Lee Marvin’s Navy Suit in The Killers

Lee Marvin as Charlie Strom in The Killers (1964)

Lee Marvin as Charlie Strom in The Killers (1964)

Vitals

Lee Marvin as Charlie Strom, professional mob hitman

Los Angeles, Fall 1963

Film: The Killers
Release Date: July 7, 1964
Director: Don Siegel
Costume Designer: Helen Colvig

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Happy first day of March! The observance of St. Patrick’s Day this month means plenty of focus on the “luck o’ the Irish”, so today’s post explores a suit sporting the “clover lapel”, a soft type of notch lapel named for its semblance to two leaves of a clover plant.

One character who took advantage of this unique but subtle type of lapel was Charlie Strom, the paid assassin who subverts “movie hitman” tropes by letting his curiosity get the better of him… why did Johnny North give up so easily? Bothered by this incongruity, Charlie and his partner Lee (Clu Gulager) set out to find the truth.

What’d He Wear?

The clover lapel is essentially a notch lapel with softly rounded corners rather than sharp edges. A “half clover” lapel features a standard corner with sharp edges but the bottom edge of the lapel is rounded. The full clover lapel is rounded on both the top and bottom corners of the notch.

Though incarnations of the lapel can be seen in photos and footage from around the turn of the 20th century, the “clover” term to describe a notch lapel first entered the sartorial lexicon around spring of 1927 when it was noted as the latest trend among collegiate Bostonians.

The Killers features Lee Marvin in two suits with clover-notch lapels. The first, his gray silk suit, has half clover lapels. For the final scenes of the film, Marvin’s Charlie Strom wears a dark but vivid navy blue suit with full clover notch lapels with rounded corners on both the top and bottom of the notch. The notch gorges themselves are very shallow in accordance with mid-’60s fashions taking a turn toward the slim and narrow.

Note the gently rounded notches on Charlie Strom's lapels. Combined with the shallow gorges, the final effect is almost closer to a shawl collar than a traditional notch lapel.

Note the gently rounded notches on Charlie Strom’s lapels. Combined with the shallow gorges, the final effect is almost closer to a shawl collar than a traditional notch lapel.

Charlie’s navy single-breasted suit jacket has a two-button front, a besom breast pocket, and jetted hip pockets that slightly slant toward the back. The sleeveheads are roped, double vents are short, and the sleeves appear to be finished with two-button cuffs like his other suit jackets.

Charlie Strom cuts a killer profile in his well-fitting navy suit.

Charlie Strom cuts a killer profile in his well-fitting navy suit.

Charlie’s matching flat front suit trousers have slightly slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets with single-button loops to close, and belt loops through which he wears a black leather belt with a silver-toned single-prong buckle.

A mahogany leather holster is worn on the back right side of his belt and tucked into the same back trouser pocket… armed with one hell of a backup piece, a pearl-handled Colt .45 Single Action Army revolver, also known as the “Peacemaker”. The holster appears to have a brass snap, though it’s worn unfastened to make room for this large weapon.

KILLERS

Charlie’s trousers have a straight leg with turn-ups (cuffs) that have a moderate break, revealing the dark navy cotton lisle socks that nicely continue the trouser line into his shoes.

Charlie and Lee listen to Sheila (Angie Dickinson) sharing the tale of Johnny North.

Charlie and Lee listen to Sheila (Angie Dickinson) sharing the tale of Johnny North.

Charlie’s shoes appear to be the same black calf plain-toe derby shoes with two lace eyelets that he has worn through most of the film.

Charlie spills red paint, er, blood onto his black leather derby shoes.

Charlie spills red paint, er, blood onto his black leather derby shoes.

Charlie’s white cotton dress shirt has a spread collar, plain front, breast pocket, and single-button squared cuffs. He has a habit of matching his ties to his suits, and this slim and straight dark navy silk tie is no exception, knotted in the Windsor style to fill the tie space of his shirt’s spread collar. A white loop tag is briefly seen on the back of the tie as he staggers from Sheila’s house.

A man of his era, Charlie wears his usual dark gray felt short-brimmed fedora with a wide charcoal grosgrain ribbon that matches the piping along the edges of the hat.

KILLERS

Charlie’s stainless dive watch appears to be a classic Rolex Submariner, which had been introduced a decade earlier at the Basel Watch Fair in 1954. Charlie’s watch has a black bezel and a black dial and is worn on a stainless Oyster-style link bracelet.

Based on the watch details including the bezel and the lack of “shoulders” supporting the “small crown”, it appears to be a ref. 5508 model that was introduced concurrent with the ref. 5512 “small crown” chronometer in 1958. The ref. 5508 was considered the standard Submariner model until it was supplanted by the non-chronometer 5513 Submariner introduced in 1962.

Charlie Strom takes aim.

Charlie Strom takes aim.

Outside, Charlie briefly wears his super-’60s brown plastic sunglasses with their dark green lenses, though these shades are best seen with his gray silk suit.

Lee Marvin as Charlie Strom in The Killers (1964)

Lee Marvin as Charlie Strom with a “suppressed” Smith & Wesson Model 27 revolver in The Killers (1964)

How to Get the Look

Lee Marvin in The Killers shows that there’s no need to sacrifice classic simplicity for the sake of looking distinctive and sleek.

  • Navy suit, consisting of:
    • Single-breasted 2-button jacket with slim “clover” notch lapels, welted breast pocket, slanted jetted hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and short double rear vents
    • Flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets with button-loops, and turn-ups/cuffed bottoms
  • White dress shirt with spread collar, plain front, breast pocket, and 1-button squared cuffs
  • Dark navy silk necktie
  • Black leather 2-eyelet cap-toe derby shoes
  • Dark navy cotton lisle socks
  • Gray felt short-brimmed fedora with wide charcoal grosgrain ribbon and edges
  • Brown plastic-framed sunglasses with dark green lenses
  • Rolex Submariner 5508 stainless dive watch with black dial and black rotating bezel on stainless Oyster-style link bracelet

The Guns

An iconic image from The Killers remains the two photos seen above of a mortally wounded Lee Marvin raising his comically suppressed revolver before firing the fatal shots from his .357 Magnum into the man and woman who had conspired against him.

The weapon itself is a blued Smith & Wesson Model 27 double-action revolver, Charlie Strom’s sidearm of choice throughout The Killers and often featured with its somewhat silly-looking “soup can” suppressor. The idea of a silenced revolver is appealing to the creative teams behind movies and TV shows, though the gas that would escape between the cylinder and barrel as a shot is fired makes the idea of a “silenced revolver” impractical.

Smith & Wesson had introduced the .357 Magnum cartridge in 1935 as American firearms companies were dueling it out to develop the strongest ammunition for law enforcement to use against the growing scourge of desperadoes like John Dillinger, “Pretty Boy” Floyd, and Clyde Barrow who had been wreaking havoc on local police with high-powered weapons stolen from military arsenals and modified to do even greater damage. The .357 Magnum was almost immediately well received for its power, its reliability, and its versatility as many revolvers chambered for .357 Magnum could also fire the venerable .38 Special round. Several Smith & Wesson revolvers were chambered for .357 Magnum by the time the company started numbering its models in the 1950s, with the large carbon-steel N-framed .357 Magnum designated as the “Model 27”.

Charlie Strom checks his "suppressed" Smith & Wesson Model 27 before leaving to confront Jack Browning. Note the Single Action Army holstered in his back trouser pocket.

Charlie Strom checks his “suppressed” Smith & Wesson Model 27 before leaving to confront Jack Browning. Note the Single Action Army holstered in his back trouser pocket.

Charlie’s decision to carry a second sidearm for backup is certainly not unusual, as many real-life policemen (and movie hitmen) have been known to do the same. However, it’s his choice of weapons that sets him apart from the pack as Charlie chooses to carry the large, heavy, and powerful Colt Single Action Army revolver, a single-action six-shooter that recalls the days of cowboys and rogue sheriffs in the latter years of the 18th century when it was known throughout the American West simply as the “Peacemaker”.

We never see Charlie draw his Single Action Army, but the weapon’s distinctive profile would not be lost on firearms experts viewing the film. It’s a surprising choice, given Charlie’s penchant for efficiency. However, he is the sort of hitman who struts onto a crime scene wearing a tailored silk suit, so perhaps he would be the type to carry a pearl-handled single-action .45 Colt revolver as a backup weapon… though, as even General George S. Patton said, “only a pimp in a Louisiana whorehouse carries pearl-handled revolvers.”

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie. The Criterion Collection offers a dual-pack with the original 1946 version starring Burt Lancaster as well as this 1964 update… which was also notable for being Ronald Reagan’s final movie before entering politics. As his only truly villainous screen role, Reagan reportedly regretted doing the film, though it was Lee Marvin’s personal favorite at the time of its release.

The Quote

Lady, I don’t have the time!

3 comments

  1. George

    Great post, just finished a biography of Marvin. Fascinating man, they don’t make em like him anymore. Wounded in action fighting in the pacific in WW2.

    Like

  2. jack baumun

    Engrossing movie – always liked Marvin and was very taken by Clu Gulager , as Lee – also a very sharp dresser . ” nobody knows what we’re talkin’ about , Charlie .”

    Like

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