Jack Nicholson as Bobby Dupea, aimless oil worker and classical piano prodigy
Puget Sound, Fall to Winter 1970
Film: Five Easy Pieces
Release Date: September 12, 1970
Director: Bob Rafelson
Wardrobe Credit: Bucky Rous
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Bobby Dupea’s homecoming leads to an existential crisis in Five Easy Pieces, one of the many triumphant highlights of Jack Nicholson’s early filmography and the second of his 12 Academy Award-nominated roles.
“When we sense the boy, tormented and insecure, trapped inside the adult man, Five Easy Pieces becomes a masterpiece of heartbreaking intensity,” reviewed Roger Ebert, who rated this four-star film to be his favorite of 1970 and went on to name it “one of the best American films.”
Having been informed by his sister and fellow piano prodigy Partita (the incomparable Lois Smith) that their father is at death’s door, the rebellious, reckless, and rootless Bobby drags himself away from his irresponsible life in the Central Valley oil fields and heads north to the Dupea family compound in Puget Sound. Along for the ride is Bobby’s crude girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black), whom he leaves at a motel.
Returning home, Bobby finds Partita cutting their vegetative father’s hair and attracting the attentions of brutish nurse Spicer (John Ryan). That evening at dinner, Bobby’s affably naive violinist brother Carl (Ralph Waite) introduces him to his fiancee Catherine (Susan Anspach), and Bobby finds himself instantly attracted to her despite their contrasting personalities.
Just before Rayette surprises Bobby by visiting the family estate, he and Catherine consummate their attraction but she refuses his further romantic advances by analyzing him:
You’re a strange person, Robert. I mean, what will you come to? If a person has no love for himself – no respect for himself, no love of his friends, family, work, something – how can he ask for love in return? Why should he ask for it?
The five easy pieces of the title refer not to Catherine, Rayette, and his other seductions but rather to the five classical piano pieces heard throughout. Just before Bobby and Catherine find themselves falling into her bed together, he plays for her Chopin’s Prelude in E minor, Op. 28, No. 4.
Frédéric Chopin originally published his 24 piano preludes in 1839 with one in each key. The E minor prelude, named “Suffocation” by Hans von Bülow, was performed at Chopin’s funeral at the composer’s own request. In addition to Five Easy Pieces, Chopin’s Prelude in E minor has made many pop culture appearances in movies and television, most notably a prominent feature in “Han”, a fifth season episode of The West Wing where it is played by a despairing North Korean pianist hoping to defect to the United States as an embodiment of the title word, “a sadness so deep no tears will come… and yet still there’s hope.”
What’d He Wear?
Five Easy Pieces features Jack Nicholson in excellent examples of dressed-down menswear from his denim and flannel staples while working at a California oil rig to the red nylon jacket during his character’s drive up the coast to visit his family in Washington (including the famous “between your knees” diner scene.)
For his return home, Bobby Dupea wears a corduroy single-breasted 3/2-roll blazer in a warm shade of light brown, a comfortable and durable choice for an extended stay in the chilly, wet climate of a Pacific Northwest autumn into winter. It’s a significant choice for Bobby to wear for his homecoming as it unifies him more with his gentle and refined brother Carl, who spends much of his screen time in a brown corduroy sport jacket.
Bobby’s jacket is made from a thin-to-medium waled corduroy cotton, slightly finer than the standard wale of 11 wales per inch though not to the extremely fine 21 wales per inch of “pinwale” or “needlecord” fabric. The jacket has swelled edges throughout, best seen on the lapels, pockets, and the seam that extends down the center of his back from the base of the collar to his single back vent.
The corded jacket’s crested gold shank buttons deliver it into blazer territory with three buttons on the front and two buttons on each cuff. The narrow notch lapels roll over the top button for a 3-roll-2 formation. Bobby clips his sunglasses into the blazer’s welted breast pocket, and there is a flapped patch pocket on each hip.
Bobby layers against the cold with heavy dark rollneck sweaters, starting with a thick navy wool turtleneck under his red nylon jacket and eventually this black cotton turtleneck jumper that he wears with his corduroy blazer and jeans. As an additional layer of warmth, he appears to wear a white long-sleeve undershirt that can be seen under the black jumper’s sleeves in some shots.
The black sweater has a ribbed knit polo neck that Bobby folds down over his neck. The set-in sleeves also have long ribbing at the cuffs, which are also worn folded back once over each wrist. The bottom is ribbed around the waist with a 6″ split vent on the right and left sides.
Alternatively with his outfit, Bobby wears a dark navy pullover shirt with a flat collar, half-zip opening with navy zip tape, and two small rounded patch pockets on the chest that each close with a pearl-effect plastic button on a mitred-corner flap. The long-sleeve shirt also has single-button tab cuffs. As a pullover collared shirt, it shares some similarities with a classic polo shirt, but the zip neck and button cuffs take it in a more distinctive direction.
Rope Dye carefully analyzed Bobby’s denim in Five Easy Pieces, identifying his work jeans as a pair of classic Levi’s 501 while sporting a pair of more “fashion-forward” Lee 101 Rider jeans in his “leisure” scenes.
The blue selvage denim jeans can be identified as Lee by the “lazy S” back pocket stitching, and the slanted front pockets are consistent with Lee’s 101 Rider model. Lee still offers the 101 Rider as part of its European Collection for $168.
Bobby’s black jumper covers his waist line, though his brown tooled leather belt with its figure-eight stitching can be easily seen elsewhere in the film. It has tan edge stitching and a large round brass single-prong buckle.
The belt coordinates with his brown leather cowboy boots that he wears throughout his visit at home, a nod to his rambling, restless nature.
Bobby wears a plain gold watch with a champagne gold dial on a brown leather Bund strap. The strap consists of a narrow band for the watch that is secured on a broad band, typically wider than the diameter of the timepiece itself. The warmth of a double-layered Bund strap makes it ideal for Bobby’s journey north into cooler climates.
Per Primer’s comprehensive guide to watch straps, the distinctive Bund strap was developed for German aviators during World War II to protect the wearer’s skin from the cold air at extreme altitudes or from scalding metal in a post-crash fire.
When slipping behind the wheel of his 1963 Mercury Monterey Breezeway sedan, Bobby dons a pair of yellow deerskin leather work gloves. (JRC Glove Company currently markets a pair of gold unlined deerskin gloves similar to those worn by Jack Nicholson in the film, available for $59.95.)
After arriving at a Gulf station with Rayette to fuel up for their trip home, she heads to a nearby cafe for coffee with his entire wallet while he goes to the bathroom. He hangs his corded jacket and takes a long look at himself in the mirror.
Clad only in his sweater, jeans, and boots, Bobby exits the bathroom and hops into a logging truck heading north, abandoning Rayette and the few trappings of his old life. Following an extended lie about his car burning up and taking his possessions with it, Bobby tells the driver that “all I’ve got is what I’ve got on,” which is admittedly true. The driver offers him a jacket to borrow for their “colder than hell” destination, but Bobby refuses:
No, it’s okay. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.
Jack Nicholson sports a timeless dressed-down ensemble of a corduroy blazer, black rollneck jumper, and jeans for the trek to his family’s chilly Pacific Northwest home in Five Easy Pieces.
- Light brown corduroy blazer with slim notch lapels, 3-roll-2 crested gold shank button single-breasted front, welted breast pocket, flapped patch pockets, 2-button cuffs, and single back vent
- Black cotton turtleneck sweater with ribbed rollneck, cuffs, and hem
- Blue selvedge denim Lee 101 Rider jeans
- Brown tooled leather “figure 8”-stitched belt with round brass single-prong buckle
- Brown leather cowboy boots
- Yellow deerskin leather work gloves
- Gold wristwatch with “champagne” gold dial on brown leather “bund” strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I picked the easiest piece that I could think of. I first played it when I was eight years old, and I played it better then.
Though it was set on Puget Sound in Washington state, the scenes at the Dupea family home were actually filmed on Vancouver Island in the Canadian province of British Columbia.