Red Heat: Arnie’s Teal “Gumby” Suit
Arnold Schwarzenegger as Ivan Danko, disciplined Moscow police captain
Chicago, Summer 1987
Film: Red Heat
Release Date: June 17, 1988
Director: Walter Hill
Costume Designer: Dan Moore
Tailor: Tommy Velasco
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Thanks to a recommendation from Pete Brooker of the excellent From Tailors with Love podcast, I beat the summer heat by revisiting Red Heat, the buddy cop actioner that paired Arnold Schwarzenegger as a tough Russian police captain with Jim Belushi as the stereotypical cigarettes-and-coffee American detective, working together to capture the dangerous Georgian gangster Viktor “Rosta” Rostavili (Ed O’Ross).
The end of the Cold War clearly in sight with the release of Red Heat, which was the first U.S. production permitted to film in Moscow’s famous Red Square but—perhaps more important—dared American audiences to accept a Soviet hero who neither defected nor showed any indication of questioning his homeland by the movie’s end. When Belushi’s supervisor, played by Peter Boyle, asks that his secretary “be respectful to our guest,” it could be interpreted as asking the audience to be open-minded toward a Russian protagonist… of course, that wasn’t asking as much with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role as his earlier starring roles in movies like The Terminator, Commando, and Predator had already established Arnie as the ’80s action hero that America never had any qualms cheering on.
There was never any question that Schwarzenegger would play Ivan Danko, the tough and taciturn captain in the Moscow Municipal Militsiya, as Walter Hill had developed the story so that he could collaborate with the Austrian-born superstar. Though the Danko role allowed Schwarzenegger play against type to an extent, cutting down on the larger-than-life action and wisecracks, the unstoppable determination that typified so many of his characters is evident from the beginning from Danko’s naked brawl in the Siberian snow to the game of chicken played with coach buses on the back streets of the Windy City. (Okay, so maybe some of the larger-than-life action is still present.)
When Danko follows the escaped Rosta to Chicago, he’s paired with Chicago PD sergeant Art Ridzik (Belushi), described by his own supervisor as “a good cop… and a total expert at fucking up.” Given Ridzik’s reputation and his preference for “funbag patrol” duties, Danko initially resents the partnership that illustrates what his superior had described as “the poison of the west,” but the two men forge a bond that culminates in the exchange of timepieces.
What’d He Wear?
Pete Brooker graciously shared his notes with me from his interview with costume designer Dan Moore, which posted on From Tailors with Love just in time to celebrate our patriotic holiday on Sunday, July 4. I highly recommend listening to this episode, featuring insights not just from Red Heat but also from across Moore’s prolific career working on everything from Walter Hill westerns like The Long Riders, Geronimo, and Wild Bill to comedies from 48 Hrs. to Brewster’s Millions, graciously recognizing the costume crews and tailors with whom he had collaborated.
“If there’s a continuum between fashion and story, I’m on the story side of all this,” Dan explained to Pete regarding his approach to costume design. “All my decisions were made by what’s best for the story.” This approach jibes with how he explains Schwarzenegger was always interested and open to learning about the reasoning behind his costumes.
Following the bathhouse-set opening scene, Captain Danko spends the first act dressed in his immaculate Moscow Militia uniform, which Donnelley’s secretary Audrey mocks as resembling “a glorified postman… or something out of World War II.”
As he releases himself from the hospital, Danko pulls on a teal suit, white shirt, and tie with the same meticulous detail with which he proudly wore his uniform.
Ridzik: What, did you retire your uniform?
Danko: I now work undercover.
Ridzik: Undercover? You look like Gumby.
Ridzik’s reference may be lost on some decades later, but Gumby was a green-colored claymation character that was a mainstay of children’s television in the ’60s, revived during the ’80s when Eddie Murphy parodied him as a foul-mouthed diva on Saturday Night Live.
Costume designer Dan Moore sourced the lightweight wool gabardine twill suiting from B. Black and Sons, one of Los Angeles’ oldest and most respected fabric stores, choosing the unique teal-green fabric as part of his greater effort to “make things feel a little bit off-track to make him be Russian.”
Moore explained to Pete for From Tailors with Love that the script called initially for “an ill-fitting suit, but we managed to make it a pretty well-fitting suit,” thanks to master tailor Tommy Velasco, who ran the Universal Studios tailor shop with his two brothers and was up to the task of tailoring Schwarzenegger’s uniquely muscular physique of massive chest and shoulders that taper down to his relatively smaller waist.
The fit also recalls the martial look of his police uniform, in which the disciplined Danko would have been most comfortable, with the shoulders sloped to fit Arnie’s frame. He fastens all three black sew-through buttons of his full-fitting single-breasted jacket, which has unique “cran Necker” or “Parisian” lapels, a cross between notch and peak lapels. The jacket has a single vent in the back, and the breast pockets and hip pockets are all sportier patch pockets.
Worn with a plain gray tie, Danko’s white dress shirts were actually repurposed J.C. Penney work-shirts made from 100% cotton twill, purchased in the largest size available with the sleeves recut to fit Schwarzenegger’s famously long arms. “It wasn’t anything special, but they made it special,” Moore recalled. The final products featured a narrow point collar, breast pocket, and a plain “French placket” front and rounded cuffs that closed with white plastic four-hole buttons.
To arm himself for “undercover” work, Danko dons a shoulder rig consisting of a dark brown leather holster under his left armpit, hooked by a simple cognac-brown napped leather strap that loops around his right shoulder to hold the whole rig in place.
Continuing the offbeat look of Danko’s dress, he wears a unique variation of the traditional white undershirt. The weave of the ivory-tinted shirt creates a unique texture of mini-ribbed stripes, with a solid crew-neck and very short “muscle” sleeves with ribbed bands.
Danko keeps all three buttons of his jacket fastened when he’s wearing it, so we only see the details of the trousers when he’s semi-dressed during the cheap hotel gunfight. The matching teal gabardine trousers have double reverse pleats, consistent with the prevailing trends of the ’80s. He holds them up with a wide black edge-stitche leather belt that closes through a silver-toned single-prong buckle.
The trousers have side pockets, besom back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms with a full break that often bunch over his shoes.
Danko’s black leather oxfords are actually Red Wing work shoes. Founded in 1905 in Red Wing, Minnesota, Red Wing has established a reliable reputation as a purveyor of durable work boots made from all-American sources (sorry, Captain Danko!) In addition to its celebrated rugged footwear, Red Wing does offer a limited selection of dress shoes like the Postman Oxford, developed to blend an air of formality with the brand’s trademark construction that has made this derby shoe (not an oxford, in fact) a “a favorite of mail carriers for decades” since its initial government authorization in the ’50s.
According to Pete’s notes, the Red Wings were wisely chosen as Danko’s footwear to provide “a subliminal clunky Soviet feel.”
“It is custom in Soviet Union to exchange article as souvenir of friendship,” Danko explains to Ridzik as he unstraps his watch in the finale. “I decide to give you this.”
“That’s really nice! Here, I want you to have my watch,” Ridzik responds as he unhooks his own Rolex Day-Date, explaining it as a “thousand-dollar marvel of Western technology.” Given the value discrepancy, he’s dismayed to be receiving in return “… a twenty-dollar East German watch.”
The From Tailors with Love show notes from last month explore this tradition, validated as truth by David Henderson-Stewart, managing director of the Petrodvorets Watch Factory in St. Petersburg, which has produced Raketa watches since 1961. Moore checked with Red Heat property master Rick Young, who confirmed that Schwarzenegger wore his own watch in the movie… considerably more expensive than the cheap Soviet timepiece that Ridzik dismisses.
Indeed, one of the many close-ups of Danko’s watch reveals the words “SWISS MADE” flanking the 6:00 hour marker on the bottom of the dial. The watch itself is a stainless steel-cased chronograph with two pushers to control the sub-registers at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions, strapped to a textured black leather strap that closes with a silver single-prong buckle. The busy salmon-pink dial has prominently numeric-labeled hour markers with two additional numbered rings around it. Presumably, the watch also has an alarm that’s set exclusively to remind Danko when it’s time to feed his parakeet.
“Soviet Podbyrin, 9.2 millimeter, is world’s most powerful handgun,” Danko proudly claims of his service sidearm, a unique semi-automatic pistol that was created specifically for Red Heat by armorer Tim LaFrance.
According to IMFDB, LaFrance followed Walter Hill’s direction for a “P38 but bigger and meaner… a P38 on steroids,” and created three screen-ready examples of what has been known as the Hollywood Eagle by modifying the frame of a massive Desert Eagle Mk I with an elongated barrel and the grips of a Walther P38.
Of the two weapons used to form the basis of the Hollywood Eagle, the Walther P38 was considerably older, developed in Germany during the years leading up to World War II as a replacement for the recognizable and reliable—but aging—Luger pistol, chambered in 9x19mm Parabellum.
The Desert Eagle had been produced by Israel Military Industries since its introduction in the early 1980s and quickly became an action movie favorite for its unique and intimidating appearance that made it a natural fit for guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger; indeed, Arnie was one of the first to carry a Desert Eagle on screen as part of John Matrix’s arsenal in Commando. Before even heftier calibers were added to the lineup, the Desert Eagle was originally chambered only in .357 Magnum, previously only a revolver cartridge.
To prep the Hollywood Eagle for on-screen combat, LaFrance modified the gas porting that would allow it to cycle and fire the .357 Magnum blanks. (While there is no mass-produced “9.2 millimeter” caliber, the .357 Magnum would be similar with its 9.07-millimeter diameter, though the actual Soviet 9×18 mm Makarov cartridge may come nearest with its diameter of 9.25 millimeters.)
Danko had his Moscow Militia-issued pistol imported into the U.S. via his diplomatic pouch, though his use of it during the hospital fracas resulted in Commander Donnelly needing to impound it. In turn, the captain requests that Ridzik provide him with another pistol so—with some reluctance—Ridzik opens his glove compartment to reveal a Smith & Wesson Model 29.
“Here, Captain Danko… you are now owner of the most powerful handgun in the world,” Ridzik explains to introduce him to his new armament, though Danko stands firm in his belief of the impounded Podbyrin’s supremacy. Ridzik isn’t too keen on yielding, responding with:
Come on, everyone knows the .44 Magnum is the big boy on the block. Why do you think Dirty Harry uses it?
Though its might had been eclipsed even by the time Clint Eastwood immortalized it on screen as “the most powerful handgun in the world,” Smith & Wesson’s Model 29 with its proprietary .44 Magnum cartridge was indeed unparalleled at the time it was introduced in the mid-1950s.
It fits Ridzik’s character that he would keep one of these large revolvers as his personal backup weapon, as he has already shown his familiarity with the cartridge as his duty weapon appears to be a shorter-barreled Smith & Wesson Model 629, also chambered in .44 Magnum but with a stainless steel frame.
(Of course, what Dirty Harry, Red Heat, and many other movies don’t take into account is that it would be almost unthinkable for a major-city police department to issue sidearms chambered for such massive—and expensive—manstopper ammunition.)
Danko uses the Model 29 to considerable effect during the subsequent hotel gunfight and the finale set on the train tracks.
What to Imbibe
Donnelly: Look, just out of curiosity and, since I figure cops are cops the world over… how do you Soviets deal with all the tension and stress?
How to Get the Look
If anyone calls you Gumby, at least take comfort in the fact that you found a fellow fan of ’80s action flicks!
- Teal lightweight gabardine wool twill suit:
- Single-breasted 3-button jacket with cran Necker lapels, patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and single vent
- Double reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, besom back pockets, and full-break plain-hemmed bottoms
- White cotton twill shirt with point collar, plain front, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Gray tie
- Black edge-stitched leather belt with silver-toned single-prong buckle
- Black leather work oxford shoes
- White textured crew-neck short-sleeve undershirt
- Steel Swiss watch with pink dial (with two sub-registers at 3 and 9 o’clock) on black perforated leather strap
The screen-worn suit can be seen and read about in further detail in the Heritage Auctions listing.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
I do not want to touch his ass. I want to make him talk!
For an earlier film that asks its Western audience to root for a Russian cop (and the main villain is even American!), check out Gorky Park, a 1983 mystery and conspiracy thriller starring William Hurt.