Warren Beatty’s Blue Levi’s Jacket in The Parallax View
Warren Beatty as Joe Frady, maverick political reporter
Rural Washington state, Spring 1974
Film: The Parallax View
Release Date: June 14, 1974
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Costume Designer: Frank L. Thompson
Happy birthday to Warren Beatty, born 84 years ago today on March 30, 1937. A rising star through the ’60s, Beatty established himself as a forced to be reckoned with when he spearheaded production of Bonnie & Clyde in 1967, not only starring in but producing the acclaimed gangster film. Following his innovative success with Bonnie & Clyde, Beatty slowed down his career to only occasional movies, frequently going several years without acting while putting much of his energy into political activism and—more notoriously—dating his way through many of Hollywood’s hottest before marrying Annette Bening after the two co-starred in Bugsy.
One of Beatty’s most notable post-Bonnie & Clyde films was The Parallax View, the second in a trio of Alan J. Pakula’s paranoid political thrillers of the ’70s. Appropriately released on Flag Day in 1974, The Parallax View begins with the assassination of an ambitious independent senator during a fourth of July celebration which, like the JFK assassination, was officially ruled the work of a lone assassin.
Cut to three years later, and journalist Lee Carter (Paula Prentiss) shows up at the motel bungalow being rented by her ex, renegade reporter Joe Frady (Warren Beatty). In tears, Lee fears she will be the next to be killed after six other witnesses to Senator Carroll’s assassination have died in mysterious circumstances, but her conspiracy theories are initially dismissed by Frady, who rationalizes that “people were crazy for any kind of explanation then… every time you turned around, some nut was knockin’ off one of the best men in the country!”
Indeed, Lee soon turns up dead, chalked up to suicide due to the alcohol and barbiturates in her system, but Joe—following her desperate visit to his home—knows her death unfortunately validates her suspicions. He follows her tips to the small Skagit River town of Salmon Tail where he instantly draws the ire of a few locals when The Fact That He Looks Like Warren Beatty grabs the eye of a few cocktail waitresses in a dive bar. One of the resentful bullies, Red (Earl Hindeman, aka Wilson from Home Improvement), staggers over and needles Joe into a fracas that only serves to embarrass Red and illustrate how well Joe can handle himself.
“You got some interesting ideas about law enforcement,” Joe suggests to Sheriff L.D. Wicker (Kelly Thordson), who invites him to sit with him after sharing that Red is not only his nephew but also his deputy. Joe bends the gregarious sheriff’s ear long into the night over some bourbon, but pays for his candidness the next day when the sheriff gives credence to Lee’s conspiracy theory by revealing his role in the secretive Parallax Corporation. Joe overpowers the murderous sheriff, leading to a brief tonal shift from Three Days of the Condor to The Dukes of Hazzard as Joe takes off in the now-dead sheriff’s mud-spattered squad car (and cowboy hat) as he eludes Red following a high-speed, high-flying chase.
What’d He Wear?
Joe Frady generally wears the same ivory off-white shirts throughout The Parallax View, detailed with long-pointed collars, front plackets, stacked two-button cuffs, and straight hems with side vents that could be effectively worn untucked, though Joe almost always keeps his shirts tucked in.
For his journey up the country to Sheriff Wicker’s domain, Joe inverts his usual outfit of brown trucker jacket and distressed jeans by wearing a classic blue denim “jean jacket” with light brown chinos.
Joe’s medium-blue washed denim jacket is a Levi’s 557XX, known among collectors as the “Type III” jacket. This iteration of the venerated Levi’s denim work jacket was introduced in 1962 and remains the current standard for this San Francisco-based outfitter, having influenced scores of others in the decades since its debut.
The signature difference between the Type III and the earlier, ’50s-model “Type II” are the lack of knife pleats flanking the placket and the higher-placed chest pockets, rigged with the top of each pointed flap flush against the horizontal chest yoke (which would make way for the addition of lower-placed hand pockets in the ’80s.) Tapering seams extend down from under the flap over each pocket down to the waist, and the signature Levi’s copper rivet buttons are present on the six-button front placket, pocket flaps, squared cuffs, and waist-tab adjusters.
Even if Joe’s jacket didn’t have all the hallmarks of a classic Levi’s trucker, that telltale branded “red tab” attached to the inside of the left pocket flap immediately confirms it… though we don’t get close enough to see if the tab is embroidered with the “big E” that would age it as a pre-1971 model per Mads Jakobsen’s comprehensive guide for Heddels.
The color of Joe’s jacket aligns closely with what Levi’s currently markets as “light stonewash” denim, available via Amazon and Levi’s, though you could also scour eBay for a Parallax-era vintage.
The khaki cotton chinos are another workwear classic, dating back to Spanish military trousers of the 19th century known as “pantalones chinos” in reference to the Chinese-sourced cotton twill used to make them. The American military embraced the light-wearing but durable cloth around the time they fought the Spanish in 1898, setting chino trousers on the same path of civilian assimilation traversed by cardigans, field jackets, and pea coats. Joe wears his light brown flat-front, straight-leg chinos without a belt, despite the belt loops.
Joe laces on a pair of dark brown leather ankle boots, worn with dark socks.
After Sheriff Wicker drowns during a struggle with Frady filmed in Washington state’s Gorge Dam, the reporter dons the duplicitous sheriff’s fawn-colored felt hat to commandeer his departmental Plymouth Satellite. The wide-brimmed topper can’t hide Frady’s identity when he’s spotted by Deputy Red, and we’re treated to a pre-Dukes of Hazzard car chase as the two Plymouth squad cars splash through the muddy side roads with their sirens blaring.
What to Imbibe
Gail (Doria Cook-Nelson) the cocktail waitress sidles up to Joe, offering to serve him: “What can I fix you? How about a martini? You know what they say about martinis? They say that a martini is like a woman’s breast; one ain’t enough, and three is too many.” After a beat, Joe somberly responds, “That’s an amazing joke, Gail,” before ordering a simple glass of milk.
How to Get the Look
Already an unorthodox maverick in his profession, Joe Frady blends timeless staples for a unique and versatile dressed-down look that helps him fit in more easily in this small Pacific Northwest town than the expected suit-and-tie uniform of many political journalists.
- Blue denim Levi’s 557XX “Type III” trucker jacket with six-button front, chest pockets with single-button pointed flaps, single-button squared cuffs, and button-tab waist adjusters
- Ivory shirt with long-pointed collar, front placket, and button cuffs
- Khaki chino cotton flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Dark brown leather lace-up ankle boots
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, one of the latest additions to the Criterion Collection.
Don’t touch me unless you love me.