Harvey Keitel as Winston Wolf, problem solver
Los Angeles, Summer 1992
Film: Pulp Fiction
Release Date: October 14, 1994
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Costume Designer: Betsy Heimann
I’m Winston Wolf. I solve problems.
Last Friday, Harvey Keitel turned 77 years old, a birthday that was almost certainly celebrated by Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino has stated that “Harvey had been my favorite actor since I was 16 years old,” so he penned the character of criminal fixer Winston Wolf – and according to the screenplay, it is Wolf and not Wolfe – specifically for Keitel. Two years earlier, the actor’s involvement in Reservoir Dogs as the pragmatic career criminal “Mr. White” helped shoot Q.T. onto the map of filmmakers to watch. The Wolf may have also been a nod to Keitel’s role as Victor, the ruthlessly efficient “cleaner” in 1993’s Point of No Return.
Keitel’s brief appearance as the enigmatic Winston Wolf has remained part of pop culture to this day. Twenty years after Pulp Fiction first appeared in theaters, Keitel again donned a dark double-breasted tux to reprise his role as Winston Wolf in a series of commercials for the British insurance company Direct Line.
What’d He Wear?
The introduction of Winston Wolf is a perfect example of using clothing to tell an audience all they need to know about a character they just met. When we meet the Wolf for the first time, he is in a fashionable hotel suite with fellow well-dressed gamblers and wearing a dinner suit at 8:30 in the morning. We don’t need to know why; all we need to know is that this is the kind of man who not only finds himself in that situation, but to whom that situation isn’t unusual.
After the Wolf takes Marsellus Wallace’s phone call, he gives himself ten minutes to make the half hour drive to Jimmie Dimmick’s abode in suburban Toluca Lake. He shows up at the door in a black double-breasted wool dinner jacket with detailing contemporary to the ’90s.
The Wolf’s dinner jacket has a 6-on-2 button double-breasted front, which he keeps fastened throughout most of his “consultation” unless he is sitting. The wide black satin-faced peak lapels sweep across his chest and curve up toward the shoulders at the points.
The shoulders themselves are softly padded with roped sleeveheads. The sleeves have three buttons at the cuffs. The back of Mr. Wolf’s dinner jacket is ventless, and the front has a welted breast pocket and jetted hip pockets.
Mr. Wolf’s black pleated formal trousers have the expected black satin striping along the side seams. The pant legs slightly taper down to the plain-hemmed bottoms.
Winston Wolf wears a white formal shirt with his tuxedo. The front bib has slim, 1/8″ pleats with round, gold-trimmed black studs down the front placket. The double cuffs are fastened by a set of gold oblong links.
The Wolf’s butterfly-shaped bow tie is black silk.
Mr. Wolf appropriately wears formal black leather cap-toe balmorals with black dress socks.
It’s unlike QT to include distinct product placement for luxury brands, but we get a clear shot of The Wolf’s yellow gold Gucci wristwatch. The quartz watch is a Gucci 3000.2.M in a yellow gold-plated case with a black baton dial and black Roman numerals engraved on the gold bezel. Interested buyers can always peruse eBay for a model, although they appear to usually be found with leather straps rather than the gold link bracelet on Mr. Wolf’s wrist.
Finally, in a bit of an affectation that winks at the Wolf’s connections with gangsterdom, he wears a gold ring on his right pinky with a flush-set square diamond.
Go Big or Go Home
INT. HOTEL SUITE – MORNING The CAMERA looks through the bedroom doorway of a hotel suite into the main area. We SEE a crap game being played on a fancy crap table by GAMBLERS in tuxedos and LUCKY LADIES in fancy evening gowns. The CAMERA PANS to the right revealing: Sitting on a bed, phone in hand with his back to us, the tuxedo-clad WINSTON WOLF aka "THE WOLF". We also see The Wolf has a small notepad that he jots details in.
Mr. Wolf is one of the most memorable of QT’s “single serving” characters. He could be a caricature in almost every way as a walking deus ex machina, but Tarantino’s writing and Keitel’s portrayal keeps him warmly human, impressed by everyday things like a good cup of coffee even in the face of non-everyday tasks like cleaning blood and brains out of a ’74 Nova. He knows what he likes and they’re important to him:
- He values his time… (“If I’m curt with you it’s because time is a factor. I think fast, I talk fast and I need you guys to act fast if you wanna get out of this. So, pretty please… with sugar on top. Clean the fucking car.”)
- …his car… (“If I get my car back any different than I gave it, Monster Joe’s gonna be disposing of two bodies,” he warns when handing over the keys to his gray’92 Acura NSX. Interestingly, the car as scripted was a silver Porsche.)
- …and his coffee. (“Lots of cream, lots of sugar,” while most stereotypical movie badasses feel the need to drink their coffee incredibly black.)
One of the Wolf’s greatest attributes is his confident decisiveness. He can ingest a crisis and figure out his solution within seconds; based on his reputation and ability to live through a Tarantino flick, we can assume that he’s got a hell of a track record for solving problems. He prioritizes at first, improvises as needed, and delivers effortlessly. When he earns Jules’ hard-fought praise (“Mr. Wolf… I just wanna say it was a real pleasure watching you work”), he responds in kind with a smile and the warm assurance that Jules has earned the right to engage him in a first-name basis.
Producer and director Justin Szlasa even wrote an essay for Indiewire on the importance of a manager like “Winston Wolfe – someone who’s a top-notch manager, able to respond to any crisis with focus and grace… a model of efficiency under pressure — a no-nonsense performer who got the job done with style.”
Let’s say you find yourself invited to play cards all night at a respectable hotel in a situation that may last until the morning. This is your time to shine. This is your time to channel Winston Wolf.
- Black wool double-breasted 6-on-2 button dinner jacket with wide satin-faced peak lapels, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Black wool pleated formal trousers with black satin side stripe, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White formal shirt with spread collar, slim-pleated front bib with round gold-trimmed black studs, and double/French cuffs
- Black silk butterfly-shaped bow tie
- Gold oblong cuff links
- Black leather cap-toe balmorals/oxfords
- Black dress socks
- Gucci 3000.2.M quartz wristwatch with yellow gold-plated case, black baton dial, and gold bezel on gold link bracelet
- Gold flush-set diamond pinky ring
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
I’m not here to say “please”, I’m here to tell you what to do, and – if self-preservation is an instinct you possess – you’d better fucking do it and do it quick.