Donald and his wife Helen (Diana Van der Vlis) are nursing hangovers from the previous evening’s party… with the help of martinis, of course. Continue reading →