Steve Kanaly as Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, Depression-era bank robber
Midwest U.S., Spring 1934
Release Date: July 20, 1973
Director: John Milius
Costume Designer: James M. George
Today marks what would have been the 111th birthday of Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, one of the best-known of the original “Public Enemies” that terrorized American banks during the Great Depression. The early 1930s were a prime era for American crime. Unlike the murderous gangsters whose machine gun battles littered newspaper headlines during the “roaring twenties”, many of the Depression-era desperadoes painted themselves as contemporary Robin Hoods, stealing from the banks to give to the poor. While some were genuinely psychopaths like “Baby Face” Nelson and Clyde Barrow, others like Floyd and John Dillinger were more akin to simple farm boys led astray.
Of course, a criminal is a criminal and both Floyd and Dillinger could have chosen non-criminal lives, as the families of those who died by their hand can attest. Still, these two especially endeared themselves to the American public with their easygoing countrified charm and daring escapes against the authoritarian forces growing with J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI.
While it’s likely the two crossed paths and may have even committed at least one robbery together, John Milius’ bloody 1973 biopic Dillinger paints Floyd as a full-fledged member of Dillinger’s “second generation” gang after the infamous “Wooden Gun” jailbreak. Steve Kanaly’s “aw shucks” portrayal of Floyd explains his reasons for joining up:
Well, the Feds were getting to my folks, and it’s hard on them. And then damn Bonnie and Clyde ran through there. Weren’t safe for no one. Bunch of mad dogs, that’s what they were, and I ain’t sorry to see them go.
This is more Milius’ nod to the still-popular Bonnie and Clyde film, which repainted the criminal couple as two glamorous and romantic desperadoes. Many cheaper movies of lesser quality followed in its wake, and Milius intended Dillinger confront the budding “lovable rogue” genre head on with his unflinching, trigger-happy outlaws and countless bloody gunfights. It is on record, though, that Dillinger certainly didn’t think much of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker’s fame, and it’s likely that a more professional outlaw like Floyd would have shared his view.
What’d He Wear?
For their first meeting at the Little Bohemia retreat, “Pretty Boy” Floyd is introduced to Dillinger while sporting a fashionably-cut gray pinstripe wool suit. The large double-breasted jacket has wide peak lapels that sweep across his chest to the thickly-padded shoulders with roped sleeveheads. Not much else of the jacket is seen, but it has a ventless rear, a welted breast pocket, and a 6×2 button front that he prefers to leave open. The hip pockets appear to be jetted, with either no flaps or flaps tucked into the pockets themselves.
Floyd’s trousers have a low rise with single reverse pleats. He typically keeps his hands in the on-seam side pockets. The bottoms are cuffed with a slight flare. Floyd commits the fashion faux pas of wearing both a belt and suspenders. The black leather belt, which matches his shoes, may be necessary for attaching Floyd’s shoulder holster. However, there is no way his pants require both methods of suspension.
Floyd wears a white dress shirt with a large spread collar. Like his other shirt, it has a breast pocket and button cuffs. His tie is a perfect example of the short, wide tie that was fashionable among men of the era (although it avoids the excess of the “kipper tie”). It has a dark navy blue ground and a pattern of light gray and red cubes that looks similar to a scattering of dice.
So What’d I Do?
While the outfit is seen only briefly in the film, I wanted to take this post to talk about my visit to Floyd’s death site. As long-time readers of this blog know, I am fascinated by the Depression-era outlaws and Floyd in particular. I previously wrote posts commemorating the date of his death – October 22, 1934 – with discussions of his portrayals by Steve Kanaly in 1973’s Dillinger (as also seen here) and by Channing Tatum in 2009’s Public Enemies.
As luck would have it, my day job called me out to East Liverpool, Ohio for an event on October 23, 2014 – one day after the 80th anniversary of Floyd’s death outside that same city. This was a sheer lucky coincidence as I rarely travel for work, and the rare traveling that I do never takes me out to East Liverpool. Surely, the cards were in my favor. I dressed up in the closest approximation to what I knew Floyd wore when he was killed – a dark navy blue business suit, white shirt, and black oxfords – and prepared for what was actually a very easy and quick drive from Pittsburgh.
As soon as my event was finished around 4:00 p.m., I plugged the exact coordinates of Floyd’s death site into my iPhone’s GPS. For anyone curious, that is 40.714167° N, 80.588333° W, along Sprucevale Road (County Highway 428) in Columbiana County, just outside Clarkson, Ohio. I pulled into the area just around the time that Floyd was gunned down by the joint squad of FBI agents and local East Liverpool policemen. Surely enough, there was a marker by the side of the road that briefly told Floyd’s story and the importance of what happened there.
I was impressed; I didn’t even know there would be a marker there. The place had likely changed in the 80 years since Floyd drew his last breath and ate his last meal at the – now demolished – farmhouse owned by Ellen Conkle. After doing a little more on-site exploring, I found a small path into the trees that led to a humble marker on the ground that marked the exact spot where Floyd actually died.
While I’m not one to pay tribute to murderers, it was impressive to see that this historical site in our country’s criminal history has been remembered. It’s humble, as it should be, but it is worth visiting for criminal history aficionados like myself.
How to Get the Look
Floyd dresses to impress when meeting his new boss, sporting the latest in mid-’30s menswear fashion. While Floyd’s particular suit may be a bit over-the-top for your line of work, it’s nice to keep his “dress to impress” principle in mind.
- Gray pinstripe wool suit, consisting of:
- Double-breasted jacket with wide peak lapels, 6×2 button front, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, and ventless rear
- Single reverse-pleated trousers with low rise, belt loops, on-seam side pockets, and flared cuffed bottoms
- White dress shirt with large spread collar, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Dark navy blue silk necktie with light gray & red cube pattern
- Black leather belt with silver-toned squared clasp
- Black leather dress shoes
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie. It’s a great example of overly violent and macho ’70s cinema that never fails to entertain.
Leave the boy be! He deserves a chance. A man deserves a chance.