Bruce Willis in Last Man Standing
Bruce Willis as John Smith, mysterious mob gun-for-hire
Texas, Summer 1931
Film: Last Man Standing
Release Date: September 20, 1996
Director: Walter Hill
Costume Designer: Dan Moore
Willis’ Costumer: Lori Stilson
Last Man Standing is one of many film adaptations of the classic “man-playing-two-corrupt-factions-against-the-other” story that originated in modern culture with Dashiell Hammett’s 1927 novel Red Harvest. The novel was loosely translated onto the screen for 1942’s The Glass Key and, soon, the story was soon standardized as a lone drifter of few words showing up in town, befriending a bartender, and taking on two criminal gangs.
In 1961, Kurosawa filmed Yojimbo, where a ronin showed up in a warring town, allied himself with a sake dealer, and ended the day – after plenty of katana action – as the last man standing. Three years later, Clint Eastwood was catapulted to stardom in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, which moved the setting to a border town in the Old West.
In the 1990s, two additional versions were made of the story, both set in the Prohibition era. The Coen Brothers’ tongue-in-cheek Miller’s Crossing was a throwback to vintage film noir, with Gabriel Byrne chasing his hat between beatings from roscoe-toting gang thugs and political bosses. Last Man Standing, written and directed by man-movie auteur Walter Hill, placed Bruce Willis as the titular hero.
Set in Jericho, Texas in the early 1930s, Last Man Standing is a straight gangster movie with plenty of guns, masculism, and corpses that one should expect. Willis rolls into Jericho – which would be a ghost town if it wasn’t for the mobsters – and immediately gets into trouble with an Irish mob. After making friends with bartender Joe (played by everyone’s favorite “that guy” William Sanderson) and meeting the local sheriff, Willis – naming himself “John Smith” – sidles between the Irish mob and an Italian Mafia group in town, playing both sides against each other with two .45s and plenty of whiskey guiding him. There have even been some Internet theories that Willis’s character was supposed to be Dillinger after faking his death, likely based on the era, haircut, gun choice, and references to Chicago – not to mention his apparent criminal ability. I’m sure this wasn’t Hill’s intention but it does add a fun layer to the film, especially considering Smith’s sympathy for the Native American woman and the heritage of Dillinger’s real life girlfriend Billie.
Since Smith is probably a made up name anyway, let’s just refer to the character as Bruce Willis throughout the post.
The movie isn’t for everyone, but it’s pretty entertaining for men who like some mindless but interesting action.
What’d He Wear?
Since he’s coming from Chicago, Willis is decked out in a dark wool three-piece suit. Arriving just in time for a Texas summer, the suit naturally makes things “hot as hell” as he himself describes. Lighting of certain production photos prove the suit to be a dark navy, despite appearing black or charcoal in some on-screen lighting. It is on sale by The Golden Closet and described as:
These garments were custom made for Mr. Willis and consist of an 1930’s navy suit jacket with black and white broken pinstripe, notch lapel, welt breast pocket, two lower flap pockets, three button closure, matching vest with two upper and two lower welt pockets and six button closure. Internal Western Costume labels with “25228-I, Bruce Willis, 40, 3I 1/2”, “24I68-I, Bruce Willis, 40, 3I 1/2” clearly typed in black ink.
The suit has a very dark pinpoint stripe in black and white. The coat, which he only wears when he needs to conceal his firepower, is single-breasted and ventless. It buttons three down the front and has 3-button cuffs. The medium-width notch lapels are a good ’30s detail as lapels got wider throughout the decade.
Since he, understandably, doesn’t wear the coat through much of the film, it’s hard for a noob like me to tell much about the pocket situation. The breast pocket is definitely there, but I can only guess that the hip pockets are flapped and straight.
The vest is typical of the era – single-breasted, no lapels, and four welted pockets (2 chest, 2 hip). There are six buttons down the front. The bottom of the vest cuts straight across his waistline, rather than leaving an inverted V opening. Sean Connery also sported this type of waistcoat in Thunderball.
The suit pants are single-pleated with cuffed bottoms and side pockets.
Bruce keeps them up with a pair of dark block-striped suspenders with dulled brass hardware. The stripes, from left to right, are: black wide, light brown medium, a greenish-brown triple stripe, light brown again, and a black wide stripe. That might sound confusing so just look at a picture.
Bruce first arrives in town in a shirt that was probably far more comfortable in the Windy City, a white heavy cotton dress shirt with a spread collar, often worn with the top button unfastened. It buttons down a front placket and also features buttoned barrel cuffs with gauntlet buttons. No breast pocket.
Once he realizes he’ll be in town longer than he expects, Bruce unpacks a few more lightweight shirts. I’d say that he buys them, but there isn’t really much in the way of shopping in Jericho. Can you picture Bruce Willis going into a store and browsing through shirts, maybe trying to match them to a tie or something? I have a feeling he barges in, grabs the first few he sees, and storms back out again.
The first of the lightweight shirts that we see is salmon-colored with white stripes. It has a point collar and a front placket.
The other is very light gray with thin white and dark red stripes. This one has a moderate spread collar and a front placket. Both have buttoning barrel cuffs.
The Anto striped dress shirt included at The Golden Closet is described as: “The cotton button down dress shirt is cream, white and taupe with diagonal stripes and breaks. Internal Anto label with “BW Sept. 1995″ sewn into the collar.”
Bruce’s main necktie is a very dark blue ground with a small brown kidney-shaped pattern, tied in a four-in-hand. About midway through, he alternates this with a different tie, featuring a red and green rhombus pattern under a golden brown criss cross overlay.
His shoes are pair of black leather laced plain-toe bluchers, which have been tarnished into a dull dark brown by the omnipresent dirt and dust in the air. He wears them with a pair of black dress socks, but switches them out for a pair of loose white socks when recuperating from a big beating.
When feeling especially badass, Bruce tops it all off with a dark gray fedora with a short brim and wide black band.
His undershirt is white and sleeveless, very typical of men in the era.
The most important garment, for his purposes at least, is a dark brown leather double shoulder holster rig for his 1911 pistols. Each holster has a snap to fasten the pistol into place. Despite carrying more than twenty magazines in one scene, the holster has no mag pouches so he has to carry them all in his pockets. This would’ve been much easier in the days without cell phones.
Chris, an astute commenter on this blog, provided the link to an identical version of Smith’s holster rig, made by Idaho Leather Company. Starting at $189.95, it’s a steal for a beautiful leather double rig like the one in the film. If you want to save $20 and you only have one 1911 you need to carry, Idaho Leather Company also offers a Last Man Standing-style rig with a magazine pouch rather than a second holster.
Go Big or Go Home
As you might expect for a Bruce Willis role, “John Smith” is a badass with big guns, a big smirk, and few words.
He drinks whiskey like a fish drinks water but is still an expert (and magical) marksman. He does, however, switch to beer so he doesn’t “get sloppy”.
How does someone like that keep in shape? He evidently adheres to the “apple a day” policy, cutting one up with a pocketknife while waiting for the action to pick up.
What to Imbibe
Scotch is the preferred booze of John Smith. Naturally, he drinks it neat – usually straight from the bottle to save time. He’s seen drinking Cromarty 12-year-old and even uses a flask bottle of J&B to determine his next move. I don’t believe Cromarty is manufactured anymore, but J&B is still around and is a favorite of all men, from gangsters to writers. Smith kept his bottle in the door of his black 1928 Ford Model A Deluxe Coupe.
How to Get the Look
Basically any dark three-piece suit covered in dust and dirt accompanied by a well-equipped shoulder holster gets the look down. But if you’re a stickler for specificity…
- Dark navy pinpoint-striped suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted 3-button suit jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Single-breasted 6-button suit vest with four welt pockets and straight-cut bottom
- Single-pleated trousers with belt loops, straight side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White heavy cotton dress shirt with spread collar, front placket, and buttoned barrel cuffs
- Dark blue necktie with small brown kidney-shaped pattern
- Black leather plain-toe bluchers
- Black dress socks
- Dark gray felt fedora with wide black band
- White sleeveless undershirt
- Brown leather double shoulder holster rig for two M1911A1 pistols
Smith’s firepower in this film consists of two Colt M1911A1 semi-automatic pistols in .45 ACP. We’ve talked the 1911 to death on this blog, with films such as Three Days of the Condor and The Getaway. However, Smith’s magical 1911s require special mention.
First, the guns are definitely the stars of the film. Despite also featuring Bruce Willis, Christopher Walken, and Bruce Dern (hey, two Bruces!), if you like watching 1911s in action, add this to your collection.
Now, if you like watching 1911s accurately depicted in action, I wouldn’t suggest this film for you. The standard capacity of most .45-caliber 1911 pistols available then or now (with the exception of some like the Para-Ordnance P14) are seven rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber. That’s eight. In most scenes, Willis goes into battle with a 1911 in each hand, firing at least 14-15 shots from each one. That’s nearly double.
The only explanation I can think of would give further credence to the Dillinger theory; if the pistols were supposed to be chambered in .38 Super (which no markings indiciate but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt), those had 9-round magazines and thus a total capacity of ten each.
Now what’s all this .38 Super business?
The .38 Super Automatic cartridge was developed and introduced around 1929 as a higher pressure load of the now-obsolete .38 ACP, increasing the .38 ACP’s velocity from 1,050 ft/s to the 1,280 ft/s of the .38 Super. Popular at the time with police and criminals – notably Dillinger – it has regained popularity for pistol match competitors and is still a dominant round in IPSC competition.
The .38 Super was designed to be used in the 1911 pistol and was notably capable of penetrating body armor and car bodies at the time, as some gangsters soon found out. The popularity of the .38 Super was short-lived, however, and the introduction of the .357 Magnum revolver round in the mid-1930s soon superseded the .38 Super in popularity.
Or, we could just chalk the whole thing up to movie magic. The movie knows it is stretching believability, showing Willis loading up at least fifteen magazines in preparation for a battle and carrying upwards of 25 spares on his person for a single gunfight.
Do Yourself A Favor And…
Buy the movie.
The whole movie is full of zingers and corny throwaways that perfectly add to the ghostly acid noir quality of it all. Smith sums himself up best when he says:
I was born without a conscience.
Not related to the film, but this is hilarious. Shows that Bruce has a great sense of humor.
The photo of the Colt .38 Super above is from Sam Lisker’s ColtAutos.com, a great resource for information on Colt handguns of the early 20th century. The weapon shown in particular is from the Scott Gahimer Collection and was manufactured around 1930.
Idaho Leather Company makes the holster from the movie http://idaho-leather.com/15.html
Thanks, Chris – that’s it all right. I’ll add the link to the post and give you credit for the find.
Hate to be picky, but the 1942 film, THE GLASS KEY, was not based on Hammett’s RED HARVEST. It was based on Hammett’s book called, surprisingly enough, THE GLASS KEY. The confusion comes from the fact that Kurosawa mimicked a few scenes from the film version of THE GLASS KEY in his 1961 film YOJIMBO, which–as you correctly stated–was otherwise based on Hammett’s RED HARVEST. It doesn’t help that this error has been propagated for years thanks to many erroneous articles wherein a few film journalists (obviously unfamiliar with Hammett’s works) quote each other as sources.
Bit of an “aw crap” update but it looks like sometime between January and today Idaho Leather Company shut down after 78 years of operation.